Law & the Courts

America Is Changing — One Carry Permit at a Time

At a gun store in Phoenix, Ariz., 2012 (Reuters photo: Ralph D. Freso)
A recent increase in law-abiding gun ownership bodes well for the country’s future.

The great arming is underway, and that’s a very good thing for our nation, for our culture, and for the relationship between citizen and state.

On Thursday, John Lott and the Crime Prevention Research Center published a comprehensive survey of the growth in concealed-carry permits in the United States. The numbers are stunning — not just in their growth, but in their depth and consequence. Here’s a sampling.

During Barack Obama’s presidency, the number of concealed-carry permit holders increased by a whopping 256 percent. The numbers have increased across multiple demographics, with a higher percentage growth for women than men and for black citizens than white. In eleven states at least 10 percent of the adults possess carry permits. All told, 16.36 million Americans have carry permits, a number that understates the amount of people who carry weapons, since 14 states “have adopted constitutional carry in all or part of the state” — which means that no permit is required for citizens to carry a gun.

At the same time that carry permits have increased at an astonishing rate, violent crime has decreased, and concealed-carry permit holders remain remarkably law-abiding. From 2007 to 2015, murder rates decreased by 12.5 percent and “overall violent crime fell by 18 percent.” At the same time, “the percentage of adults with permits soared by 190 percent.” And yet despite that growth, available data still indicate that permit holders are substantially more law-abiding than the police. For example, using data from Florida and Texas, Lott found that “permit holders are convicted of misdemeanors and felonies at less than a sixth of the rate for police officers.”

Those who closely follow gun-control debates are likely familiar with many (if not most) of these statistics, and I’m thus less interested in what they say than in what they mean. Simply put, American culture is changing from the ground up, and if present trends continue the gun-control debate will be settled by the sheer number of weapons in law-abiding hands. To borrow the Left’s language, it looks like the arc of history is bending, and it’s bending toward an armed citizenry.

I’ve been battling the Left over gun control for two decades, and I’ve been a part of “gun culture” all my life. If I remember correctly, I fired my first gun — a .22 rifle — when I was eight years old (and I was behind my peers). During that time I’ve not only seen the debate change, I’ve seen people change the moment they not just learn to fire a gun but also the moment they start to carry.

If I had to sum up the change in one word, I’d choose “independence.” Give me two, and I’ll add “courage.” Let me use three, and I’ll take “responsibility.”

First, it’s just a fact that for the vast majority of people, the instant they start carrying a gun is the instant they change their relationship with the state. No longer are they a protectee. They’re suddenly and substantially less dependent. They become a protector — of themselves and others — and that transition has a powerful psychological effect. It grants them greater security in their home, and it grants them greater freedom in their community. For many people, it gives them freedom from fear.

Along with the independence, I’ve seen a measurable increase in personal courage. Most people who carry guns also think through scenarios where they’d be required to use that weapon. They’ll discuss tactics with instructors, practice using their weapon at the range, and they’ll talk about troublesome scenarios with friends. Along the way, their mindset changes. They often subtly change from a person who can protect others to a person who will protect others, from a person who will run from danger to a person who will run to danger. A sense of resolve sets in, and the armed citizen actually feels a greater connection with those around him. He’s aware, alert, and ready. Not alarmed. Not frightened. But calmly confident.

Moreover, there are few things that build responsibility and attention to detail better than lawful gun ownership. Those who carry are aware of the gun’s presence, and fully aware of its power. Those who’ve earned permits have already demonstrated that they’re worthy of trust, and for the overwhelming majority, the decision to carry only amplifies their sense of duty.

It’s always interesting to see data merge with observed experience. The independent, courageous, responsible reality I see with my own eyes is reflected not just in statistics showing that permit holders are extraordinarily law-abiding but also in the repeated incidents where they come to the aid of friends and neighbors in need. More permit-holders do not lead to more gun crime. They do, however, mean more help and protection for the innocent and the vulnerable.

Indeed, while the sources and causes of crime are extraordinarily complex, it does appear that states with higher carry rates and the loosest carry restrictions have lower violent-crime rates than jurisdictions with the lowest carry percentages, and that sharp increases in carry permits correlate with decreases in murder rates. According to Lott, “Using permit and murder data from 2011 through 2014, we find that states with the sharpest increases in permits had the largest percentage drops in murder rates.”

It’s often said that politics is downstream from culture, and for conservatives those words so often mean that we’re losing ground. The ground is shifting beneath our feet on matters involving sexuality and marriage. But the news is not all bad, and culture change does not always run to the left. The pro-life movement stands strong, and the ground is shifting beneath progressives’ feet on guns. An armed citizenry is more likely to remain a free citizenry, and free citizens are more likely to maintain the independence and courage that have long been hallmarks of the American spirit. In this important respect our nation is changing for the better — one carry permit at a time.


Where the Public Stands on Gun Issues

The Phony ‘Public-Health Crisis’ of Gun Violence

Knocking Down the Leading Myths about Guns


The Latest