There was a strange story in the Independent Record today about more people applying for concealed weapons permits, a story that implied rising crime rates drive the motivation for those who want to carry guns. The story led with a strange, unsourced argument that the world’s violent “climate” is encouraging more people to take up self-defense:
The officials say the world’s violent climate has residents on edge and ready to arm themselves for self-protection.
Specifically, new Broadwater County sheriff Wynn Meehan argued that the increased violence is all over:
Meehan referred to an increase in violence locally, nationally and internationally. “I think it’s just got people on edge,” he added.
I don’t really know what he’s talking about, but the truth is that violent crime rates are dramatically down in the United States. The decrease has been so profound that criminologists and social scientists can’t even figure out what is responsible for the dramatic decline, which has transformed the US:
But over the past 25 years, the tide of crime and violence seemed to simply recede. Crime is about half of what it was at its peak in 1991. Violent crime plummeted 51 percent. Property crime fell 43 percent. Homicides are down 54 percent.
I’m not sure how to measure international rates of violence, but the Montana Department of Justice says that crime is decreasing in our state as well, and the latest report from the Attorney General says that violent crime is not only much lower in Montana than the rest of the nation, but that it’s decreasing in frequency even more rapidly here. Perhaps the Independent Record has some statistics at its disposal to show an anomalous increase in crime in Lewis and Clark, Broadwater, and Jefferson counties, but if that exists, surely there should be a story (or series) explaining it.
All of that makes the position taken by local sheriffs and accepted by the Independent Record without question all the more difficult to understand: why is local law enforcement is tacitly or directly endorsing more guns in the hands of more people to combat imaginary increase in crime, especially when increasing the number of guns do little to prevent crime, as researchers Ian Ayres and John Donohue found in their study:
On the other hand, we find that the statistical evidence that these laws have reduced crime is limited, sporadic, and extraordinarily fragile. Minor changes of specifications can generate wide shifts in the estimated effects of these laws, and some of the most persistent findings — such as the association of shall-issue laws with increases in (or no effect on) robbery and with substantial increases in various types of property crime — are not consistent with any plausible theory of deterrence.
Back in December, Lewis and Clark County Sherriff even encouraged people to get concealed carry permits.
There is no dramatic increase in violent crime in the United States—or our local area—that would justify the fear that seems to be driving people to gets concealed carry permits, and the local law enforcement officers and media owe it to the public to paint an accurate picture about violent crime and safety. When the local newspaper spends an inordinate amount of time printing crime affidavits, though, people naturally assume that crime is getting worse, which only increases their fear. If the reason more people are getting these permits is because of fear of crime, it’s time for local law enforcement and media to let them know the truth, so they have accurate information before making the decision to arm themselves and take on the risk that entails.