Illinois this week became the fiftieth state to allow its residents to legally carry concealed firearms. It happened only because of a federal court ruling forcing the state to allow concealed carry, and only after Democrats, who enjoy a super-majority in the General Assembly, overrode a veto by Gov. Pat Quinn, also a Democrat.
The governor, many Chicagoans, and other concealed-carry opponents fear more violence as a result. The gun-toting Neighborhood Watch busybody George Zimmerman, who’s on trial for shooting teenager Trayvon Martin in Florida (a verdict could come any moment), gives them ammunition, so to speak.
Yet here’s what we know for sure about concealed carry of firearms: The concealed-carry movement began in the late 1980s, when the homicide rate in the United States was more than double what it is today. The FBI’s Uniform Crime Report shows a homicide rate of 10.2 per 100,000 persons in 1980 and a rate of 9.8 in 1991. The most recent data show a rate of 4.8 homicides per 100,000 persons.
While correlation isn’t necessarily causation, it’s clear there’s been a huge drop in violent crime since states began allowing concealed carry. I don’t know how anyone could see these statistics and argue concealed carry makes the nation more dangerous.
Here’s something else that’s clear: Violence in the largest city in Illinois — Chicago — is much less of a problem today than it was a few decades ago, even without concealed carry. In 1974, the city saw 970 murders. In 1992, the city saw 943 murders. Last year, the city saw 506 murders and so far this year is on pace to see nearly one-third fewer murders than in 2012. Chicago’s murder rate is the lowest it’s been since the early 1960s.
Those who equate guns with crime have some big problems explaining the data. There are more guns than ever in this country, every state now has laws allowing the concealed carry of firearms, and violent crime is at levels last seen 50 years ago.
Violent crime rates were even lower in the 1950s, before background checks, waiting periods, or age limits to buy firearms, and before the federal licensing of gun dealers and the existence of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms.
Mass shootings have been very much in the news lately. But as criminologist Grant Duwe points out in “Mass Murder in the United States: A History,” the number of mass shootings in the U.S. today is in line with historical averages. America’s mass-shooting rate peaked in 1929.
Furthermore, there have been mass shootings in Germany, France, Norway, Finland, New Zealand, and other countries with far stricter gun laws and less of a “gun culture.”
There have been two notable surges in violence in U.S. history. One occurred during the war on alcohol known as Prohibition in the 1920s and early 1930s; the other began shortly after the beginning of the war on drugs in the 1970s. Gang activity, the cause of so much violence, is clearly tied to the failed war on drugs, which continues more than 40 years after President Richard Nixon launched it.
Federal gun laws apply everywhere. Illinois state gun laws apply everywhere in the state. Chicago’s local gun laws apply everywhere in the city. Yet there are huge disparities in violent crime within the nation, the state, and the city. In the suburban Chicago county where I live, there has been one firearms-related murder in the last three years.
So what do these swings and disparities in violence tell us? They tell us people matter more than laws. Laws don’t stop criminal conduct; they define conduct that is criminal.
So, will Illinois be a safer state because of concealed carry? No one knows. But statistics show the nation is much safer now than it was immediately before the push for concealed carry began.
One last point: We know concealed carry has saved lives. Just a few months ago, a young man with a concealed-carry firearm stopped a shooter at the Clackamas Town Center mall in Oregon. Two off-duty cops who were studying law retrieved firearms from their vehicles to stop a school shooter in Virginia in 2002. A school administrator in Pearl, Miss., stopped a school shooter there, too. What’s more, none of these heroes fired a shot at the perpetrators, who were cowed by the mere sight of guns pointed at them.
Steve Stanek (firstname.lastname@example.org) is a research fellow at The Heartland Institute in Chicago.