“Gun Permit Holders Commit Crimes”!! That is the breathless headline over at the Arkansas Times, where Max Brantley points to a New York Times review of concealed carry permit holders in North Carolina that found “more than 2,400 permit holders were convicted of felonies or misdemeanors” over five years.
Golly, 2,400 sounds like a whole bunch. Say, how many of these gun permit holders are there in North Carolina, anyway? Seems like we should get some sense of the statistical scope of this matter if we’re to determine its seriousness.
Hm, let’s look. The original NYT story Max links says North Carolina has “more than 240,000” concealed carry permit holders. Which means that, just working from their top line numbers, somewhere around 1 percent of these permit holders have been convicted of felonies and misdemeanors.
So I guess it’s true, as Max’s headline has it—gun permit holders commit crimes. But you know who else commits crimes? Other people! People who don’t have gun permits.
There’s nothing in the NYT story, aside from a series of scary anecdotes, to help us determine if these permit holders have a greater propensity to commit crimes, or a greater propensity to commit more violent crimes. Drilling down a little further, Reason Magazine’s Jacob Sullum arrives at a conclusion that differs dramatically from that of the NYT report:
So 0.2 percent of them are convicted of a non-traffic-related offense each year, about 0.017 percent are convicted of a felony, and only 0.005 percent are convicted of a gun assault. The Times concedes that the number of permit holders convicted of crimes “represents a small percentage of those with permits.” More like “tiny.” By comparison, about 0.35 percent of all Americans are convicted of a felony each year—more than 20 times the rate among North Carolina permit holders. It seems clear these people are far more law-abiding than the general population, a finding consistent with data from other states. Such data are not surprising, since law-abidingness, as measured by a clean criminal record, is one requirement for a carry permit.
Max looks at the spread of handgun ownership and arrives at this taunting two-word conclusion: “Feel safer?” Well, maybe you should—after all, even the NYT was reporting a few months ago on how crime watchers are “baffled” by the “steady decline in major crime.” Could that decline have anything to do with the fact that “it is easier than ever to carry a handgun in public,” as the NYT story states? Perhaps.
Or perhaps that’s too glib and simplistic an interpretation of what is, no doubt, a complex social phenomenon. But it’s hardly more glib and simplistic than Brantley’s practice of assuming there’s an incipient Travis Bickle lurking in the soul of every gun owner.
Further reading: Instapundit offers a terrific rundown of the critical response to the “shoddy journalism” of the NYT review.