Washington DC’s Three Days Of Gun Freedom

John Lott President, Crime Prevention Research Center
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Washington, DC, was the last place in America that completely banned people carrying concealed handguns. Then it was temporarily one of the most liberal.

On Saturday, with a decision by Senior District Court Judge Fredrick Scullin Jr., DC joined six states that no longer require people to get a permit to concealed carry, so-called Constitutional-carry states: Alaska, Arizona, Arkansas, Wyoming, Vermont, and virtually all of Montana.

Over the next three days before the ruling was temporarily put on hold Tuesday, none of the predicted disasters occurred. If you believed gun-control advocates, Judge Scullin’s decision to let people carry concealed handguns in DC should have led to citizens shooting each other in the streets.

DC’s experiment let anyone who could legally posses a handgun carry it. While that might not mean much in Washington, DC, where only a few thousand people have obtained the expensive license and registration needed to own a handgun, there are lots of people who travel into DC from Virginia and Maryland who could take advantage of the change. Indeed, people anywhere in the country could have temporarily carried handguns into the District.

And non-DC residents didn’t even need to have a permit from another state to carry. Only about 14,298 Marylanders had concealed handgun permits as of April 2014, but anyone who legally owns a handgun in Maryland could lock their gun in the trunk of their car, drive across the border into DC, and then start carrying their gun. Virginia had 363,274 permit holders as of this past May, but all sorts of people who hadn’t even tried to get a permit there were able to carry in DC.

The fear about the implications here were misplaced. Indeed, the six Constitutional-carry states have lower murder and violent crime rates than the six states with the lowest permit rates. The murder rate is 23 percent lower in the states without permits. The violent-crime rate is 12 percent lower.

Despite their public statements, I strongly suspect that gun-control advocates wouldn’t take me up on a bet over whether murder rates would have risen in DC during this experiment.

But this experiment was bound to be very short-lived, as either Judge Scullin or the DC Appeals court could grant a “stay,” a ruling that will suspend Scullin’s decision until there is time for the appeals court to rule in the case. In addition, the plaintiff’s lawyer didn’t even object to the stay. Yet, a stay is only supposed to be granted when “irreparable harm” will result if the ruling goes into effect.

As each day goes by without the predicted carnage, it will be a little harder to accept the predictions of disaster. And other evidence should have made it hard to grant a stay.

The original decision by Judge Scullin extensively cited a powerful decision by federal appeals-court judge Richard Posner that struck down Illinois’s concealed-carry ban. Posner argued that it was incumbent on the state of Illinois to provide some evidence that concealed handguns would produce some harm and that Posner’s review of the literature found that the worst that academic opponents of the law could argue is that no benefit exists. That seems to call into question the likelihood of “irreparable” harm. While my own review of the academic literature came to a similar conclusion, Posner, who is hardly a fan of the Second Amendment, is hard to dismiss.

Unfortunately, the political affiliation of the judge seems to be the decisive factor in how they rule on these Second Amendment cases, and Democrats have packed the D.C. Appeals court with a significant Democratic majority.

Of course, one would think that the nation’s capital would have learned its lesson regarding the failure of gun control. DC’s murder rate increased dramatically after its handgun ban and gunlock regulations went into effect in February 1977 (there was only one year while the ban was in effect that the murder rate fell below the 1976 number, and that happened many years later, in 1985). Its murder rate also rose relative to other cities, rising from 12 percent above the average for the 50 most populous cities in 1976 to 35 percent above the average in 1986.

If you compare the first seven months of 2012 to the first seven months of 2008, the time of year immediately preceding the Supreme Court’s 2012 Heller decision and the implementation of new, looser gun laws laws in DC, murders fell by 52 percent.

Gun crimes also fell more than non-gun crimes: Robberies with guns fell by 11 percent, while robberies without guns remained essentially unchanged. Assaults with guns fell by 31 percent, while assaults without guns fell by 4 percent.

Opponents claim that DC is unique because it is the capitol with politicians and diplomats who must be protected all over the place. But by the logic, with permitted concealed handguns allowed in all 50 states, the president and other politicians should never leave DC. Presumably DC, with the security measures at the White House and the Capitol are better suited to protecting politicians than any place else. With the United Nations in New York, DC is hardly unique in terms of having a lot of diplomats.

However, does anyone who has ever driven into DC really believe that a ban on guns will stop committed terrorists from bringing guns into the city?

As their last redoubt of evidence to prove the harm of concealed carry, gun-control advocates constantly reference the Violence Policy Center report which claims that concealed-carry-permit holders have killed 644 people since 2007, which comes to 90 deaths a year. As I have detailed at this site previously, the claim is completely bogus, as they overstate the true number of deaths by around twentyfold (many deaths are suicides, for instance). But even if Violence Policy Center’s claim were true, with over 11 million permit holders, only about 0.00083 percent of concealed-carry permit holders were responsible for a shooting death each year (excluding suicides reduces the rate to 0.00058 percent).

Washington, DC’s brief experiment in letting law-abiding citizens use guns still helps chip away further at the fears of gun ownership. If Michael Bloomberg wants a small side bet about crime when this temporary stay ends in 90 days, I hope that he contacts me.

John Lott is the president of the Crime Prevention Research Center and the author of the third edition of “More Guns, Less Crime” (University of Chicago Press, 2010).