Issuing more concealed carry permits does not decrease crime, according to a new study published in the Journal of Criminology. Texas A&M professor Charles D. Phillips, Ph.D., MPH, lead the study. He and his colleagues looked at more than a decade of data on changes in crime and concealed handgun licensing rates from more than 500 counties in four states: Texas, Michigan, Florida and Pennsylvania. The findings come just after Texas passed legislation allowing concealed firearms on college campuses.

“The idea that concealed handguns lead to less crime is at the center of much firearms legislation, but the science behind that conclusion has been murky,” says Phillips, an emeritus regents professor at the Texas A&M Health Science Center School of Public Health. “The results have been so inconclusive that the National Academy of Sciences in 2004 called for a new approaches to studying the issue, which is what we’ve done with this research.”

A new approach to studying concealed carry permits and crime

Phillips and his colleagues took a new approach to analyzing publicly available data for this study. Previous studies have looked primarily at crime rates before and after the passage of concealed carry legislation, Phillips’ team used county level data to analyze the relationship between changes in crime rates and concealed carry licensing, while controlling for differences among the four study states and changes in crime rates simply related to the passage of time.

“We believe that this research strategy is more likely to offer more useful insight into the relationship between concealed carry and crime than previous research that simply focused on the passage of concealed carry legislation,” Phillips says.

Do concealed carry rates reduce crime?

As the study notes, 46 out of 50 states have passed legislation allowing individuals to carry concealed handguns, in part due to the expectation that the legislation will reduce crime. In addition, much of the current drive to ease access to concealed carry permits and increase the settings where concealed carry is legal relies on the idea that such changes will reduce citizens’ likelihood of criminal victimization. However, Phillips’ study found no statistically significant correlation between changes in concealed carry licensing and crime rates, including the rates of violent personal crime such as the murder rate and robbery.

“What we found when we drilled down to the county level was that the changes in the number of concealed handgun permits in a county had no relationship to either an increase or decrease in the county crime rate.”

According to the United States Bureau of Justice Statistics, crime, and specifically violent crime, has been decreasing nationally since 1993, with a similar decline in other Western nations. Some commentators claim the decline in the United States is attributed to the increase in concealed carry legislation. But criminologists point to a variety of factors that have lead to the drop in crime, including changes in policing, punishment, crime prevention technology and socio-economic factors.

Why do individuals seek concealed carry permits?

The study also looked at why individuals seek a concealed carry permit, which raised additional questions about perceptions of crime and the role of commerce in concealed carry permitting.

“People often think they acquire concealed carry licenses because of their likelihood of becoming a crime victim,” Phillips says. “We measured the rate of victimization at the county level, and we found no relationship between the actual crime rate and an increase in concealed carry permits.”

While crime rates did not affect concealed carry licensing, the results of the study by Phillips and his colleagues indicate that a major factor driving increases in concealed carry permits was the number of firearms retailers in a county. “That indicates there may be an issue of supply and demand going on with concealed carry licensing, with suppliers generating their own demand through advertising.”

Phillips says his study demonstrates new methods and research strategies that he and his co-authors hope other researchers will use when studying concealed handgun licensing and crime. They also hope their results will be used in policy debates concerning the expansion of concealed carry.

— Leslie Waghorn

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