Daniel D. Polsby replies.

Author:Polsby, Daniel D.
Position:Response to article by David McDowall, Colin Loftin and Brian Wiersema in this issue, p. 221 - Guns and Violence Symposium

McDowall, Loffin, and Wiersema hypothesize that illegal carriage of guns by criminals may be a response to legal concealed carriage, both by civilians and police officers. The implication is that this might be a mechanism through which Florida's "shall issue" carry permit law drives up the rate of lethal violence. The further implication is that less legal concealed carriage, whether by civilians or by police officers, should ease the rate of lethal violence. The notion that disarming police officers should lead to lower levels of criminal violence, whether by firearms or by other instrumentalities, is a bold conjecture indeed, and while it may be true, it will take a good more propounding than these authors have given it. But what is more important, the authors' distinction between firearms homicides and other homicides is seriously misleading. They claim to have found that, in some parts of Florida at least, firearms homicides increased after the concealed carry gun law was relaxed. But the state's overall rate of homicide decreased. This experience supports the argument of "shall issue" proponents, whose theory was simply that increased gun carrying would deter violent criminals, not that it would set up some sort of selective deterrent force that would affect only predators armed with guns. Readers who are interested in what the recent Florida homicide experience has been may consult the accompanying graph, which presents F.B.I. statistics through the most recent year for which data are available.

No one can reasonably contest the fact that feral teenagers and young men do have a penchant, which has been increasing, for using guns to facilitate economic climes and to redress narcissistic injuries.(1) The social danger, however, does not lie with the number of guns in circulation, but with how they are distributed in the population.(2)

When violence breaks out in our society, we normally expect the situation to be taken in hand by men and women with guns-peace officers. We arm the police because we believe that it makes them safer from attack, and hence lowers the costs to themselves of intervening in trouble. There is no evident reason why the same logic should not be applicable to adequately proficient civilians as well. Though rising levels of civilian armament and rising homicide rates are compatible conditions, there is no longer any room for doubt that the converse proposition is true as well: liberalization of concealed carry laws can...

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