Gun-Con­trol Ad­vo­cates Play Fast and Loose

Richmond Times-Dispatch - - Op/ed -

More than 900 black males be­tween the ages of 14 and 17 killed some­body in 2007. Should we be scared of young black guys? Of course not. There are roughly 3 mil­lion black males in that age group in the United States. It would be hor­ri­bly un­fair to toss around the first statis­tic without men­tion­ing the sec­ond; do­ing so would be mis­lead­ing, if not ma­li­cious.

Now 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 weapon?

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 62,000.)

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 some- one 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, gun­rights 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. Gun­rights 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 phar­ma­cu­ti­cal 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.

The spirit of lib­erty is the spirit which is not too sure that it is right.

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