Emory Report

February 2, 1998

 Volume 50, No. 19

Researchers find concealed
gun laws have little effect

Emory economists Hashem Dezhbakhsh and Paul Rubin have studied the effects of permissive laws regarding concealed handguns. Their findings are described in the article "Lives Saved or Lives Lost? The Effects of Concealed Handgun Laws on Crime," which will be published this spring in the American Economic Review.

In recent years, the role of handguns in crime has been the subject of intensive policy and academic debate, the authors said. In addition to the enactment of the restrictive federal Brady Bill, 23 states have adopted right-to-carry concealed handgun laws since 1977.

Known as "shall issue" legislation, these state laws mandate that authorities issue permits to carry concealed handguns to all noncriminals, making it much easier for citizens to get these permits and, theoretically, to defend themselves, Rubin said.

But as Dezhbakhsh explained, there are two contending views on this issue. The first postulates more gun owners might have a facilitating effect, leading to increased crime because of the easy availability of guns. An alternate view is that such laws might serve as a deterrent to crime, helping potential victims arm and protect themselves and increasing criminals' uncertainty of armed response.

In their research, Rubin and Dezhbakhsh used extensive data previously examined by two other authors and described in a controversial paper published last year. That study, which was widely publicized, predicted there would have been substantial decreases in all categories of crime if states that did not have "shall issue" laws in 1992 had passed them.

The original authors made their data available to anyone who wanted it, Rubin said, noting he and Dezhbakhsh reanalyzed this data "using different, and what we believe are more appropriate, statistical procedures."

The original authors assumed "the effect of these laws is identical across all counties, disregarding any of the county characteristics," said Dezhbakhsh. However, there are differences across counties due to the average age of the population, police budgets and the county's size, he asserted.

"Younger people are more likely to be criminals, so they're more likely to be helped in committing crimes by these laws," Rubin said. "Older people are more likely to be victims, so they're more likely to use the guns for deterrent purposes." He jokingly called this "the geezers-with-guns hypothesis."

Whereas the original researchers saw a strong decrease in all categories of crime, violent as well as property, Rubin and Dezhbakhsh found very little effect when they reanalyzed the data. For most counties, crime would have remained unchanged in 1992 as a result of passage of these laws, Rubin said.

The strongest result they found was that passage of these laws would have led to an increase in robbery in a relatively small number of counties, Rubin said. This was accompanied by a slight decrease in murder overall.

"Our basic finding was whatever effect these laws have, it's very small," Rubin said. "In some counties crime goes up, in some counties crime goes down and different categories of crime change differently."

"We found that counties with older people, counties with more women between ages 10 and 29 and counties that spend more on police per capita-those characteristics lead to reductions in crime from the passage of the law," Rubin said. "So we think that's a measure of deterrence."

This study, with funding from a $10,000 University Research Committee grant, is part of an ongoing project Dezhbakhsh and Rubin have applied for other grants that would allow them to gather more recent data, look at the effects of the Brady Bill and President Bill Clinton's crime initiative, and study the effect of gun laws and other factors on suicide.

-Linda Klein

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