The New York Times has published a hysterical-in the unhinged, illogical sense of the word-editorial about concealed carry, claiming that such laws are a “scourge.” The evidence of this?:
Among the arguments advanced for these irresponsible statutes is the claim that “shall issue” laws have played a major role in reducing violent crime. But the National Research Council has thoroughly discredited this argument for analytical errors. In fact, the legal scholar John Donohue III and others have found that from 1977 to 2006, “shall issue” laws increased aggravated assaults by “roughly 3 to 5 percent each year.”
That’s it. One study that claims to show that aggravated assaults rose 3-5 percent in the aftermath of the passage of concealed carry laws. Murder? Not a word about that. Manslaughter? Uh-uh. Rape? Nope. Battery? Nope.
Scourges ain’t what they used to be.
Several comments. First, the BS test. What is the mechanism by which concealed carry leads to increased rates of aggravated assault? That is, perhaps there is a correlation here (but perhaps not-more on that in a bit), but what is the causal mechanism? Is there any evidence that concealed carry permit holders are responsible for this alleged increase in assaults? Zero. Any theory that has as a refutable prediction that concealed carry should lead to higher rates of assault generally? Not to my knowledge. So this is an empirical finding, in one study, that is difficult to attribute to concealed carry per se.
A 5 percent rise in assault (with no evidence of a rise of murder or rape or battery) hardly constitutes a “scourge”, and is nonetheless very difficult to attribute causally to more relaxed rules on concealed carry.
But that doesn’t stop the NYT from recommending wholesale Federal intervention into state gun laws:
The federal government could help protect the public from lax state gun laws. For starters, the Fix Gun Checks Act, proposed last year in Congress, would close gaping loopholes in the National Instant Criminal Background Check System and make a huge [HUGE!!!!] difference in identifying many people who should be denied permits under “shall issue” laws yet slip through the state systems.
Similarly, Congress could require that states set higher standards for granting permits for concealed weapons, give local law enforcement agencies greater say in the process, and prohibit guns from public places like parks, schools and churches. It could also require record-keeping and licensing requirements in the sale of ammunition, and strengthen the enforcement capabilities of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives.
Any evidence whatsoever that people “who should be denied permits” commit crimes? In HUGE!!!! numbers, no less? Not in the editorial, certainly, and the empirical evidence that I am familiar with shows that concealed carry permit holders are overwhelmingly law abiding, and commit gun-related crimes at a far lower rate than the populace at large. So the insinuation that “many people” should be denied concealed carry permits because they represent some sort of danger to public safety is another baseless and slanderous claim.
Second, the NYT’s hysterical claim of a “scourge” is based on the slenderest empirical reed. A debate on the effects of concealed carry has been raging for over 15 years, since the publication of the research of Lott and Mustard in 1997. This was followed by Lott’s More Guns, Less Crime, and rejoinders by Ayers and Donohue, among others. The debate has been extremely contentious, and has often been bitter and personal, and punctuated by both invective and lawsuits.
The original Lott-Mustard and Lott work claims to find that adoption of concealed carry has resulted in a drop in crime. There is a plausible theory as to why this should occur.
Ayers, Donohue and others have presented empirical results that primarily find no effect of the adoption of concealed carry laws, or perhaps weak evidence of increases in some crimes (notably aggravated assault).
The debate has become a highly technical one, with disputes over specification (what variables to include or exclude, what observations to include or exclude) and techniques for adjusting for serial correlation in panel regressions (“cluster adjustments”, anyone?) To be honest, I have reservations about the kitchen sink regressions that those on both sides of the argument employ, and think that there could well be an Ed Leamer “con in econometrics” issue here. That, and a Deirdre McCloskey fetishization of t-statistic issue. There are also issues about how to interpret one-time effects of the passage of CCL laws and their effects on trends.
To me, the evidence is on the side of a beneficial effect of concealed carry laws, especially since there is a plausible causal mechanism. But the evidence is not overwhelming either way. But certainly there is nothing in the empirical literature to support shrieking claims of a “scourge.”
Indeed, not even Ayers and Donohue are adamant about there being a negative effect of concealed carry laws: they mainly dispute that there is a beneficial effect. Indeed, they state explicitly that the adoption of concealed carry laws has not led to the widely predicted bloodbath. I remember well claims that “every fender bender has the potential to turn into a gun fight”. Quoth Ayers and Donohue:
We conclude that Lott and Mustard have made an important scholarly contribution in establishing that these laws have not led to the massive bloodbath of death and injury that some of their opponents feared. On the other hand, we find that the statistical evidence that these laws have reduced crime is limited, sporadic, and extraordinarily fragile.
In other words: no scourge, but only weak evidence that concealed carry has reduced crime.
The National Research Council study, the composition of which was certainly not congenial to the More Guns, Less Crime hypothesis or Lott personally, arrived at a similar conclusion. They found “no credible evidence that the passage of right-to-carry laws decreases or increases violent crime.” Note: no evidence of increases. Moreover, even the contention that concealed carry does not reduce crime is itself disputable, given that it is based primarily on one dubious specification. It should also be noted that an eminent sociologist, the late James Q. Wilson, dissented from this conclusion, finding that concealed carry did reduce murder rates.
Even the study cited in the Time’s editorial is equivocal: “For every other crime category [i.e., other than aggravated assault], there is little or no indication of any consistent [right to carry] impact on crime.” Again, no evidence that concealed carry reduces crime, but no evidence that it increases it either, except perhaps for assault. Which again, is puzzling: why would that be? How could more widespread concealed carry lead to greater assault, especially in the absence of any evidence that permit holders are committing the assaults?
In sum, after more than a decade of extensive empirical research and spirited and often acrimonious debate, there is: (1) virtually no evidence that concealed carry increases crime; (2) no plausible causal mechanism that could lead to this result; (3) some evidence that concealed carry reduces violent and property crime; and (4) a plausible causal mechanism that could produce this result.
One thing that is abundantly clear: there is no evidence of a “scourge.” None. Zip. Zero. Nada.
If concealed carry was leading to a scourge, it would be easy to find evidence that more relaxed rules for granting concealed carry permits should lead to increases in crimes committed by concealed carry permit holders. No evidence exists. Given how far the times was willing to stretch the limited empirical evidence in support of its view, you know that it would have dug up something, if it existed.
There is no evidence for that whatsoever. None. None. None. Again, as I noted before: the evidence is that concealed carry holders are extraordinarily law abiding. Moreover, even those who criticize empirical research claiming that concealed carry reduces crime readily acknowledge that no “scourge” of violence (by anyone, let alone concealed carry holders) has followed the adoption of “shall carry” laws.
In other words, the NYT editorial is completely baseless. It is actually far worse than that. Despite its complete lack of empirical or theoretical support, it makes incendiary and extravagant claims, without the slightest support for them. It slanders a group of individuals that is overwhelmingly responsible and law abiding. Despite its lack of factual support, it recommends expansive new Federal laws, including laws that trample on what are properly state and local responsibilities.
One last thing. The editorial’s recommendation that the Federal government create gun free zones is dangerous and irresponsible. (Not to mention the fact that in most states, shall carry laws already create such zones.) Gun free zones are target rich environments for those intent on mass murder. There is empirical evidence (by Landes and Lott) that gun free zones are disproportionately the sites of mass public shootings. And again, this makes logical sense. If you want to encourage a scourge of mass public shootings, expanding gun free zones is the way to do it.
In other words, just what you expect from the NYT. All the news that’s fit to print? Hardly. All the views that are fit to spit out is more like it.