Were there more guns used to defend against crime?

In response to Zimring and Hawkins, who make a similar argument [47] to Kleck, Lott claims that the people who get permits will tend to be those with a higher risk of being crime victims and hence it is possible for permit holders to use guns for defence in a much larger percentage of crimes than the numbers of permit holders would suggest (page 129). That is, ``more guns'' means more guns used to defend against crime.

However, his claim is wrong since the group with the highest risk of being a crime victim are those with a criminal record (as Lott himself notes on page 8), and those with a criminal record are not eligible for permits.

Hood and Neeley [17] analyzed permit data for Dallas at the zip-code level and found exactly the opposite pattern from that predicted by Lott, that is, those zip codes with the highest violent crime rate before Texas passed its carry law had the smallest number of permits per capita.

A similar pattern occurs with seat-belt wearing. People who wear seat belts are less likely to have accidents [14], not more likely.

Lott's error is in making the false assumption that everyone is equally risk averse. People who are risk averse will both wear seat belts and drive more carefully, or get a concealed weapon permit and avoid dangerous situations.

Furthermore, permit holders will not always carry their weapons and will not always get a chance to use them, implying that permit holders will use guns for defense in a much smaller percentage of crimes than the number of permit holders suggests.

There is empirical data on how often permit holders use their weapons:

Dade county police kept records of all arrest and non-arrest incidents involving permit holders in Dade county over a 5 year period [8]. Lott cites this study to show that gun misuse by permit holders is extremely rare (page 11):

A statewide breakdown on the nature of those crimes is not available, but Dade county records indicate that four crimes involving a permitted handgun took place there between September 1987 and August 1992 and none of those cases resulted in injury.

Lott fails to note that the same study shows that defensive gun use by permit holders is also extremely rare (page 692 of [8]):

The Dade police recorded the following incidents involving the defensive use of licensed carry firearms: two robbery cases in which the permit-holder produced a firearm and the robbers fled, two cases involving permit-holders who unsuccessfully attempted to stop and apprehend robbers (no one was hurt), one robbery victim whose gun was taken away by the robber, a victim who shot an attacking pit bull; two captures of burglars, three scaring off of burglars, one thwarted rape, and a bail bondsman firing two shots at a fleeing bond-jumper who was wanted for armed robbery.

There were only 12 incidents where a criminal encountered an armed permit holder. Compare this with the roughly 100,000 violent crimes in Dade county in that period. Clearly the chance of a violent criminal encountering an armed victim increased by at most 0.012 percentage points. The true figure is considerably less since some permit holders may have carried legally or illegally before the law, only half of the 12 incidents involved defence against a violent crime, and crimes where are a gun is used defensively are more likely to be reported to the police than crimes in general. (NCVS data [38] indicates that 65% of crimes where a gun is used defensively are reported to the police, compared with 43% of crimes in general. Kleck's survey [22] indicates that 64% of defensive gun uses are reported to the police.)

Nor was Dade county unusual in that there were very few carry permits issued--at the end of the five year period there were 22,000 permit holders in Dade, about the same percentage as their was in the rest of Florida.

As far as Lott's assertion that permit holders face a higher risk of being attacked than the general population goes, the Dade study shows that the rate at which permit holders in Dade use their weapons for defence against a violent crime is only 12 per 100,000 permit holders per year. Compare this with a violent crime rate of about 1,000 per 100,000 population in Dade county. Needless to say, 12 is not higher than 1,000.

Tim Lambert