For more than two decades a top priority of the gun lobby has been establishing and expanding state laws that allow the carrying of concealed handguns by private citizens. These "shall issue" laws eliminate the discretion of local law enforcement and licensing agencies to determine eligibility for permits to carry concealed handguns (commonly known as CCW, concealed carry weapon, permits). In many states, the criteria for legally carrying a loaded, hidden handgun in public is virtually equal to the limited requirements that must be met to purchase a handgun.
This effort may culminate as early as today as the U.S. Senate prepares take up an amendment sponsored by South Dakota Senator John Thune to the defense authorization bill (S. 1390) that would create a de facto national concealed carry system. Senator Chuck Schumer (D-NY) has stated that he will filibuster the amendment.
The danger the Thune amendment poses is illustrated all too clearly by a new study released today by my organization, the Violence Policy Center, which reveals that in the two-year period May 2007 through April 2009 individuals issued state permits to carry loaded, concealed handguns have killed at least seven police officers and 44 private citizens. Breaking the numbers down, the study found that:
Over the two year period May 2007 through April 2009, concealed handgun permit holders have slain seven law enforcement officers resulting in criminal charges or the suicide of the shooter. All of the killings were committed with guns. An additional three law enforcement officers were injured in these incidents.
Over the two year period May 2007 through April 2009, concealed handgun permit holders have slain at least 44 private citizens resulting in criminal charges or the suicide of the shooter. All but one of the killings were committed with guns. An additional six private citizens were injured in these incidents.
In six of the 31 incidents (19 percent), the concealed handgun permit holder killed himself, bringing the total fatality count to 57.
The 51 homicides occurred in 15 states. Law enforcement officers were killed in four states: Florida, Idaho, Ohio (two incidents), and Pennsylvania (two incidents). Private citizens were killed in 14 states: Alabama, Colorado, Florida (nine incidents), Idaho, Kentucky, Minnesota, New York, North Carolina (two incidents), Ohio (three incidents), Oklahoma, South Carolina, Tennessee, Utah (two incidents), and Virginia. All of these homicides resulted in criminal charges against the concealed carry license holders or the suicide of the licensee.
In a rational world, numbers like these would cause states to reassess these misguided and deadly programs. But these days, at least on Capitol Hill, we all seem to live in the National Rifle Association's world.
Since the first "shall issue" law was passed in Florida in 1987, similar measures have spread across the country: today 48 states have some form of concealed carry law -- either lax "shall issue" laws or more restrictive "may issue" laws. A parallel effort has produced a growing network of reciprocity in which states recognize the validity of CCW permits issued by other states.
The Thune amendment would establish a de facto national concealed handgun system by overriding many state laws by mandating that those states allow the carrying of loaded, concealed firearms by anyone permitted to carry concealed weapons in another state. All states with any type of concealed carry system would be forced to allow a person to carry concealed firearms even if the person carrying is barred from possessing guns by the state in which they wish to carry. In essence, states with extremely weak concealed carry requirements, such as Idaho, would dictate the terms by which people in states with tough permitting requirements, such as California, could carry concealed firearms.
The bill also sets no limits on the types of concealed firearms that people can carry. Which firearms could be carried would be determined by the state issuing the concealed carry license -- even if the type of gun is banned in the state where the person chooses to carry the firearm. The result would be that states like Idaho could enable people to carry assault pistols in California, a state where all assault weapons are banned.
Behind the false claims of public safety and personal protection, "shall-issue" concealed handgun laws were originally promoted by the gun lobby and gun industry to jumpstart sagging handgun sales by creating a new market for smaller, more powerful handguns.
As then-National Rifle Association lobbying chief Tanya Metaksa told The Wall Street Journal in a September 1996 article headlined "Tinier, Deadlier Pocket Pistols Are in Vogue:"
"The gun industry should send me a basket of fruit -- our efforts have created a new market."
Of course in its public arguments the gun lobby usually neglects to mention its own financial interests, instead promising state legislators and the public that handgun carriers armed by the new law would have a beneficent penumbra effect: aiding police by stopping crimes and protecting the citizenry. And for those who questioned the wisdom of putting guns into these citizens' hands and then sending them off into the general public, the NRA's Metaksa had a ready answer. At an April 18, 1996 press conference in Dallas, Texas, Metaksa asserted:
"As we get more information about right-to-carry, our point is made again and again ... People who get permits in states which have fair right-to-carry laws are law-abiding, upstanding community leaders who merely seek to exercise their right to self-defense."
So how many "law abiding, upstanding community leaders" do you know who shoot and kill law enforcement officers? And if anyone had said to the state legislators who voted for these bills -- outside of Florida, whose legislators seem intent on continually passing new laws with catchy names to change the definition of self-defense to fit the bullet-happy mindset of concealed handgun permit holders -- yes, these permit holders will face criminal charges for killing a police officer every few months or so and a private citizen every few weeks, would they still have voted for them?
Concealed handgun proponents, in defense of these laws, argue that contrary to the warnings lodged by permit opponents, blood isn't running in the streets. In fact, in the August 2009 issue of the NRA's America's 1st Freedom magazine, NRA head Wayne LaPierre states:
"Everywhere the NRA has fought for self-defense reforms, all of the elitist predictions about 'Wild West shootouts' or 'blood in the streets' have proven utterly false."
Or as perennial pro-gun commenter Thirdpower wrote back in May:
"Police officers have not died by droves by license holders. Streets are not running red with blood."
If seven dead police officers doesn't qualify as "a drove," and a total of 51 dead doesn't count as "blood in the streets," what does?