With permit data difficult to come by, it’s hard to know what effect (if any) the rise of concealed carry has had on rates of violent crime. The data that do exist, however, do not indicate that a concealed-carrying public is a crime deterrent. The National Research Council released a study in 2005 that said the effect of concealed-carry laws on gun violence was inconclusive. Abhay Aneja and John Donohue of Stanford and Alex Zhang of Johns Hopkins authored a critique of the NRC’s study in 2011 that identified an increase in aggravated assaults in states where concealed-carry laws were passed. Other areas of crime, the 2011 study observed, did not show a consistent pattern.
In the absence of data, all we have are conflicting anecdotes about the dangers and benefits of a well-armed citizenry. On one side, there’s George Zimmerman, who was granted a concealed-carry permit in Florida, which allowed him to legally carry the 9 mm pistol that killed Trayvon Martin. On the other, a student at the Appalachian School of Law killed two school administrators and a student with a handgun in 2002. According to some accounts, he was stopped from potentially causing greater carnage by fellow students who were armed with handguns, enabling them to tackle the shooter without fear of injury.
In one story, access to a lethal weapon resulted in the death of a 17-year-old. In the other, a rampage was stopped short because responsible citizens were armed. Which narrative is more representative of reality? In the absence of more robust reporting requirements, we can’t say for sure. And in the meantime, lawmakers in every state have passed laws without the slightest idea of the consequences. All we can do now is hope they guessed right.