Consider this statistic: Concealed handgun permit holders have
killed 107 people since 2007. That news, from the Violence Policy Center
in Washington, D.C., sounds pretty bad until you put it in context.
How many Americans have been issued a permit to carry a concealed
The Violence Policy Center doesn't say. And it's probably impossible to
pin down a precise number, because records are kept on a state-by-state
basis, and reporting criteria differ from state to state. But NRA
estimates put the number in the neighborhood of 5 million, as of a
couple of years ago. (The NRA adds that permit applications have jumped
50 percent since the 2008 elections which seems borne out at least
here in Virginia. At present there are 211,435 active permits in the
commonwealth. Just this year, Virginia courts have granted more than
If that's true, then the percentage of concealed-carry permit holders
who have killed someone with a firearm comes to two one-thousandths of 1
percent. Yet to listen to the VPC's Kristen Brand who says "concealed
handgun permit holders are killing people over parking spaces, football
games, and family arguments" you'd think the cohort of permit holders
was as dangerous as the gang at Rikers Island.
Now, the Violence Policy Center notes that its numbers might be
incomplete: Because of the variations in state reporting criteria, it
might have missed some cases in which a concealed-carry permit holder
killed someone. Let's say the VPC missed a lot of cases nine out of
10, in fact. Using that generous standard, then the fraction of
permit-holders who have killed someone with a firearm in the past couple
of years comes to two one-hundredths of 1 percent. That still doesn't
make much of case against permit holders, does it?
Here's another way to look at it: How many firearm homicides are there?
It varies from year to year, but 10,000 is a conservative round number.
That's a godawful lot, far too many. (Although out of 70 million
firearms in the U.S., it also comes to less than two hundredths of a
percent.) Again, the figures indicate concealed-carry permit holders are
responsible for less than 1 percent of them.
And if you look into the details of the cases cited by the VPC, it's
clear that the group is using the most expansive definition of "people
killed by concealed-carry permit holders" possible. For example, a
couple of the 107 cases involve accidental firearms discharges; in one,
a young child accidentally shot himself with his father's pistol. That's
a horrible, gut-wrenching tragedy. But you don't need a concealed-carry
permit to keep a gun in the house.
Of course, homicide is not the only crime you can commit with a gun, and
concealed-carry permit holders have committed other crimes, too. On the
other hand, gun-rights groups point out that sometimes gun owners can
stop or deter a crime.
Estimates of how often this happens vary wildly, from 108,000 times a
year (the 1993 National Crime Victimization Survey) to 1.5 million
(Department of Justice, 1994) to more than 3 million (a 1976 California
study). Florida criminologist Gary Kleck may have produced the most
scrupulous count, which he puts at 2.5 million annual defensive gun
uses. Gun-rights groups also point out that after Florida adopted a
"shall-issue" concealed-carry permit law, its homicide rate fell even as
the national rate rose. Post hoc does not imply propter hoc. On the
other hand, it's impossible to say, at least based on Florida's
experience, that liberal gun laws lead inexorably to more murders.
Should states make it harder to get a permit? Perhaps but not because
of the VPC's statistics, which make concealed-carry permit holders seem
a lot safer to be around than, say, airbags.
According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, airbags
have saved 25,000 people and killed 290. If a pharmaceutical company
came out with a new drug that killed more than one person for every
hundred lives it saved, Washington would ban it in a heartbeat. Yet
airbags are federally mandated. Maybe the Violence Policy Center should
look into that.