July 29, 1998
By Linda Gorman
Some candidates for Jefferson County Sheriff want to issue more permits to carry concealed handguns. District Attorney Dave Thomas has sent a letter to each of the candidates asking for their views on concealed weapons permitting. “As chief law enforcement officer in the county, I need to know how they stand,” Thomas said. Like everyone else, Mr. Thomas can find out where candidates stand by reading the newspapers. Voters may need to know what business he has questioning candidates for office in his official capacity.
The issue, of course, is whether the new sheriff will continue to make it nearly impossible for anyone whos not a retired police officer to obtain a permit. Under the present system, only 7 other citizens of Wheat Ridge, Golden, Arvada and Lakewood have active permits. And in the last seven years, only 49 citizens of unincorporated Jefferson County have made the cut. Saying that Chiefs of Police statewide have researched this issue only to find that “there are limited situations in which we need to issue a permit,” Lakewood Police Chief Charles Johnson summed up the official stance by opining that “a concealed weapon is not the answer.”
Other officials disagree. El Paso County authorities have issued more than three thousand permits in the last five years.
Who is right? Gun control advocates say that liberal permit laws increase accidental shootings, facilitate mass murders, and make fits of rage more deadly.
Twenty years ago, when facts were scarce and study of the issue was in its infancy, such arguments carried weight. But real numbers are now available. As summarized in economist John R. Lotts recent book, More Guns, Less Crime, the data show that liberal concealed-carry laws reduce deaths from violent crime without any significant increase in gun accidents. Laws allowing regular citizens to carry guns for protection also reduce injuries and deaths from mass public shootings. In Israel, terrorists gave up machine gun massacres because armed citizens were so effective in stopping the shooters. The facts suggest that Jefferson County officials really interested in promoting public safety would issue concealed-carry permits to any trained, law-abiding citizen who wants one.
Concealed-carry laws work because criminals dont like getting shot any more than anyone else does. According to surveys of convicted felons, U.S. criminals are much more worried about running into armed victims than about running into the police, and they plan their crimes accordingly. In Canada and Britain, where tough gun control laws virtually ensure that homeowners are unarmed, about half of all burglaries take place when the homeowner is present. In the U.S., the rate is only 13 percent.
At minimum, gun owners in the United States use their weapons defensively an estimated 760,000 times a year. This may provide a partial explanation of why a one percent increase in a states gun-ownership rate reduces the violent crime rate by four percent. In counties with 600,000 or more people, passing a concealed-handgun law decreases the murder rate by 12%.
More Guns, Less Crime also details the extent to which gun control advocates exaggerate the dangers of gun ownership. Who hasnt heard the mantra that “over half the firearm homicides are committed not by criminals but by friends, family members, and loverspeople with no criminal record?”
Here is the rest of the story. The numbers to support this claim come from the FBIs Uniform Crime Reports category “murderers who know their victims.” Its definition of “acquaintance” includes gang members murdered by other gangsters, people murdered in bar fights, and prostitutes murdered by their customers. More detailed records from the Chicago police department show that from 1990-1995, genuine acquaintancesfamily members, friends, neighbors, or roommatesaccounted for just 17 percent of all murders.
As for criminal records, in 1988 over 89 percent of adult murders in the seventy-five largest counties in the U.S. had criminal records. In Boston, between 1990 and 1994, over 75 percent of juvenile murderers and their victims had criminal records.
The massive attention given to accidental firearms deaths is also misleading. In 1995, there were a total of 1,400 accidental firearms deaths in the United States, a country with about 70 million gun owners. Thirty deaths were children less than five years old and 170 were children five to fourteen years old.
During the same period, 950 children drowned, and over 1,000 were killed by fires. Each year, roughly 30 people die when private citizens mistake them for intruders. Contrast this with the estimated 1,500 murders and 4,000 rapes that would have been avoided had the entire United States adopted right-to-carry laws in 1992.
In short, the best available evidence shows that handguns save lives. Continuing to advocate banning them without offering credible evidence to the contrary may make a nice religion. It is not rational public policy.
Linda Gorman is a Senior Fellow at the Independence Institute, a free-market think tank in Colorado, https://i2i.org.
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