Bogus Gun-Control Numbers

by John R. Lott Jr.
To prove that concealed handguns are dangerous, the Violence Policy Center cooks the books.

People walking the streets armed with guns are dangerous, right? With all 50 states finally allowing concealed handguns to at least some degree and with over 11 million Americans now having permits to carry them, this question ought to have been settled. In fact, despite continued attacks by gun-control organizations, permit holders almost never commit violent crimes with their guns.

Nonetheless, this past week, just in time for the NRA convention, gun-control advocates were at it again, touting ridiculous charges that concealed-carry permits were responsible for 636 deaths nationwide over the seven years from May 2007 to March 2014.

The Violence Policy Center regularly puts out these bogus charges in a report called “Concealed Carry Killers.” But how does it claim to arrive at these numbers? 

The VPC collects cases of permit holders’ abusing their permitted concealed handguns for each state. For Michigan, for example, it cites state-police reports on permit holders indicating that 185 died from suicide during the period 2007 through 2012. Surely some alarm bells should have gone off, with Michigan suicides supposedly making up 29 percent of all 636 deaths nationwide the VPC attributed to permitted concealed handguns.

But more importantly, the suicides are not in any meaningful way linked to the issue of carrying a permitted concealed handgun outside of one’s home. If you look at page 2 in the latest report from the Michigan State Police, you will see that in the listing of suicides, there is no indication of specific cause of death. The report merely notes that 56 permit holders committed suicide, without saying whether any or all of them used a gun. Interestingly, the suicide rate among permit holders in Michigan in 2010 (13.3 per 100,000 permit holders) is lower than the rate in the general adult population (16.30). But typically suicides — with or without guns — take place at home. So, again, what would these numbers have to do with the concealed-carry debate?

Now a look at the murder and manslaughter statistics as presented by the Violence Policy Center report. These cases would surely be relevant, but they are not counted correctly. This is how the Michigan State Police report the numbers: 

2007–08: Pending 5, Convicted 0 
2008–09: Pending 0, Convicted 1
2009–10: Pending 1, Convicted 2
2010–11: Pending 5, Convicted 4
2011–12: Pending 3, Convicted 4
Total: Pending 14, Convicted 11

In other words, during 2007–08, five cases were pending and there were no convictions. The Violence Policy Center makes several fundamental mistakes. First, it can’t add simple numbers up correctly. While the VPC claims 20 pending cases and 14 convictions, the Michigan State Police report a total of 14 and 11 cases respectively.

Secondly, since it can take years for a murder case to go to trial, some of the homicides may have occurred well before 2007. In addition, the Michigan State Police report doesn’t provide information on how the murder was committed, so gun murders make up only a portion of this total.​ 

Third, and perhaps the worst mistake, the Violence Policy Center actually adds the “pending” and “conviction” numbers together. Convictions are obviously what should be counted. After all, some of the “pending” cases do not result in a conviction, and adding them more than doubles the total number.

There is even more numerical nonsense. The Violence Policy Center then adds in twelve cases that were reported in newspapers and other media over the same years. However, those cases had already been counted in the official statistics by the Michigan State Police. 

It seems the Violence Policy Center piles on any numbers that it can get hold of, anything that can be related to concealed-carry holders. For instance, it counts legitimate self-defense cases in which no charges were filed or the permit holder was charged and later exonerated.

All in all, the VPC has managed to triple-count claimed cases of permit holders killing people, and the vast majority of cases it includes in its list — such as legitimate self-defense shootings or suicides not related to permitted concealed handguns — shouldn’t be counted to begin with.

Yet, put aside all these problems for a moment. Assume, for the sake of argument, that the Violence Policy Center’s claim that concealed-handgun permits were responsible for 636 deaths in seven years is correct. One has to note that there are over 11 million concealed-handgun permits in the U.S. right now. With an annual number of deaths of 90, that means 0.00083 percent of concealed-carry permit holders were responsible for a shooting death each year. Removing suicides from the total reduces the rate even more, to 0.00058 percent.

The conjuring up of bogus numbers like these has become a mainstay of gun-control groups. That also includes the “studiesfinanced by Michael Bloomberg’s millions. However, a group of researchers, of whom I am one, are setting up the Crime Prevention Research Center to uncover and counter these misleading claims.

— John R. Lott Jr. is the president of the Crime Prevention Research Center and the author of More Guns, Less Crime (University of Chicago Press, 2010, 3rd edition).