Since the 1980s, the right of law-abiding citizens to carry has expanded tremendously. Before then, only a handful of states permitted carrying firearms by regular citizens. But with Florida becoming by far the largest state expanding the right to carry in 1987, a media firestorm ensued. Gun-control activists insisted that the state would devolve into a sort of “wild west.”
So, did Florida come apart at the seams with every disagreement turning into the O.K. Corral? Not at all, according to the data. Florida’s homicide rate actually fell following the passage of its “shall-issue” gun-carry law. In 1987, it had 11.4 murders per 100,000 people. But, by the start of the new century, the rate had been cut to 5.6 per 100,000.
While we cannot conclude the carry law caused murder in Florida to drop, it is safe to say that the decline refuted opponents’ predictions of dire consequences.
“There are lots of people, including myself, who thought things would be a lot worse as far as that particular situation [carry reform] is concerned,” Florida Representative Ronald A. Silver (D.), who opposed the law, said in 1990. “I’m happy to say they’re not.”
John Fuller, general counsel for the Florida Sheriffs Associated, added: “I haven’t seen where we have had any instance of persons with permits causing violent crimes, and I’m constantly on the lookout.”
Yet opponents have never given up the talking point that expanding carry rights makes crime rise. Indeed, that is the basis of their current fears over the Supreme Court’s upcoming decision in New York State Rifle & Pistol Association Inc. v. Bruen. In that case, the Court is deciding whether New York’s “may-issue” permitting system, which allows government officials to subjectively deny concealed carry applicants who complete safety training and pass a background check, violates the Second Amendment.
We won’t know for sure what the Court’s ruling will be until it is published. But most scholars expect SCOTUS will make “shall-issue” permitting, where government officials have to issue permits to those who complete training and pass a background check, the law of the land.
While some studies have claimed that “shall-issue” permitting systems cause crime to rise, the RAND corporation’s review of those studies decided that they were mostly inconclusive. Rand found some studies show increased crime, and others showed decreased crime. Even among the studies that claimed increased crime, however, none had evidence that the people with carry permits caused the increased crime. And that’s for a very good reason: reliable and comprehensive state-level data on that topic shows that people with carry permits are overwhelmingly law-abiding.
Take Texas, for example. 2020 was the last complete year where permits were issued before Texas passed permitless, or “Constitutional,” carry. That year, Texas had 1,626,242 active concealed handgun license holders. That same year, 573 people with those licenses did something that caused the state to revoke their licenses. That’s just 0.03% of the total amount of people with licenses.
Overall in 2020, Texas license holders were 5.7% of the state’s population, yet they were convicted of just 0.43% of the state’s serious crimes. There were 114 convictions for license holders out of 26,304 convictions for the state as a whole. And many of the offenses listed in the five-page PDF do not involve a firearm at all.
Florida has 2,323,336 residents with active Concealed Weapon Licenses as of May 31, 2022. (After the 200,000 or so out-of-state licenses are excluded from the total.) From July 1, 2020 to June 30, 2021, the state revoked just 1,050 licenses. Another 5,684 were suspended, though it does not appear all suspensions end up being permanent revocations. That equates to a revocation rate of just 0.04% per year. In fact, since “shall-issue” began in the 1980s, the state has revoked just 18,267 licenses out of a total of 5,351,852 issued. And 1,463 of those were later reinstated. That means only about 0.3% of Floridians who get a carry permit ever have it permanently revoked. Unfortunately, unlike in Texas, the reasons for revocation are not broken down in the available data.
As a final example, let’s look at Minnesota. Based on the Minnesota Department of Public Safety, the state had 387,013 valid carry permits in 2021. The state only revoked 40 of those that year. While the state reports that people with carry permits committed 3,863 “crimes,” a much higher rate than what we saw in the Texas data, the discrepancy seems to be because Minnesota is more inclusive of what it considers a crime (61% were DWIs or other traffic offenses). Only 2% of the 3,863 crimes involved a firearm. So, even when people with a carry permit do commit crimes, their permits are rarely relevant to those crimes.
Doing the math in Minnesota’s case, just 0.02% of permit holders used a firearm in furtherance of a crime.
The evidence shows people with carry permits are overwhelmingly law-abiding. And common sense can likely explain why. If an individual gets a carry permit before carrying a gun, they are demonstrating a predisposition to follow the law.
Similarly, someone more prone to criminal actions is unlikely to bother with or care about a permit requirement.