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Opinion >  Column

Shawn Vestal: Even as the high court rules, study shows concealed-carry laws increase crime

FILE – An attendee at a gun rights rally open carries his gun in a holster that reads “We the People” from the Preamble to the United States Constitution, Friday, Jan. 18, 2019, at the Capitol in Olympia, Wash. After a gunman killed 19 children and two teachers at an elementary school in Uvalde, Texas, on May 24, 2022, several pastors and rabbis around the country have challenged their conservative counterparts with this question: Are you pro-life if you are pro-guns?  (Ted S. Warren)
FILE – An attendee at a gun rights rally open carries his gun in a holster that reads “We the People” from the Preamble to the United States Constitution, Friday, Jan. 18, 2019, at the Capitol in Olympia, Wash. After a gunman killed 19 children and two teachers at an elementary school in Uvalde, Texas, on May 24, 2022, several pastors and rabbis around the country have challenged their conservative counterparts with this question: Are you pro-life if you are pro-guns? (Ted S. Warren)

Just as the Supreme Court radically expanded the right to carry a concealed weapon, a new study arrived that should give pause to anyone interested in gun safety and violent crime.

In yet another blow against the “good guy with a gun” myth, a team of researchers evaluated crime rates in 47 major American cities over 40 years and found that significantly increased crime was associated with laws allowing permitless concealed carrying of firearms – increases in gun theft, violent crime, robbery, and assaults, along with lower clearance rates by police and a rise in the shooting of police officers.

All told, between 1979 and 2019, cities that adopted right-to-carry laws saw rates of firearm-related crime increase by 29% to 32%.

“Any crime-inhibiting benefits from increased gun carrying are swamped by the crime-stimulating impacts,” the authors wrote.

This is far from the first evidence illustrating that the unintended consequences of gun ownership are far greater than their defensive uses. A 1998 study of three cities showed that, for every time a gun was used in self-defense, “there were four unintentional shootings, seven criminal assaults or homicides, and 11 attempted or completed suicides.”

Other studies have reinforced this pattern, sometimes with even more dramatic disparities. A University of Washington team studied gun crimes in King County from 2011 to 2018, and found that for every self-defense homicide, there were 44 suicides, 7.3 criminal homicides, and 0.9 unintentional deaths.

Those studies looked at what happened with guns in the home, but studies of the community-wide impact of right-to-carry laws – permitted or not – have shown a similar pattern. A Stanford analysis of 33 states that adopted RTC laws between 1981 and 2007 found associations with increased crime in every state.

A decade after RTC laws were adopted, states showed violent crime increases of between 13% and 15%, the analysis concluded.

“There is not even the slightest hint in the data from any econometrically sound regression that RTC laws reduce violent crime,” the authors write.

The new paper, produced by four researchers from Stanford Law School and Duke University, focuses on the community-wide impact and unintended results of increased gun-carrying in public.

The paper was titled “More Guns, More Unintended Consequences” – a title seemingly aimed at the infamous “More Guns, Less Crime” claims of author John Lott, whose assertions have been repeatedly discredited.

The most significant finding in the research was that in cities with RTC laws, gun thefts increased by 35% – putting tens of thousands more guns into the hands of criminals over the period studied and fueling more violent crimes.

Researchers also concluded that concealed-carry laws reduced police effectiveness, causing “a roughly 13% decline in the rates that police clear violent crime, suggesting that RTC laws strike at the very heart of law enforcement’s abilities to address criminal conduct.”

They found the decline in case-solving goes beyond the increased crime associated with RTC laws, and may be a result of “the burdens on police time caused by greater gun-carrying, police hesitation to engage with a more heavily armed civilian population, or weakened police-community relations.”

These two factors – funneling guns into the hands of criminals and reduced police effectiveness – were seen by the researchers as “potent drivers of increased crime” following the adoption of concealed-carry laws.

“(We) illustrate that widespread gun carrying has many implications for the dynamics of crime that go beyond whether a permit-holder can defend against crime or uses a gun to cause harm in a moment of anger,” the authors wrote.

“Indeed, the effects of RTC laws that we are able to document most precisely–increased gun thefts and diminished police effectiveness–are largely caused by … mechanisms unleashed by even law-abiding concealed carry permit holders.”

In another world – one where the Supreme Court was not stripping away the foundations of modern American society in pursuit of a reactionary dystopia – evidence like this might be applied to the development of sound public policy.

Now, though, it’s probably just a forecast of what we can expect to see more of in the future.

Shawn Vestal can be reached at (509) 459-5431 or at shawnv@spokesman.com.

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