People Who Own Guns Least Likely To Use Them – New Illinois Data Debunks “More Guns, Less Crime”

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Note – This article originally appeared in The Trace

This week the Chicago Sun-Times issued a report on the rise of concealed carry in Chicago. The report, based on an analysis of statewide concealed-carry permit data, showed that residents of high-crime neighborhoods and those with high numbers of police officers had been issued the most permits, not only in Chicago, but throughout Illinois.

In terms of raw totals, that’s true — but by using raw totals, the report yielded the wrong implication. The takeaway from the article is that the popularity of concealed carry permits in high-crime areas is due to residents arming themselves against criminals. And that may be happening in some individual cases. But if you look at per capita concealed-carry rates, you get a different picture. Once population is factored in, the suggestion of causality fades: Concealed carry is, in fact, most popular where crime rates are lower.

Some background on why per capita measurements matter: Let’s say we are interested in examining firearm homicides in two towns, Town A and Town B. Town A has a population of 100 people and 10 homicides a year. Town B has 100,000 people and 50 homicides a year. Which town is safer?

An “absolute” measurement, or the total number of homicides in each town, would show that Town A is clearly safer. After all, 10 homicides is less than 50. But this conclusion is misleading. A “per capita” measurement, which divides the total number of homicides by each town’s population, is essential to get a more accurate picture of gun violence in a given area. When we take into account population, Town A has a homicide rate of 10 percent, while Town B’s homicide rate is only .05 percent. So Town B is actually 200 times safer than Town A.

Debates about gun policy often fail to appreciate the importance of per capita rates. An article in The Blaze, for instance, declared that “California had the highest number of gun murders in 2011 with 1,220,” despite being named “the state with the strongest gun control laws.” The total number of gun homicides doesn’t indicate much, given California’s large population. When we use a per capita measurement, we get a clearer picture of gun violence in the state. Using the same data, but controlling for population, California actually ranks 18th in the nation for gun murders.

But back to that Sun-Times report. If we use per capita rates, rather than the absolute numbers that the paper focused on, we arrive at much different conclusions about the popularity of concealed-carry permits in Chicago and Illinois.

For example, the report claimed the zip code 60643 — the former home of Otis McDonald, the lead plaintiff in the lawsuit that forced Illinois to allow concealed carry — ranks No. 23 among some 1,400 Illinois zip codes for permit carriers. But when you consider that the 60643 zip code is among the most populous in the state, it actually ranks No. 989.

The report also found that the state’s top zip code for concealed-carry permits was 62040, a steel town in southwestern Illinois. But the reason the area has such a large number of permits is because it has a large number of residents. Controlling for population, the town goes from No. 1 to No. 411.

The report’s analysis of permit data within the city of Chicago also was flawed. The author concluded that zip code 60617 — a primarily black neighborhood on the city’s east side — ranked highest, whereas if you control for population, none of the zip codes in the city have more than 15 permits per 1,000 residents. Once you control for population, the Chicago neighborhood with the most concealed-carry permits is Mount Greenwood (zip code 60655), a primarily white neighborhood with a median income of $80,505: the fifth highest income of all the neighborhoods in the city of Chicago.

After controlling for population, a completely different picture emerges of the state’s permit holders. We see that permit ownership in Illinois is concentrated in mostly white, rural areas with little crime. In other words, the people obtaining concealed-carry permits in Illinois are those least likely to have to use a weapon for protection.

That fits with a pattern that shows up in the results of various of gun violence studies. One study by political scientists M. V. Hood III and Grant W. Neeley examined the characteristics of concealed-carry permits owners in Dallas. They found that “[p]ermit holders were overwhelmingly white males and resided in areas with little violent crime. Those areas with high violent-crime rates were the least likely to contain a high number of residents with concealed-handgun permits.” An analysis comparing permit-holder rates in Texas and North Carolina revealed that permits were concentrated in mostly “rural and suburban areas where crime rates are already relatively low, among people who are at relatively low risk of victimization — white, middle-aged, middle-class males.”

Ultimately, the Sun-Times’s data sheds light on an important aspect of the gun debate. When gun advocate John R. Lott published More Guns, Less Crime, which argued that concealed-carry laws are associated with large decreases in crime, public health experts and criminologists doubted that permit-holders interacted with criminals frequently enough to deter them. Now we have further evidence to confirm this suspicion. In Illinois, it’s clear that those who are most likely to obtain a concealed-carry permit are those who will virtually never need to use it.

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  • tony Comer

    Since the super majority (probably upwards of 90%) of people committing the crimes are not allowed to legally own guns in the first place, this article would just seem to confirm the obvious…But the problem is that most of the proposed gun banning laws really only impact those not committing the crimes in the first place. It’s no wonder the new laws fails.

    • Evan DeFilippis

      Hey Tony,

      Lott’s famous “More Guns, Less Crime”, which forms essentially the entire basis behind the modern pro-gun movement, purported to show a tremendous decrease in crime given a very small increase in the number of concealed carry permits (around 1.5% per state). We now have recent evidence showing that this *theoretical* finding doesn’t make any empirical sense. The type of people who get concealed carry permits don’t even occupy the same geography let alone have similar enough social characteristics to criminals in order interact with them enough to sizeably reduce crime.

      The majority of people who get permits are white, middle-aged, men living in middle-class neighborhoods and are already at extremely low risk for vicitmization with or without a gun. It is simply impossible to produce a decrease in the crime rate by giving guns to THIS demographic.

    • Gatorgrad

      Your comment is 100% off the mark. Gun control advocates are only interested in blocking access to guns by prohibited persons via universal background checks and closing gun show loophole. Second the only people talking about gun bans are the gun nuts. No gun control advocate ever mentions or seeks bans.

      • You obviously aren’t reading enough from the anti-gun circles. From board members of the Brady Campaign, to politicians most recently in New York, New Jersey, and Connecticut, all the way to the President of the United States have either directly banned or attempted to ban vast swaths of firearms, sang the praises of bans of firearms, or most recently lots of praise to gun control efforts in Australia after the Port Arthur murders, which centered around massive gun bans and confiscation of firearms.

        So, nope, it isn’t true.

        • Evan DeFilippis

          There are no “anti-gun” circles. That’s just rhetorical embellishment. There are “anti gun violence” circles, and I’m 100% certain I have interacted with more big-name people in these circles than you have, none of whom have ever breathed a word on anything approaching a “gun ban.”

          I would love to see citations for your remarks — show me specific quotes of board members and politicians calling for general “bans of firearms.” “Sing[ing] the praises” of gun control legislation after Port Arthur is not at all synonymous with calling for a gun ban; you can acknowledge that decreases in gun ownership were associated with decreases in suicide and mass shootings in Australia without endorsing “gun bans.”

          The closest I have *ever* seen is some gun control advocates calling for banning assault weapons, and THE TRACE (which gun advocates claim is so biased it isn’t worth reading) published the following paragraph:

          >>In the past, some advocates of tougher gun laws have rallied around measures — such as assault-weapons bans — that hold more symbolic power than they do violence prevention benefits. Legislation like Van Hollen’s is built on a different criteria: What actually works?

          What could be more damning than the fact gun advocates *need* to invent an enemy in order to be comfortable with their beliefs.

          • Also, Evan, you play the “Anti-Gun” vs. “Anti-Violence” straw man (By implication you’re claiming pro-gun people like me are Pro-Violence?).

            You have admitted that banning whatever is currently defined as an “Assault Weapon” is still on the table for activists friendly with you.

            I can’t think of a single person is said circles who was in support of Heller in Heller V. DC, or McDonald in McDonald V. Chicago BEFORE the decision was made….there have been several who have backpedaled and claimed support AFTER the decision.

            Same goes for our President who while serving in Illinois was in favor of gun bans.

            The Brady Campaign was formally known as “Handgun Control Inc” and was for banning handguns like the UK had done.

            Can you give me a single citation of somebody of prominence in the so-called “Anti-Violence” circle who has admitted that their previous goals of banning firearms was a poor idea and should be avoided at all costs for both public safety issues, as well as political ones?

            Hell are you willing to say that you have ZERO interest in banning firearms, and admonish those (including the above cited) for their flirtation with bans?

  • Scorpion

    To be fair to the Sun-Times, the article doesn’t make too strong a case that high crime areas are getting concealed carry permits more frequently. And the Sun-Times does provide a helpful per capita interactive map to see the same information that this blog post does. What really jumps out is that areas that vote Democratic have much lower per capita permit rates than areas that vote Republican. This is not surprising, given the typical Democrat/progressive aversion to guns. The lowest rates are in Chicago, emphasizing the Dem vs Rep divide. It should be noted that it’s not only the anti-gun culture of Chicago that keeps rates low, but the absence of gun shops and ranges do as well by making it logistically more difficult for Chicago residents to get or train with guns. And while it is not accurate to gauge crime rates in Chicago by zip code, in which neighborhood crime can vary widely, there may be a slight increase in permit rates in the zip codes on the south and west sides of Chicago where incomes are lower and crime somewhat higher. Finally, while it may not be possible to say that concealed carry permit rates decrease crime, it is also possible to say that they do not increase crime, hence the lack of “blood in the streets” in states that pass concealed permit laws.

    • Evan DeFilippis

      I think that’s spot-on analysis, Scorpion. Thanks for the level-headed commentary.

      To be clear– the intent wasn’t to accost the author of the Sun-Times article (he was the one that obtained the data, after all), but just to point out that when you correct for population, you get some rather important findings. The most important of which is that concealed carry permits can’t be driving a decrease in crime in Illinois. You’re right, though, that this analysis can’t prove the opposite (that concealed carry permits increase crime). You’d need a much more sophisticated model and better data to approach that claim. James Donohue @ Stanford has several studies that purport to do this.

  • Arch Stanton

    it seems that the right to carry a concealed weapon is only extended to well to do white people that live in nice neighborhoods. Seems like gun control is a tad bit racist in how it is applied.

  • tony Comer

    Hey Evan…I’ve seen some studies that suggest it doesn’t seem to make a difference one way or the other on crime…Kind of goes back to what you were saying about the people getting concealed carry permits are not the ones committing the crime. I would also suggest a big part of why more minorities are not obtaining their permits is that in cities where the crimes are happening, the process is so arduous and expensive, that for all practical purposes, they are “banned” from buying.

  • Gatorgrad

    It is absurd that this issue is debated as if there is any doubt whatsoever that permissive gun laws result in greater loss of life and injury to innocents. A good analogy is the tobacco industry which for decades tried to obfuscate the smoking-lung cancer link even though it was incontrovertible. What a tragedy that the silent majority (of non-gun owners) must be subjected to the mass bloodshed because of a vocal minority who value their right to own killing machines above the rights of innocents to night be murdered. It’s an outrage. The daily headlines read like some story in the Onion only they’re true. Truly a sick statement about gun industry profits drenched in blood. The second amendment, like the first is not without limits and it is time we took back the right to public safety. Not one more.

  • Evan, Devin, et al.,

    I believe that the eighteen-page Crime Prevention Research Center report “Concealed Carry Permit Holders Across the United States”
    (http://crimepreventionresearchcenter.org/wp-content/uploads/2014/07/Concealed-Carry-Permit-Holders-Across-the-United-States.pdf) – which is dated July 09, 2014 – was released just a few days ago.

    [QUOTES OF SIGNIFICANCE FROM THAT REPORT]

    “Summary [PAGE 04]

    The last comprehensive report on the number of concealed carry permit holders was completed three years ago by the U. S. Government Accountability Office and showed that 8 million Americans held a concealed carry permit.

    CPRC [Crime Prevention Research Center] collected the most recent data available for each state[,] and the results showed that there are a total of 11,113,013 Americans who currently hold concealed carry permits representing 4.8 percent of the total population.

    The number of concealed carry permit holders is likely much higher than 11.1 million because numbers are not available for all states that issue permits, such as New York. Additionally, five states and the majority of Montana do not require that residents have a concealed handgun permit to carry within the state[,] so the number of residents who carry a concealed weapon is not recorded.

    The percent of the adult population with concealed handgun permits is determined by how difficult it is to get the permits, how long the permits have been available, and whether the government has discretion over who gets the permit.
    The report also examines the violent crime rate in relation to the rising
    percentage of the adult population with concealed carry permits. Between 2007 and the preliminary estimates for 2013, murder rates have fallen from 5.6 to 4.4 per 100,000 – a 22 percent drop in the murder rate at the same time that the percentage of the adult population with permits soared by 130 percent. Overall violent crime also fell by 22 percent over that period of time.

    Background [PAGE 06]

    The rapid increase in concealed carry permits is mirrored by the rapid increase in gun sales. NICS background checks soared from 11.2 to 21.1 million between 2007 and 2013. The sale of guns accelerated further over the last two years – averaging 14 million during 2008 to 2011 and over 20 million during 2012 and 2013.”

    In July of 1969, while I was a resident of Buffalo, New York (in Erie County), I was granted a New York State Pistol License, and I have continuously retained that Pistol License (which became a New York State License To Carry Pistol and is presently a New York State Firearms License) ever since then. I am one of those lawful Americans who is legally allowed to “Conceal Carry” a handgun in New York State – except, of course, within New York City – and in twenty-two other States in The United States Of America. I have been following your “ArmedWithReason” blog ever since its inception (07/24/2013). I – and probably many other lawful Americans who are legally allowed to “Conceal Carry” a handgun in one or more of the States in The United States Of America who also follow your blog – would be very interested in reading any comments you may wish to make related to the “Concealed Carry Permit Holders Across the United States” report.

    Also, I will repeat the four closely-related and short comments that I made in my first (and only other) post to your blog on March 06, 2015 at 4:24 A. M. (DEBUNKING THE FIVE MOST IMPORTANT MYTHS ABOUT GUN CONTROL), namely:
    (1) When a criminal uses a knife (or another kind of sharp edged weapon) during the commission of a crime, I can’t ever remember the criminal’s action being incorrectly referred to as “knife violence” [or “knife crime”].
    (2) When a criminal uses a club (or another kind of blunt edged weapon) during the commission of a crime, I can’t ever remember the criminal’s action being incorrectly referred to as “club violence” [or “club crime”].
    (3) When a criminal uses a firebomb (or another kind of incendiary weapon) during the commission of a crime, I can’t ever remember the criminal’s action
    being incorrectly referred to as “firebomb violence” [or “firebomb crime”].
    (4) When a criminal uses a poison (or another kind of chemical weapon) during the commission of a crime, I can’t ever remember the criminal’s action being incorrectly referred to as “poison violence” [or “poison crime”].

    And I will end this post by again asking anyone to answer either or both of these two closely-related questions that I asked in my first (and only other) post to your blog on March 06, 2015 at 4:24 A. M. (DEBUNKING THE FIVE MOST IMPORTANT MYTHS ABOUT GUN CONTROL), namely:
    Question #1: When a criminal uses a firearm (“gun”) during the commission of a crime, why is the criminal’s action far too often incorrectly referred to as “gun violence” [or “gun crime”]?
    Question #2: When a criminal uses a firearm (“gun”) during the commission of a crime, why is the criminal’s action far too seldom correctly referred to as “a criminal’s unlawful use of a firearm (‘gun’)” [or “a criminal’s illegal use of a firearm (‘gun’)”]?

    Thanks,

    RALPH VAN BUREN

  • [UPDATE] Evan, Devin, et al., July 17, 2015

    A twenty-seven-page Crime Prevention Research Center report also titled “Concealed Carry Permit Holders Across the United States”
    http://crimepreventionresearchcenter.org/wp-content/uploads/2015/07/2015-Report-from-the-Crime-Prevention-Research-Center-Final.pdf – Embargoed until July 16, 2015 – was released yesterday.

    [QUOTES OF SIGNIFICANCE FROM THAT REPORT] •

    Summary [PAGE 04]

    “Since President Obama’s election[,] the number of concealed handgun permits has soared, growing from 4.6 million in 2007 to over 12.8 million this year. Among the findings in our report:

    • The number of concealed handgun permits is increasing at an
    ever[-]increasing rate. Over the past year, 1.7 million additional new permits have been issued – a 15.4% increase in just one single year. This is the largest
    ever single-year increase in the number of concealed handgun permits.
    • 5.2% of the total adult population has a permit.
    • Five states now have more than 10% of their adult population with concealed handgun permits.
    • In ten states, a permit is no longer required to carry in all or virtually all of the state. This is a major reason why [the] legal carrying [of] handguns is growing so much faster than the number of permits.
    [NOTE – According to this report, handgun permits are not required in: Alaska, Arizona, Arkansas, Kansas, Maine, Mississippi, Vermont, Wyoming, as well as most of Idaho and most of Montana.]
    • Since 2007, permits for women has [have] increased by 270% and for men by 156%.
    • Some evidence suggests that permit holding by minorities is increasing more than twice as fast as for whites.
    • Between 2007 and 2014, murder rates have fallen from 5.6 to 4.2 (preliminary estimates) per 100,000. This represents a 25% drop in the murder rate at the same time that the percentage of the adult population with permits soared by 178%. Overall violent crime also fell by 25 percent over that period of time.
    • Regression estimates show that even after accounting for the per capita
    number of police and people admitted to prison and demographics, the adult population with permits is significantly associated with a drop in murder and violent crime rates.
    • Concealed handgun permit holders are extremely law-abiding. In Florida
    and Texas, permit holders are convicted of misdemeanors or felonies at one sixth the rate that police officers are convicted.

    Background [PAGE 05]

    Over the years, more and more states have adopted laws to allow individuals to obtain concealed carry permits. Illinois was the last state to do so, with the first permits issued in March 2014. Even Washington, D.C. started issuing permits earlier this year. Today, permitted concealed handguns are allowed in every jurisdiction in the United States.

    Background [PAGE 06]

    This report will focus on the increase in concealed carry. Obviously, the main focus from a crime prevention point of view is whether people actually do carry guns, not whether they are allowed to do so.

    Background [PAGE 07]

    As more and more states do not require a permit, the number of permits holders will increasingly underestimate the number of people who can legally carry a handgun. [I believe that this statement means: As more and more states do not require a permit, studies will increasingly underestimate the number of people who can legally carry a handgun.]

    Background [PAGE 09]

    The approach combines following state crime rates over time across all the states with changes in the percent of the adult population with permits. . . . The current analysis here doesn’t provide such sophisticated estimates simply
    because the necessary data will not be available for at least a couple years. Thus, it should only be viewed as suggestive.

    Permit Holders are Extremely Law‐abiding [PAGE 13]

    Permit holders on rare occasion violate the law. But in order to truly appreciate how incredibly rare those problems are[,] one needs to remember that there are over 12.8 million permit holders in the U[.] S. Indeed, it is impossible to think of any other group in the U[.] S[.] who is anywhere near as law‐abiding. To get an idea of just how law‐abiding concealed handgun permit holders are, compare them to police. According to a study in Police Quarterly, the period from January 1, 2005 to December 31, 2007 saw an average of 703 crimes by police per year. [[8]] 113 of these involved firearms violations. This is likely to be an underestimate since not all police crimes receive media coverage. The authors of the study may also have missed some media reports.

    [The Police Quarterly Study (“Exit Strategy: An Exploration of Late‐Stage Police Crime” by Phil Stinson, J Liederbach, and TL Freiburger – Police Quarterly December 2010) can be found at:
    http://pqx.sagepub.com/content/13/4/413.full.pdf
    NOTE – This item requires a subscription to Police Quarterly.]

    Again, I – and probably many other lawful Americans who are legally allowed to “Conceal Carry” a handgun in one or more of the States in The United States Of America and who also follow your blog – would be very interested in reading any comments you may wish to make related to the most recent “Concealed Carry Permit Holders Across the United States” report.

    Thanks again,

    RALPH VAN BUREN

  • BGB

    The title of the article should cause some reflection on why more gun control is / is not appropriate. If people who [legally and responsibly] own guns are those least likely to use their firearms [either in a crime or for a DGU] why is anyone concerned about those people / guns at all? Since most firearms are never used in a crime or for a DGU, what is the concern for the disposition of those firearms? Should not we be examining how legal guns (since in theory most every gun begins its existence as a legal gun) get into hands of those that will use a firearm for illegal purposes? And, should that not also include discussion on why and how to prevent those hands from turning to illegal purpose to begin with?

    Question: have you (the blog authors) examined the source(s) of firearms that criminals use in their crimes?

    I would like to know if first time offenders got a firearm via “legal” means (e.g. purchased at a licensed FFL dealer without intent to commit a crime, then committed a crime), or via illegal (e.g. stole a firearm) or questionably legal means (e.g. purchased from licensed FFL dealer with prior intent to commit crime).

    I would also like to know how recidivist criminals acquire their firearms.

    This information is relevant to both sides of the discussion, because knowing the “how” (and for that matter the “why”) a criminal acquires his/her firearm may lead to better solutions that appease both gun control (remove all guns from society, so criminals cannot get them) and gun rights advocates (do not punish the law abiding citizen for the criminals’ behavior).

    • DD6

      BGB,
      Below is a link to a 2012 study on where criminals get guns. It is based on the 2008 DOJ national prisoner survey data. The study authors looked at prisoner responses in the 13 least-regulated states for gun ownership.

      Interesting findings are:

      (1) 60% of prisoners in for gun crimes were legally allowed to own at time of crime
      (2) of the above, half would have been prohibited from owning in stricter states.
      (3) only ~3% of all respondents reported stealing their gun
      (4) a little over 30% of respondents reported source of gun as “Street/Black Market”.

      “Black Market”: this phrase is particularly troublesome in regards to discussions of the expected utility of universal background checks (UBC). On the one hand you can interpret “black market” to mean sales between two criminals who each knows the other is a criminal, and wouldn’t have been stopped by UBC. On the other hand, you can interpret this to also include anonymous private sales, such as those facilitated by Craigslist-style gun seller websites. I would certainly interpret “Street” sales to include this.

      “Source of Gun” table from study:
      http://injuryprevention.bmj.com/content/19/1/26/T3.expansion.html

      Main Study page:
      http://injuryprevention.bmj.com/content/19/1/26.full

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  • William Ashbless

    Again, I must applaud the author’s careful presentation of data to support his position.

    Illinois State Police didn’t start issuing concealed carry permits until February of 2014. So you are basing your study on 15 months of a state that has been hostile to the ownership of firearms for decades? Why not present data from a state with a much bigger sample size and longer length of issuance? Pretty sure I know the answer to that one.

    You also careful tread around the issue of the Racist nature of gun control. It seems that poor, non criminal, black folks can’t seem to get permits. Is it because they don’t want them? They can’t afford them(seems at odds with ‘Equal Protection’ under the law)? Maybe the arbitrary nature of gun control still allows authorities to deny people they don’t like the same freedoms that white folk get?

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