Wednesday, September 18, 2013

The Violence Policy Center: Concealing the Facts

My state of residence, Wisconsin, was the 49th state to legalize the concealed carry of handguns by law-abiding citizens.  Every time the topic came up on Wisconsin Public Radio, one or more callers would dial in to regale the audience with dire predictions of gunfights breaking out everywhere, of raging maniacs who would pull out their legally concealed weapon to wound and kill those around them.

But wait a minute.  To repeat myself, Wisconsin was the 49th state to enact such legislation.  The same dire predictions were made in those other 48 states too.  Did those predictions ever come to pass?  I don't recall hearing about it anyway.  And economist John Lott said "no", in an opinion piece last year:

Fears about accidents and rampages by permit holders, and blood running in the streets however never materialized where concealed carry has been allowed. (Why Gun Bans Still Don't Work)

Is he right?  I was curious, so I did some searching to see if there was compelling evidence of a significant number of serious crimes, perpetrated by concealed handguns, wielded by legitimate concealed carry permit holders.  In my search I found a page by the Violence Policy Center which
directly challenged Lott's assertions, calling them "unfounded".  They state their own goal thusly:

In 2009, the Violence Policy Center began an ongoing research project to identify killings from May 2007 to the present involving citizens legally allowed to carry concealed handguns (Violence Policy Center: Concealed Carry Killers).

So they've been looking at this for five years now.  And their conclusion was:

Had the NRA informed policymakers that concealed handgun permit holders would routinely be killing law enforcement personnel and perpetrating, rather than preventing, mass murders and other gun homicides few legislators . . . would have voted in favor of such laws (ibid.; my emphasis and ellipses).

"routinely" is a very interesting choice of words.  That pretty much implies that this kind of thing happens all the time, right?  Remember, we're talking about concealed carry legislation and its direct impact on violent crimes.  So it stands to reason that the cases that we would be interested in would be those in which 1) a legitimate concealed carry permit holder, 2) used a legally obtained weapon, 3) being carried in a concealed fashion, 4) to perpetrate a crime that was found to be such in a court of law.  That's the kind of incident that we were warned about prior to concealed carry legislation.  That's the kind of incident I'm expecting the VPC to document happens "routinely".

The VPC has tallied up a total of 271 incidents over the past five years (from 2007 to 2012), resulting in a total of 462 deaths.

Now, I want to say unequivocally that the incidents that we are going to examine here are uniformly tragic.  Nothing I say should in any way be construed to diminish the tragic nature of these events.  But just to get an initial perspective on these numbers—without even looking at them in detail—let's remember that there are 8 million licensed concealed carry permit holders in the United States.  Can anybody honestly attach the adjective "routinely" to 271 incidents over five years out of a total pool of 8 million people?  Let's get this in perspective:

According to the VPC there have been 448 [NB: now 462] people killed by permit holders since May, 2007. According to there are about 6.9 million permit holder in the U.S., so in the last 5 years we have averaged 1.3 murders per 100,000 permit holders annually.
According to, between 2007 and 2010 we averaged 15,879.5 murders annually with an average population of 305,437,022. According to Wikipedia, in 2009 27.3% of the population was under 20 (we don’t count them because permit holders are all 21 or older) so the general population averaged 7.2 murders per 100,000.
Which means, even allowing VPC’s inflated numbers, a permit holder is still one-fifth as likely to be a murderer as the average Joe. (link)

But wait, that's taking VPC's numbers at face value.  Can we do that?  Nope.

When we start to look at the actual descriptions of these incidents, the situation takes on a completely different complexion. What we find, in a nutshell, is that the VPC has seriously cooked the books.  Read the incidents yourself and see what I mean.  Here are some of the tricks they play with the numbers:

1)    They count any firearm crime committed by a concealed carry permit holder, even if the crime was committed using a shotgun or rifle—even if it didn't involve a firearm at all!—rather than a handgun.  If a guy goes on a shooting rampage with a high power sniper rifle or, in an even more ludicrous example strangles someone, does that really count as evidence demonstrating the danger of concealed carry legislation?

2)    They count cases in which a handgun was used by someone holding a concealed carry permit, even if the handgun was not carried concealed leading up to the perpetration of the crime.  In other words, the concealed aspect had no bearing on these incidents.

3)    Individual suicides, with no other casualties, were included in the tally if the individual had a concealed carry permit.  Now again, these suicides are wrenchingly tragic.  But what does this have to do with the issue of concealed carry?  Is there really any conceivable connection between these suicides that the owners' status as concealed carry permit holders?  Is it rational to think that these people would not have killed themselves, if only they didn't have a concealed carry permit?

4)    If there was a handgun case in Arizona, they count it as a “concealed carry killer” because Arizona handgun permit holders are automatically permitted to concealed carry.  So again, they assert a supposed connection to the concealed carry issue, even if the incident had nothing to do with concealed carry.

5)    In at least one instance they counted a case as a “law enforcement officer killed by concealed carry killers” example even though a) the woman involved was not concealed carrying and b) the officers had burst into her house and some have defended her actions as a case of what she thought was legitimate self-defense.

6)    Various incidents show up in more than one category, thus creating the appearance of more incidents than there really are.

Those were just the anomalies that I personally saw on a first reading.  But others have pointed out even more.  For example,

7)    Read the incidents carefully and you'll find that some of these people had permits improperly.  This is an enforcement issue, but once again cannot be used to argue that legitimate concealed carry permit holders are a significant risk (Violence Policy Center’s Concealed Carry Killers: Less Than It Appears, p. 29ff.  ).

8)    The VPC has included examples in which the person involved did not have a concealed carry permit at all (Violence Policy Center’s Concealed Carry Killers: Less Than It Appears, p. 2ff.).

9)    Not all of these incidents resulted in convictions.  That means that the individual either a) didn't go to trial or b) was found innocent (see Rebuttal #1 to the Violence Policy Center and Violence Policy Center Continues to Misfire on Concealed Carry HoldersWritten)

10)    Some of the deaths were accidental.  Again, these are terribly tragic.  But do they really constitute evidence against concealed carry legislation?  (see Violence Policy Center Continues to Misfire on Concealed Carry HoldersWritten)

The facts show clearly that concealed carry permit holders are less likely than the general public to be involved in violent crime with a weapon by a huge margin.  Consider this:

Using VPC‘s data, corrected for situations where shall-issue laws have no direct effect on these deaths, this indicates that shall-issue laws at worst are responsible for 0.24 murders per 100,000 concealed weapon licensees per year since May of 2007, or 4.6% per cent of the average U.S. murder rate of 5.23/100,000 people for the years 2007 through 2010.139 (link).
And this:

According to the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services (which for some odd reason is the issuing authority in Florida) between October 1, 1987 and June 30, 2012 there were 2,206,324 permits issued and 6,932 revoked. Only 168 of those revocations resulted from criminal use of a firearm. In other words, in almost 25 years, 0.008% of permit-holders committed a crime with a firearm (link).

The facts also show that concealed carry laws do work to reduce multiple-victim publish shootings:

Bill Landes and I have examined all the multiple-victim public shootings with two or more victims in the United States from 1977 to 1999. We found that when states passed right-to-carry laws, these attacks fell by an astounding 60 percent. Deaths and injuries from multiple-victim public shootings fell on average by 78 percent. And to the extent that these attacks still occur in states with right-to-carry laws, they overwhelming occur in those few places where concealed handguns are not allowed. Gun free zones served as magnets for these attacks.

Only by refusing to let the facts inform the discussion can anyone conclude that concealed carry laws have made this country more dangerous.