Concealed guns not the answer to violent crime

Illinois is the only state in the country that does not have a concealed carry law. We think it should stay that way.

Ten mostly rural Illinois counties voted to support a concealed carry provision last Tuesday, pushing the issue to the forefront and adding pressure to the state government to join the rest of the country in allowing concealed handguns to be carried into public spaces. But the arguments behind concealed carry are couched in emotion, ideology and correlative statistics; allowing individuals to carry hidden guns is simply not a defensible solution to crime and violence.

The federal government already allows for citizens to possess and own guns, and that right is enshrined in the Constitution, not to mention on the state level. We have no issue with the right to bear arms. However, we don’t think allowing concealed guns into public places is, or should be, part of this right.

The arguments for concealed carry are compelling at first glance. Essentially, supporters claim that because violent criminals already have concealed weapons, preventing a legal avenue for concealed carry only harms law-abiding citizens or potential victims.

A form of this argument arose this summer after the deadly shooting at an Aurora, Colo., movie theater last summer. Shortly after the tragedy, Slate’s David Weigel quoted Greg Brock, a California firearms safety expert, who said: “All you need is one person there with a gun .... If this went down in Texas or Arizona, (James Holmes) would have died quick.”

Similarly, after the shooting of Arizona Rep. Gabrielle Giffords, Wayne LaPierre of the National Rifle Association said during a speech that “the best way to stop a bad guy with a gun is a good guy with a gun.” LaPierre then claimed that there is an across-the-board reduction in violent crime in jurisdictions with right to carry laws compared to those that do not.

There are a number of issues with this argument. First of all, most individuals when confronted with danger are not likely to take measured and calm action. With the presence of bystanders, the possibility of innocent, civilian death goes up tremendously. But even more strongly, the numbers just don’t back up the claim that a right to carry a concealed weapon reduces violent crime.

Fact-checking website Politifact also took issue LaPierre’s claim of a connection between right-to-carry and lower violent crime and rated his statement as “false” for its contention that data supports an “across-the-board” reduction.

The hard truth is that these arguments are not verifiable. In a 2005 study, The National Academies of Sciences concluded that “with the current evidence it is not possible to determine that there is a causal link between the passage of right-to-carry laws and crime rates.” Even more troubling, after analyzing the data the authors found that even the term “self-defense” is unclear in this context, writing, “We do not know accurately how often armed self-defense occurs or even how to precisely define self-defense.”

In the end, concealed carry is a reality in most of the country, and a recent report from the Government Accountability Office puts the number of individuals with conceal carry licenses at 8 million. But we think this measure will not alleviate the problem of violent crime and that this issue has more to do with an ideological position on the Second Amendment than a legitimate solution to violent crime.

We realize that the argument for right-to-carry concealed weapons makes intuitive sense: If the bad guys already have guns and will use them, why can’t we possess them in kind? But if we don’t truly understand how guns impact violent crime, and if supporters of the measure have only correlations to stand on, then there is little to suggest the utility of such a law.