Looser Standards for Permits Linked to Higher Rates of Firearm Homicides

A new peer-reviewed academic study published in the American Journal of Public Health found that states that grant concealed weapons permits to any individual who meets basic criteria have higher rates of homicides than those states that require people to provide a reason to carry guns in public or who are required to demonstrate good character.  Public health scholars at Boston University found that homicide rates in states with “shall-issue” licensing standards were 6.5 percent higher than states with “may-issue” standards.

“Shall-issue” refers to licensing standards that require state authorities to grant permits to carry firearms in public to any individual that meets a very minimum standard, such as passing a basic background check and completion of a basic firearms training class.  “Shall-issue” is sometimes referred to as “right-to-carry.”

“May-issue” refers to licensing standards that gives law enforcement discretion over granting permits.  Applicants are evaluated based on proof of their good character and their stated need to carry a gun in public.

In Tennessee, permits are “shall-issue”. To obtain a gun permit, a person undergoes a background check and attends a four hour training class covering basic gun safety and state firearms laws and four hours of range training.  Concealed or open carry of a handgun is allowed with permit in Tennessee. 

Those states with “shall issue” permit laws, like those in Tennessee, “were significantly associated with 6.5% higher total homicide rates, 8.6% higher firearm homicide rates, and 10.6% higher handgun homicide rates, but were not significantly associated with long-gun or non-firearm homicide”, suggesting that the elevated levels of violent death resulted from more people carrying concealed weapons in public, rather than a broader increase in crime.

“Some have argued that the more armed citizens there are, the lower the firearm homicide rate will be, because the feared or actual presence of armed citizens may deter violent crime,” said lead author Michael Siegel, professor of community health sciences at Boston University School of Public Health. “Our study findings suggest that this is not the case.”

This study echoes similar findings of a paper published this summer by Stanford Law Professor John Donohue by the National Bureau of Economic Research.  Examining decades of crime data, Donohue’s analysis shows that right-to-carry (RTC) laws are associated with higher aggregate violent crime rates, and the size of the deleterious effects that are associated with the passage of RTC laws climbs over time.  Violent crime in RTC states was estimated to be 13 to 15 percent higher – over a period of 10 years – than it would have been had the state not adopted the law.

“There is not even the slightest hint in the data that RTC laws reduce overall crime,” Donohue stated in the paper.

These findings directly challenge the assertion that “more guns, less crime” promoted by the gun lobby to loosen gun laws, and in fact demonstrates that the opposite is true.