Conceal and Carry: The World Would Be A Safer Place If Responsible Adults Could Carry Concealed Firearms

This column originally appeared in the Twin Cities Business Monthly on July 1, 1999.

In Israel, according to John Lott of the University of Chicago, terrorist shootings decreased radically in the early 1970s after concealed- handgun laws were liberalized.

“All of a sudden,” he recounted in a Minneapolis speech last January, “elderly ladies would pull pistols out of their purses and fire at the terrorists, and the terrorists would complain that nobody had warned them.”

In Pearl, Mississippi not long ago, when a student started shooting, killing two other students, an assistant principal ran to his car a quarter of a mile away, got his pistol, ran back, and ordered the gunman to the ground, holding him there until police arrived. (The teacher’s car was that far away, said Lott, because of a law prohibiting guns within 1,000 feet of a school.)

And in Edinborough, Pennsylvania, after a teacher was murdered, a citizen carrying a concealed weapon, again according to Lott, held the gunman for more than 10 minutes before police answered the call.

Jump ahead, if you will, to the horrific murders at Columbine High School in Littleton, Colorado, in April, and what Governor Jesse Ventura said afterwards. The massacre, he contended in response to a journalist’s question, had confirmed his support for making it easier for eligible Minnesotans to carry a concealed weapon. “To me,” he said, “it justifies conceal and carry more.”

Widespread outrage, needless to say, erupted immediately, compelling the governor to back away the next day. “I believe that except for uniformed police officers, a school is no place for weapons,” he said. “I regret mixing [Littleton] with the conceal-and-carry issue. ”

Despite the commotion, I believe the governor had it right the first time. I say this because I’m increasingly convinced that safety would be enhanced, not diminished, if more law-abiding men and women had the right to carry a concealed gun. With caveats and safeguards, this view also applies to schools.

I’ve not come to this conclusion casually or comfortably. While I may be skeptical about the effectiveness of gun control laws in general, I have no driving interest in deleting any particular statutes. I’m not a Second Amendment absolutist. Still, it has come to be impossible for me to dismiss two things.

The first, as suggested in the three episodes cited by Lott, is some of the most remarkable social science data ­­ specifically about “shall-issue” laws I’ve ever seen. These are laws ­­ that enable a person to automatically receive a permit to carry a concealed weapon if he (or she) is of a certain age, passes a criminal background check, and pays the fee. Thirty-one states have shall-issue laws; Minnesota is not one of them.   Lott found, for example, that from 1977 to 1994, states that issued “the most permits had the biggest drops in violent crimes.” Even more striking than the tie between increases in gun ownership and decreases in violence, however, is the care with which those holding permits have exercised their responsibility. For instance, in the first two years after a new gun law went into effect there (1996-1997), Texas issued 163,000 permits. Nevertheless, only seven permit holders were arrested during that period for either deadly conduct or discharge, or deadly conduct or display, of a firearm. And ultimately, all seven cases were dropped when it was deemed that each individual had acted in self-defense.

Lott (who has served as chief economist at the United States Sentencing Commission) has discovered similar results all over the country, refuting the assertion that if a significant number of average citizens are allowed to carry concealed guns, all hell is perpetually primed to break loose every other time a fender gets bent or two people have heated words.

If the first reason I’ve come to support shall-issue laws is that I’m unable and, therefore, unwilling to disregard solid research, the second reason is that I believe that adults deserve every feasible chance to defend themselves, their families and those in their care.

Lott has interviewed people who have survived mass shootings. “They felt utterly helpless while gunmen were methodically shooting people.” He told the story of one woman who could do nothing but watch as both of her parents were murdered in the same week that she stopped carrying a concealed pistol because it was (then) illegal to do so in her state.

I don’t want to be misunderstood. In the specific matter of schools, I’m not talking about arming a single kid. Rather, I believe it may prove a good idea ­­ in schools and districts where parents and officials, indeed, so choose ­­ if a small number of adults, who are not identified publicly, either carried a gun or had quick access to a safely secured one.

Not only might this curtail a tragedy already underway, but perhaps more to the point, it’s congruent with the finding that violent crimes go down when those who think about committing them are forced to wonder if potential victims are armed. Or, in the case of schools, if criminals had to consider if students were protected by armed grownups.

One final point. I noted that shall-carry laws already are on the books in 31 states. The fundamental idea of concealed weapons, in other words, is not nearly as radical as Minnesota critics claim. Reality, in fact, is entirely opposite, as multiple surveys have shown that Americans use guns at least two million times a year (almost always by just wielding them, rarely by firing them) to prevent homicides, kidnappings, rapes, and the hideous like.

Mitchell B. Pearlstein is president of Center of the Atmerican Experiment, a conservative think tank in Minneapolis. John Lott’s speech, “More Guns, Less Crime,” can be found in the summer 1999 issue of American Experiment Quarterly.