Self defense has often been the explanation behind allowing gun ownership, especially when it comes to concealed carry. But do concealed carry laws actually make citizens safer?
No, according to a new study from the Boston University School of Public Health.
States with “shall-issue” laws have higher homicide rates than those with “may-issue” laws, the study found, specifically when it comes to firearm and handgun homicide.
“Shall-issue” laws, present in 29 states, have little or no discretion for issuing permits, and a permit must be issued if the applicant meets the base requirements.
Nine states have “may-issue” laws, where local law enforcement has strict discretion over whether or not to issue concealed carry permits and can deny permits even if the applicant has no criminal history. (In 12 states, no permit is required to carry a concealed handgun.)
Shall-issue laws were associated with 6.5 percent higher total homicide rates, 8.6 percent higher firearm homicide rates, and 10.6 percent higher handgun homicide rates, according to the study, published Thursday in the American Journal of Public Health.
Physician and BU professor Michael Siegel and his team of researchers compared homicide rates in may-issue and shall-issue states using data from 1991 to 2015.
“I think this is really a critical research question because it has such implications for what we do about it,” Siegel said. “The question of whether or not having more concealed gun carries makes us safer or less safe is important because it leads to opposite policy implications.”
Previous research on that question was conflicting, Siegel said: Some studies said more lenient concealed-carry laws increased crime rates, others said they lowered crime rates and many said there was no effect.
“We wanted to try to resolve this,” he said. “We noticed a lot of the existing studies were written many years ago, with data from the ‘70s and ‘80s. We wanted to take a fresh look at it in more modern times. [Our data set] brought us up to the current time, or the most recent data available.”
Siegel doesn’t think those previous studies were wrong, but believes that the relationship between shall-issue laws and homicide rates has changed.
“If there was increase in both firearm homicide and non-firearm homicide, that would really cast doubt on our findings, because why would more concealed carry permits affect non-firearm homicide rates?” he said. “The fact that we found that the impact on homicide was specific to just firearm homicide and also specific to handgun homicide — not long-gun, because concealed weapons obviously are all handguns — I think that adds validity to our findings.”
The findings are particularly relevant as the Concealed Carry Reciprocity Act, which the NRA says would help people protect themselves and their families, sits in Congress.
Guns have undoubtedly become a political issue, Siegel acknowledged, but he hopes his findings can breach those lines.
“As researchers and scientists, we answer questions with data and research, not with ideology or preconceived ideas,” he said. “We’re trying to look at this objectively and, from a scientific perspective, provide data that can inform rational policy decisions.”