Countering claims by gun rights advocates, a new study shows that laws allowing private citizens to carry firearms make Americans less safe. The study by John Donohue, a professor at Stanford University, is expected to fuel the debate on this issue and may thwart attempts to extend such laws to the entire country.
At the center of the debate is what is known as the right-to-carry, or RTC. This right to carry concealed firearms has been adopted in a number of American states, but its effects have come into question as a result of Donohue’s study. A panel that had previously conducted a similar study could find no effect from RTC laws in reducing criminal or violent acts, but it could not conclusively state that they have actually increased crime. In his study, Donohue concluded that such laws have indeed resulted in higher rates of violence. His research shows that states with RTC laws have seen their violent crime rates rise by approximately 15 percent in the 10 years after their adoption.
Determining the reasons for increased violence can be tricky and depend upon a number of factors, including population density, gun availability and rates of poverty, unemployment and incarceration. Donohue and his team employed a statistical method that attempted to isolate guns from these other issues. This method compared rates of violence in states that both had and did not have RTC laws and rates in states before and after they adopted them.
Among the RTC jurisdictions studied were the heavily populated Texas, which enacted its law in 1996, and rural Wisconsin, which authorized the right-to-carry more recently. Despite the general reduction in the American crime rate in recent years, violence was found to have increased more in these states than those without RTC laws. Donohue found this to be true in every one of the 33 American states that today allow citizens the right-to-carry. The method he used made Donohue confident in his conclusion as to the risks of the RTC philosophy.
Donohue admitted that firearms can be beneficial under certain circumstances, but such cases are rare and are offset by the adverse effects of gun proliferation. In addition to the costs and the problem of lost or stolen weapons, firearms are usually ineffective due to the sudden nature of most criminal attacks. According to a separate study, firearms are successfully used in less than 1 percent of the criminal assaults that take place in the United States.
The latest study was released in the midst of a legal conflict between the National Rifle Association and California, one of the states that has resisted RTC laws. The final decision on whether there is a constitutional right for private citizens to carry firearms will ultimately come from the U.S. Supreme Court, but Donohue’s study will undoubtedly play a role in determining whether such a right outweighs the issue of public safety.