Americans are increasingly convinced that owning a gun makes them safer.
A new Rasmussen poll found that an overwhelming majority of Americans (68%) “feel safer in a neighborhood where guns are allowed.” And a series of polls by Gallup, the Pew Research Center, and ABC News and the Washington Post show similar results.
But it isn’t just what people say. They are clearly putting more stock in self-defense. Since 2007, the number of concealed-handgun permits has soared, from 4.6 million to 12.8 million. A new study by the Crime Prevention Research Center finds that a record 1.7 million permits have been issued in just the past year, a 15.4% increase.
Nationwide, 5.2% of adults have a permit.
But in five states, more than 10% of adults have concealed-carry permits. In some counties around the United States, more than 1 in 5 adults are licensed to carry. In much of the country, someone among theatergoers or restaurant customers is likely to be legally carrying a permitted concealed handgun.
But even these numbers don’t do full justice to the change that has taken place.
Recently, Maine became the 10th state to allow concealed carrying without a permit in all or almost all of the state. Kansas and Mississippi also made the change on July 1. In these states, we no longer know how many people are legally carrying guns, and thus the 12.8 million figure is clearly an underestimation.
There is evidence that minorities are catching on to the benefits of concealed carry. Blacks now make up to 8% of permit holders, but their rate of increase is double that of whites.
Poverty presents an obstacle, as permits can be expensive. In Illinois, for instance, the total cost of getting a permit, including fees and mandated training costs, is about $450. In neighboring Indiana, it is just $45.
With Democrats typically pushing for higher costs to reduce the number of people with permits, the biggest impact is to disarm the people who are the most likely victims of violent crime, the ones who need the permits the most: poor minorities who live in high-crime urban areas.
Changing attitudes also explain the changing composition of permit holders. Since 2012, when the Pew Research Center started asking people if they think guns make them safer, there has been a 25% surge in the proportion of blacks who think so. The increase was 11% among women — more than the increase among men.
These new permits seem to have worked well. Between 2007 and 2014, murder rates fell from 5.6 to 4.2 deaths per 100,000 (according to preliminary estimates). This 25% drop coincided with a 156% increase in the number of adults with permits. A similar drop occurred in other violent crimes.
The data have consistently shown that states with the biggest increases in permits also experienced the biggest reductions in murder rates. Dozens of academic papers have documented that allowing concealed carrying leads to a reduction in violent crime, and the Crime Prevention Research Center report shows that this pattern has continued over the last few years.
Permit holders are extremely law-abiding — even more law-abiding than the police, who are rarely convicted of crimes. The latest data from Texas and Florida continue to show that permit holders are convicted of misdemeanors and felonies at less than a sixth the rate that police officers are.
A couple of weeks ago, former CNN anchor Lynne Russell and her husband received national attention for using their permitted concealed handgun to save their lives. Only after the robber started shooting did Russell’s wounded husband pull out his gun and return fire.
With more than 12.8 million people legally able to carry handguns, the couple’s experience is hardly unique. As dramatic as their story was, it was unusual mainly in that it received national publicity because Russell is well known. Americans with concealed handguns save lives every day.
John R. Lott Jr. is the president of the Crime Prevention Research Center and the author of “More Guns, Less Crime.” He wrote this for The Philadelphia Inquirer.