The mayhem that hasn't resulted from concealed-carry
By Brian Patrick
On Wednesday, Ohio joined the majority of states when the controversial law allowing people to carry concealed guns took effect. After such laws have gone into effect in other states, I have found, the Hollywood-like scenes of spontaneous violence painted by concealed-carry's opponents simply do not materialize.
However, neither does proponents' vision of decreased crime and improved personal security.
The template for these laws is essentially the same from state to state.
Average citizens are issued a permit to carry a concealed handgun if they successfully complete a formal application process that includes a police background check and a safety training certification course taught by qualified experts.
The laws have similar stipulations and restrictions: Citizens carrying concealed weapons must so identify themselves to police officers who might stop or detain them; guns cannot be carried in daycare centers, schools or university classrooms. Neither are guns allowed in bars.
Permits must be renewed periodically and can be revoked if the holder is guilty of infractions of the law.
States have set up similar evaluation procedures to assess the laws' effects. In Ohio, the Peace Officers Training Commission will be charged with monitoring statistics on revocations, denial rates and numbers of permits issued.
Training is essentially similar, too, consisting of classes that cover firearms safety, features and requirements of the law, and civil and criminal liability. Restraint and re-sponsibility are emphasized, for no provision in any of these laws absolves a licensed-to-carry citizen from civil or criminal responsibility in a situation where a gun is misused.
The pattern of uproar that accompanies the legislative passage of concealed carry laws is also essentially the same from state to state. Opponents paint lurid pictures of bloody shootouts in the streets, innocent bystanders struck down by stray bullets, vigilante-style justice.
Proponents, in turn, offer their vision of decreased crime against people, enhanced personal security and improved civic order.
Both sides vigorously use and misuse statistics and findings derived from gun research in social science and health journals and reports. Having a hard-won knowledge of this literature, I suspect that many who brandish the information for their purposes have not read the reports and do not understand the methodological limitations of the research they cite. Media professionals also contribute to the uproar, speaking in the public interest, with editorials denouncing proposed concealed carry legislation; these denunciations in turn invoke flurries of letters to the editor and telephone calls.
The immediate aftermath of passage is similar as well. News media run a few formulaic stories on the flood of permit applicants.
A few local municipal governments attempt to enact restrictions to prevent carrying guns in locations such as city property or libraries. In the long run, these restrictions, and other challenges, tend to be overturned in state supreme courts.
And the laws quietly stay in effect. In all the states that have passed a concealed-carry law, not one has had cause yet to repeal it. Why?
Neither opponents nor proponents have been able to deliver on their initial visions. As shown by the evaluation components built into the laws, permits are seldom revoked and licensees are a good deal more law-abiding than is the norm. Dramatic incidents of people saving themselves because they possessed a licensed concealed weapon are relatively infrequent, although one can cite the occasional anecdotal news story such as the woman in southeast Michigan recently who held her would-be robbers for police with her legally carried handgun. But such incidents are rare.
What is clear is that crime certainly does not increase because of concealed carry laws.
The permitting process provides a set of filters through which the violent and impulsive are unable to pass. Citizens who do pass through the licensing process are able to do so because they are conscientious, well-socialized personalities who can follow the rules of a society, who can submit to education and lawful authority and who can rationally plan and conduct their own lives and actions.
Through my research on the gun culture, I have interviewed a number of holders of concealed-carry permits in other states. Only one of these people ever actually displayed a gun in self-defense. This person described how, in a deserted industrial park, he once had been caught between his van and a building by two men who apparently intended to rob him. He said, ``All I had to do was show them the gun and they ran.''
He didn't fire a shot and regarded the incident as ending happily.
However, more often, I talked with professional women and men who have never had a reason to use or display a gun, but who carry one in their car. One such woman commuter views her licensed gun as a safeguard in case her vehicle breaks down at night or on the highway. The notion that access to a licensed gun is going to somehow cause her to depart from her orderly path of life and start dealing out violence is absurd. Official statistics evaluating concealed-carry states support this conclusion.
The idea that Ohioans will fail where other states' residents have succeeded is likewise empirically insupportable. The people licensed under concealed-carry laws pose no threat to an orderly and peaceful society.
The writer is an assistant professor of communication at the University of Toledo and is the author of The National Rifle Association and the Media: The Motivating Force of Negative Coverage. He is currently studying the concealed-carry movement in America.