On Tuesday, three days after the District of Columbia’s ban on carrying handguns outside the home was struck down in federal court, Washington Post staff reporter Emily Badger teamed with anti-gun researcher Daniel Webster, of Michael Bloomberg’s School of Public Health at Johns Hopkins University, in an attempt to disparage John Lott’s research on the effect of Right-to-Carry laws.
Gun control supporters’ arguments against Right-to-Carry laws have certainly morphed over the years. In 1987, when Unified Sportsmen of Florida (USF) president and future NRA president Marion Hammer, and the USF and NRA members she represented, launched the national Right-to-Carry (RTC) movement with a successful campaign for a “shall issue” carry permit law in The Sunshine State, gun control supporters predicted that it would lead to wild shootouts on every corner.
The prediction didn’t come to pass in Florida or any of the states that have since adopted RTC laws against gun control supporters’ advice. To the contrary, as the number of RTC states steadily increased during the 1990s, violent crime plummeted. The debate stopped being about whether RTC laws caused crime to increase, and started being about the extent to which they contributed to violent crime’s decline.
At that point, the debate over RTC laws should have been brought to an abrupt and long overdue close. People have the right to carry firearms to defend themselves regardless of the extent to which doing so deters crime.
By that time, however, anti-gun activists had worked themselves into a rage over Lott’s research, which found that RTC laws decrease violent crime. One “study,” written by three anti-gun researchers, even went so far as to accuse Lott of using bad data.
However, the error turned out that of Lott’s detractors. In the final analysis, of 29 peer reviewed studies of Lott’s work by economists and criminologists,18 supported Lott’s hypothesis that shall-issue laws reduce crime, 10 found no significant relationship between RTC laws and crime, and only one–that of Lott’s inept detractors–concluded that RTC laws temporarily increase aggravated assault. (Further details on the subject are available here and here, and in the third edition of Lott’s popular book, “More Guns, Less Crime.”)
Nevertheless, Badger quotes Webster as saying “Lott’s research . . . has been completely discredited” and that the “best research” on the relationship of RTC laws to crime is the paper by Lott’s detractors, alleging that RTC temporarily increases aggravated assault.
Reality check, however. For starters, in 2012, the most recent year for which data are available, firearms were used in only 21.8 percent of aggravated assaults, according to the FBI. Furthermore, from the end of 1991, the year when violent crime hit an all-time high in the United States, through 2012, 24 states adopted RTC laws (not counting Illinois, which adopted RTC in 2013). And according to the FBI, between 1991 and 2012, the nation’s aggravated assault rate dropped 44 percent. The rates of 39 states and the District of Columbia decreased. And while the rates of 11 states increased, most of these states are ones with relatively low populations and aggravated assault numbers, thus small increases in the numbers of assaults can translate into seemingly large increases when the trend is measured on a percentage basis.
Today, 74 percent of the U.S. population lives in states that have RTC laws and the nation’s violent crime rate is at a 42-year low. That percentage would increase significantly, and violent crime might decrease further still, if the legal challenges to California’s and Maryland’s restrictive carry permit issuance policies, and the District of Columbia’s ban on carrying outside the home, succeed, along with the effort to convince Congress to approve H.R. 2959, the Right-to-Carry Reciprocity Act of 2013.
One can only wonder what gun control supporters would say then.