To the Editor:

Tori Marlan’s June 6 article, “Dealing Death,” showed very clearly the damage caused by the U.S. attorney’s failure to prosecute those who circumvent federal gun laws. The article also gave the impression that the solution to the problem of gun violence is stricter gun-control laws. However, Marlan’s reconstruction of the illegal gun transfers by “straw man” Mariano DiVittorio shows clearly that gun-control laws do not keep criminals from obtaining firearms, since criminals do not obey gun laws. For example, Washington, D.C., enacted some of the strongest gun-control laws in the country in 1976 and the city’s murder rate tripled over the next 15 years. Because the U.S. attorney and the federal courts are unwilling to prosecute and incarcerate such criminals, other methods must be used to protect law-abiding citizens.

Frustrated with the failures of the legal system, 31 states have enacted a new kind of law that creates no special burden for the courts and imposes no prison sentences but reduces violent crime immediately and permanently. These laws are called CCW laws, because they permit qualified citizens to Carry Concealed Weapons in public. CCW laws have been very controversial, sparking vigorous opposition from antigun groups. Sometimes these groups succeed in blocking passage of CCW laws, as they did earlier this year in Illinois.

The horror fantasies spread by groups that oppose CCW laws have universally failed to come true. Shoot-outs over parking spaces or poor service at the local diner have failed to occur as holders of CCW permits demonstrate themselves to be among the most law-abiding segments of society. Less than 0.05 percent of CCW permits have been revoked in Virginia and less than 0.02 percent have been revoked in Florida and Texas. But what are the real effects of armed citizens on society? Professor John Lott Jr. of the University of Chicago performed a study of CCW laws to find out.

Lott’s 1996 study used FBI county-level crime data from 1977 to 1992 to find the effects of CCW laws on crime with controls for population, race, age, income, arrest rates, conviction rates, gun laws, prison sentences, etc. By far the most significant factor in reducing crime was the presence of a state CCW law. Lott found that if all states had enacted CCW laws in 1992, at least 1,570 murders, 4,177 rapes, and 60,000 aggravated assaults would have been prevented each year since that date, with a maximum of nine additional accidental deaths. Estimated annual savings to society from nationwide CCW laws: $6.214 billion. Putting guns on the street, in the pockets and purses of responsible citizens, saves lives and money.

Overall, states with CCW laws have violent crime rates 18 percent lower than states without such laws. The homicide rate in states with CCW laws is 21 percent lower, the aggravated assault rate is 11 percent lower, and the robbery rate is 32 percent lower (FBI). Since Florida enacted its CCW law in 1987, homicide, firearm homicide, and handgun homicide rates have fallen by 36 percent, 37 percent, and 41 percent respectively (Florida Department of State). The national homicide rate decreased by 0.4 percent, while the national firearm homicide and handgun homicide rates increased by 15 percent and 24 percent over the same period (FBI).

The reason for these changes in crime rates is simple: Armed citizens make poor victims. According to a 1995 study by Dr. Gary Kleck of Florida State University, Americans successfully use firearms to defend themselves against crime 2.5 million times per year (criminals are wounded in 1 percent of these confrontations, and are killed only 0.1 percent of the time). A 1986 study by Wright and Rossi, Armed and Considered Dangerous, found that 40 percent of felons chose not to commit a crime because they feared their victim might be armed, and 35 percent of felons admitted to being scared off or shot at by armed victims.

Perhaps the greatest benefit of CCW laws is that they protect all citizens, including those who do not carry firearms. The simple fact that the weapons are concealed makes crime much less attractive, since it is impossible for a criminal to know if a potential victim is armed. Small, easily concealed handguns do have a place in self-defense in those states that allow the law-abiding an even chance against illegally armed criminals. No one will ever know whether an Illinois CCW law would have prevented the murder of Andrew Young, but such laws are proven to reduce crime and save lives. Gun-control laws, on the other hand, embolden criminals and disarm only law-abiding citizens.

Todd Field