Since first introduced in 1997 by preeminent gun researcher John Lott and Professor David Mustard, the idea “more guns, less crime” has caused a great deal of academic debate. The research falls primarily into two camps, those who believe that increases in privately carried handguns decrease murder rates and violent crime, and those who believe there is no relationship or insufficient data to draw and conclusion between the number of firearms carried and violent crime or homicide rates. Kentucky is again considering if it should move to a permit-less carry model, and with violent crime and homicide up across the state, it’s important to look at what, if any, impact a move like this could have on that violence.
In 2004, Dr. James Q. Wilson wrote;
[W]ith only a few exceptions, the studies…do not show that the passage of Right
to Carry (RTC) laws drives the crime rates up (as might be the case if one
supposed that newly armed people went about looking for someone to shoot).
The direct evidence that such shooting sprees occur is nonexistent…This suggests
to me that for people interested in RTC laws, the best evidence we have is that
they impose no costs but may confer benefits.
Very little research, however, has been done on the effect, if any, of a state moving to a permit-less carry model. Currently, thirteen states allow an individual to carry a concealed weapon without a permit and another 17 allow for permit-less open carry. Of those thirteen, most have changed their law after 2013. Using murder rates from 2015, three of the five safest states in the country are permit-less carry states, and one of the other top five, New Hampshire, has since enacted a permit-less carry law. Vermont, perennially the safest state in the country, has never had a permit requirement.
Two states, Arizona and Alaska, have five years of reliable homicide data before and after they changed their laws.
Arizona adopted a permit-less carry law in 2010, as indicated by the black line blow.
Without controlling for other factors, Arizona’s murder rate declined at a faster pace than the national rate in the five years since it adopted permit-less carry. The rates were nearly identical in 2014, and in 2015 as murder increased nation-wide, it continued to decrease in Arizona.
In Alaska, whose rates are more volatile due to a very small population, a similar story emerges. Alaska’s murder rate in 2008 was 3.9 per 100,000, a 35% decrease from 2003 when they enacted their permit-less carry law. National homicide rates over that period went from 5.7 per 100,000 to 5.4. A substantially smaller decrease. In fact, Alaska’s murder rate was still lower than 2003’s in 2014.
These decreases aren’t proof that permit-less carry reduces murder rates. Without controlling for additional factors it’s nearly impossible to tell what effect an individual change in policy has on crime rates.
What this data does show is that while, as Dr. Wilson pointed out, there is no reason to believe a move to a permit-less carry model would increase murder, there is at least some support for the idea that moving to a permit-less carry model might deter some homicide.