Study: Weapons laws deter crime

By Dennis Cauchon

USA TODAY Fri., Aug. 2, 1996

In a comprehensive study that may reshape the gun control debate, researchers have found that letting people carry concealed guns appears to sharply reduce killings, rapes and other violent crimes.

The nationwide study found that violent crime fell after states made it legal to carry concealed handguns:

      Homicide, down 8.5%.
      Rape, down 5%.
      Aggravated assault, down 7%.

The University of Chicago study, obtained by USA TODAY, is set to be released next Thursday. But its impending release has already sent shock waves through the gun-control debate because of the effect it may have on one of the most controversial areas of gun law.

Since 1986, the number of states making it legal to carry concealed weapons has grown from nine to 31.

The National Rifle Association has led this fight in state legislatures, arguing that concealed weapons deter crime.

Gun control supporters counter that these laws cost lives by increasing accidental deaths and impulsive killings.

The study analyzed FBI crime statistics in the nation's 3,054 counties from 1977 to 1992 to see if the introduction of concealed-weapons laws had any effect on crime.

The results overwhelmingly supported the idea that these laws deter violent crime.

The drop isn't primarily caused by people defending themselves with guns, says John Lott, the study's author. Rather, criminals seem to alter their behavior to avoid coming into contact with a person who might have a gun.

Concealed-weapons laws have drawbacks, too, the study found. Auto theft and larceny increased. Criminals shifted to property offenses, in which contact with a victim is rare, says Lott.

"The policy implications are undeniable: If you're interested in reducing murder and rape, then letting law-abiding, mentally competent citizens carry concealed weapons has a positive impact," says Lott.

Gun control backer Josh Sugarman of the Violence Policy Center blasted the study: "Anyone who argues that these laws reduce crime either doesn't understand the nature of crime or has a preset agenda."

Lott, who spent two years on the study, says he sent his research to scholars who might disagree with him and made changes to satisfy the critics.

David Kopel, a gun control scholar who did a smaller study on the same issue, says, "Lott's study is so far ahead of all previous studies that it makes them all worthless."

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