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The New York Times' Bogus Crime Data about Concealed-Handgun Permit Holders

(Reuters photo: Jim Young) by JOHN R. LOTT JR. January 19, 2017 4:00 AM
If gun-control advocates' claims were on solid ground, they wouldn't need to make up numbers.

For the fourth time in less than two years, the New York Times has run an editorial repeating blatantly false numbers to convince readers that concealed-handgun permit holders are dangerous (January 12, 2017; December 1, 2016; November 26, 2015; February 11, 2015).

Last week, the Times again asserted that in the almost ten years between May 2007 and January of this year, there were 921 non-self-defense gun deaths by U.S. concealed-handgun permit holders. Of these deaths, 295 were suicides and 30 were accidental shootings (with any type of gun, not just handguns). A total of 324 permit holders purportedly killed other people.

These numbers come from the Violence Policy Center (VPC). Looking at the VPC numbers for 2016, we find that 26 permit holders supposedly committed 29 homicides. With over 14.5 million permit holders nationwide, those deaths amount to 0.2 homicides per 100,000 permit holders.

However, almost all of these cases are listed as "pending" - and will be ruled justified on account of self-defense. Virtually any time a permit holder uses a handgun in a public place, there will be an arrest and investigation.

The 921-deaths figure is the result of triple and even quadruple counting what are often legitimate uses of guns for self-defense as bad events. Michigan - by far the worst state, according to VPC numbers - supposedly suffered 72 homicides and 283 suicides. However, "pending" and "conviction" numbers from the Michigan State Police reports are both counted. Since most cases never result in a conviction and many cases can be listed as pending during two or three calendar years, this results in massive over-counting. An additional 27 cases are added in as a result of news reports. Apparently, no effort was made to check if any of these media-derived cases were already accounted for in the state police reports.

A case will be counted four times if it is covered in a news story and is pending for at least part of three different calendar years before culminating in a verdict of not guilty. Over the roughly ten-year period, Michigan had 14 convictions of homicides by permit holders, not 72. And the state police don't record how the homicide was committed. That comes to 1.4 cases per year, with about 560,000 permit holders in June last year.

Michigan doesn't collect information on how or where suicides are committed, just that permit holders commit suicide. The Violence Policy Center simply assumes that all these suicides were committed with permitted concealed handguns outside the permit holders' homes when they are carrying concealed. But the vast majority of suicides are committed at home. As to causation, permit holders committed suicide at just 38 percent of the rate of the adult Michigan population.

Concealed-handgun permit holders are also much more law-abiding than the rest of the population. In fact, they are convicted at an even lower rate than police officers. According to a study in Police Quarterly, from 2005 to 2007, police committed 703 crimes annually on average. Of those, there were 113 firearms violations on average. This is likely to be an underestimate, since not all police crimes receive media coverage. Concealed-handgun permit holders are much more law-abiding than the rest of the population.

With 683,396 full-time law-enforcement employees nationwide in 2006, we can infer that there were about 102 crimes by police per 100,000 officers. Among the U.S. population as a whole, the crime rate was 37 times higher than the police crime rate over those years - 3,813 per 100,000 people.

Now let's look at permit holders. Between October 1, 1987, and January 31, 2015, Florida revoked 9,366 concealed-handgun permits for misdemeanor or felony offenses. This is an annual rate of 12.5 crimes per 100,000 permit holders - a mere eighth of the crime rate among officers. In Texas, 108 permit holders were convicted of misdemeanors or felonies in 2015 - the last year for which data are available. This is a rate of 10.8 per 100,000, scarcely more than a tenth of the rate for police.

Among police, firearms violations occur at a rate of 6.9 per 100,000 officers. For Florida permit holders, the rate is only 0.31 per 100,000. Most of these violations were trivial offenses, such as forgetting one's permit. The data are similar in other states.

The New York Times is doing an injustice by providing false numbers about an issue with such immediate relevance to public safety. There is no excuse for this, as the Times has been repeatedly called out in letters to the editor and elsewhere. But the same fake numbers keep turning up because they fit the Times' political agenda.

Counting legitimate cases of self-defense as unlawful homicide - sometimes three or four times - is clearly not legitimate. And almost another third of these cases are suicides that clearly can't be justifiably included. If gun-control advocates' claims, such as those by the New York Times, were on solid ground, they wouldn't need to make up numbers.

- John R. Lott is the president of the Crime Prevention Research Center and the author of The War on Guns.

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