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Senate Vote at Noon on Nationalizing Concealed Handgun Laws

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After more than two decades, at noon today the gun lobby's efforts to enact a national concealed handgun law will have its first chance at success when the U.S. Senate votes on an amendment sponsored by South Dakota Senator John Thune to the defense authorization bill (S. 1390) that would create such a system. Senator Charles Schumer (D-NY) is leading the effort to filibuster the amendment.

"Shall issue" concealed handgun 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 are virtually equal to the limited requirements that must be met to purchase a handgun under federal law.

According to a new study released this week by my organization, the Violence Policy Center:

  • 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.
  • Five of the incidents were mass shootings resulting in the deaths of 23 victims.

Because most state systems allowing the carrying of concealed handguns in public by private citizens operate to hide permit holders' identities and release little data about crimes committed by them, the VPC reviewed shooting incidents as reported by news outlets. It is likely that the actual number of fatal criminal incidents involving concealed handgun permit holders during this period is far higher.

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.

The Thune amendment would establish a de facto national concealed handgun system, 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.

And while the proponents of lax concealed handgun laws argue as an article of faith that these measures reduce overall crime rates, in 2004 the National Research Council's Committee on Law and Justice determined that studies -- such as those conducted by researcher John Lott -- indicating a relationship between concealed carry laws and overall crime rates were not reliable. Specifically, the committee carefully examined Lott's data and research methods and concluded "that with the current evidence it is not possible to determine that there is a causal link between the passage of right-to-carry laws and crime rates."

But the actual facts of how lax concealed handgun laws operate in the real world mean little to the National Rifle Association and its supporters on Capitol Hill. In the August issue of the National Rifle Association's America's 1st Freedom magazine, NRA head Wayne LaPierre dismisses the concerns of those who would question the NRA's CCW campaign:

What it boils down to is this: Instant responders -- armed individuals -- are always better than first responders -- the police -- because instant responders can prevent the kind of tragedy that first responders can only clean up.

Unless, of course, the "first responder" has just been shot and killed by the "instant responder."