One of the bright spots for Republicans this legislative session was the passage of a bill that protects so-called “constitutional carry.”
This legislation, which was sponsored by freshman Senator Eric Brakey (R-Auburn), removes the need for an individual to acquire a permit before legally carrying a concealed handgun in Maine.
When the law takes effect this October, Maine will have joined six other States that have discarded their “shall-issue” concealed carry status (which is where a permit is issued to every applicant who meets certain criteria) in favor of allowing constitutional carry.
Constitutional carry has become increasingly popular not only because it removes regulations and protects the freedoms of individuals, but also because it diminishes the power and scope of government. It prevents bureaucrats and government officials from restricting the rights of citizens, and ensures that individuals are able to exercises their right to bear arms.
Currently, nearly every state allows eligible citizens to engage in some form of concealed carry, and as many as 11.1 million people in the U.S. hold permits to carry handguns concealed. This type of policy is clearly becoming more popular, and has the potential to impact millions of individuals nationwide.
But unfortunately, the discourse surrounding the impact of constitutional carry has failed to focus on the research and the data on this type of policy.
For example, while the bill was being debated in the Maine State Legislature, many organizations voiced their opinions on this policy, and gave their recommendations. In all, 40 pieces of testimony were delivered to the committee by private citizens, medical associations, law enforcement agencies, and public safety groups.
However, only one advocate on either side of the issue referred to public policy research when making his case.
Others appealed to “common sense,” assured us that the law would return us to the days of the “Wild-Wild-West,” referenced arcane laws in ancient Rome, alluded to the KKK and neo-Nazism, and castigated the committee for violating “God’s Will.” But the evidence presented to support these claims amounted to personal opinion, conjecture, intuition and anecdotes.
And while anecdotes and stories are often authentic, they can also lead to hasty and erroneous conclusions. Relying on isolated incidents to craft public policy is foolish — a more holistic and thorough assessment must be made.
To determine the impact of Maine’s decision to relax its concealed carry laws, we should turn to researchers who study gun violence in a systematic and dispassionate manner.
But frustratingly, public policy research on the efficacy of concealed carry laws remains inconclusive.
The unreliability of crime statistics, the presence of confounding variables — like economic, sociological, and environmental shifts over time — that hamper efforts to derive causal connections, and the tediousness of developing sound statistical models to analyze raw data, have all contributed to the generally-poor quality of research in this area. Gun policy researchers — an eclectic mix of criminologists, public policy experts, and statisticians — are deeply divided on the issue.
A landmark study conducted in 1997 by John Lott and David Mustard at the University of Chicago reported that “allowing citizens without criminal records or histories of significant mental illness to carry concealed handguns deters violent crimes” by some 4% to 7%. It also found that concealed carry laws have virtually no effect on the number of accidental deaths. It concluded, after evaluating nation-wide crime datasets using the latest statistical analytics technology, that in 1992, if the entire country had allowed handguns to be carried concealed, “at least 1,570 murders and over 4,177 rapes would have been avoided.”
But detractors were quick to criticize the Lott and Mustard study. Many researchers expressed concerns regarding the methods employed by Lott and Mustard and cautioned policymakers and public safety advocates that “research on the effects of increased gun carrying by civilians is incomplete.”
A literature review published in 2009 by Ken Wiegman at the University of Wisconsin suggested that concealed carry weapon laws don’t have a significant impact on crime rates, and that slight variations in analysis criteria can produce very different results from the same dataset. “In reality, there are many factors that affect crime rates, and concealed carry laws are just a minor one,” writes Wiegman.
So perhaps the best conclusion is that while constitutional carry clearly protects the freedoms of individuals, and diminishes the power of the government, the complete consequences of this policy are not fully understood. And like any other area of public policy, concealed carry laws deserve careful study and consideration, and inevitably require tough decision-making.
But when the data is inconclusive, it’s best to side with freedom.