More Guns, More Crime? New Report Analyzes Effects of Right-to-Carry Laws
Literature lags, but states being forced into RTC era unlikely to see dramatic uptick in homicide, violent crime
NEW YORK, NY – Last week, Mayor Adams signed a bill banning guns in Times Square. But will it stick? The legislation depends on adherence to a new state gun law which is currently facing legal challenges. So, will Adams’ signature prove a symbolic gesture? And what does it mean if visitors to Times Square can or cannot carry guns?
These are the types of questions at stake in a new Manhattan Institute report from fellow Robert VerBruggen which evaluates the effect of right-to-carry (RTC) laws on homicide and violent crime patterns.
The past 40 years have seen a revolution in Americans’ right to carry a concealed firearm, spanning from the 1980s, when many states did not grant concealed weapon permits, to the adoption of “shall-issue” laws by some, and, in recent years, to the decision among more than 20 states not even to require permits. Earlier this year in Bruen, marking perhaps the high-water mark of this shift, SCOTUS ruled that the Constitution protects the right to carry while striking down New York’s requirement that permit applicants demonstrate special need.
Now that RTC is becoming universal, it’s worth evaluating the policy’s consequences for crime rates thus far. If either side of the gun debate is correct, these policy changes should have led to sizable shifts in crime rates. Unfortunately, however, 25 years after the first rigorous studies on RTC were published, social science has not resolved the issue; different researchers have long reached varying conclusions. Over time, findings that RTC reduces crime have become less common, and findings that it increases it more common—but recent work still contains plenty of null results, meaning that any effect has been too small to measure, and technical flaws with past studies have only recently come to light.
VerBruggen says this is a story about the limitations of modern social science more than one about the potential of guns to create or solve problems. But for states being forced into a RTC era they would have preferred to avoid, the fallout from the ruling is likely to be subtle; guns-rights supporters’ hopes, as well as gun-control proponents fears, about RTC have been largely misplaced. Further, SCOTUS left states a lot of leeway to minimize the number of civilians receiving permits and to restrict the behavior of those who do receive them, meaning any negative consequences seen in voluntary RTC states can be minimized in those now forced to change their laws.