The Impact of Constitutional Carry Laws on Public Safety and Personal Rights

Ever since the Second Amendment to the United States Constitution was ratified in 1791, the right to keep and bear arms has been a part of the US constitutional legal system. For the last couple of decades, there’s been an ongoing debate on the influence of such rights on public safety and personal rights. 

A number of notable studies have tried to assess the impact of carry laws, and this article will try to summarize their findings. But before we do that, we need to understand the types of laws that govern the licensing of private citizens to carry concealed firearms. 

Types of Licensing Systems

When discussing constitutional carry laws, there are two broad categories or types:

  1. “shall-issue” where a license is granted whenever the legal requirements are met; 
  2. “may-issue” where a license is granted at the discretion of authorities, even when the applicant meets all of the requirements.

At the moment, 48 states are shall-issue, meaning only two states (Delaware and Connecticut) are still may-issue. Research from 2023 shows that 43% of households in the US have at least one firearm. Some of the most popular choices are .357mm and 9mm.

Potential Effects of Shall-Issue Laws

Shall-issue licensing laws can theoretically impact crime in three alternative ways:

  1. Decrease Crime

Proponents argue these laws deter crime, especially violent crime in public places. They believe criminals avoid potential victims who might be armed, leading to a general reduction in crime. This deterrent effect is supported by a 1986 survey where felons reported fearing armed citizens more than the police. Data also shows criminals are more likely to be shot by an armed citizen than by the police.

  1. Increase Crime: 

Opponents contend that shall-issue laws may increase violence by making guns more accessible in public. They argue that impulsive assaults could become more lethal if firearms are more readily available. Additionally, easier access to legal carrying may lead to more illegal carrying, as criminals might arm themselves in anticipation of armed victims. This could result in law enforcement becoming less stringent about illegal carrying, complicating its detection.

  1. No Effect on Crime

Some believe these laws are irrelevant to crime rates because only a small fraction of adults obtain licenses to carry concealed firearms, and not all of them carry their weapons regularly. Those who do might avoid high-risk situations and refrain from intervening in crimes to avoid dangerous confrontations. 

Moreover, the presence of firearms in homes and businesses, along with off-duty police officers carrying guns, suggests that the additional number of firearms due to shall-issue laws might be negligible.

The Controversy

One of the most controversial studies performed in this area is the Lott and Mustard Study from 1997. Due to its conclusions, this study inspired several scholarly critiques. The extended analysis from 1998 has also received scrutiny by criminologists.

Lott and Mustard found that shall-issue laws lead to a reduction in violent crimes such as murder, rape, and aggravated assault. They noted an increase in property crimes like larceny and auto theft.

Furthermore, they argued that the social and economic benefits of reduced violent crime significantly outweigh the costs of increased property crime. They estimated that if states without shall-issue laws had adopted them, there would have been substantial reductions in violent crimes in 1992, leading to a net economic gain of $6.2 billion. 

The study utilized county-level data from 3,054 counties across all 50 states from 1977 to 1992, focusing on the variability within states to enhance the sensitivity of the analysis. They believed that analyzing data at the county level improves the accuracy of their analysis, as counties often differ in crime rates and in how willing local authorities are to grant permits under may-issue licensing systems. 

After this study was published, Black and Nagin did a re-analysis utilizing the same data. Using alternative econometric models, they reject Lott and Mustard’s conclusions, finding no consistent evidence that shall-issue laws deter violent crimes like aggravated assault or rape. They report limited evidence of reduced murders and robberies in some sub-samples but not in comprehensive analyses.

They argued that Lott and Mustard’s model incorrectly assumed a constant impact over time and uniform effects across states. Black and Nagin highlighted that states enacting these laws often had higher crime rates before enactment and that this factor was not adequately addressed by Lott and Mustard.

In response, Lott defended his methodology, stating that his original study addressed the critiques raised by Black and Nagin. He argued that the reduction in violent crime after the enactment of shall-issue laws was not simply due to cyclical trends.

Another critique by Ludwig found no significant relationship between shall-issue laws and adult murder rates. He attributed the reductions to cyclical crime patterns and other crime-fighting measures rather than the laws themselves. Ludwig argued that Lott and Mustard’s model failed to account for the tendency of states with rising crime rates to enact such laws. He also claimed that their statistical model was improperly specified, leading them to draw incorrect conclusions.

Webster’s critique is another notable paper that discusses the findings of Lott and Mustard’s study. He argues that the deterrent effects on rape, aggravated assault, and murder found by Lott and Mustard are counterintuitive since these crimes are not typically predatory street crimes.

The research on the effects of shall-issue laws doesn’t stop there. There are multiple studies even nowadays that are trying to account for the consequences of adopting such laws. 

Instead of the Conclusion

As you can tell, many of these studies came to opposing results, which makes it difficult to reach one final conclusion. 

Constitutional carry laws expand personal gun rights and potentially deter crime, but their impact on public safety is mixed. Proponents argue these laws enhance freedom and self-defense, while critics point to increased risks of gun-related incidents and challenges for law enforcement. 

The lack of training and background checks can compromise safety. Policymakers must balance personal freedoms with public safety concerns, necessitating further research to understand the full implications of constitutional carry laws.

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