What a difference a generation can make. In 1987 crime in the United States was out of control. That same year Gallup asked Americans if they would support a ban on handguns, and a worrying forty-two percent answered “yes.”
While almost half the country wanted to ban handguns, nine states were trying something different. “Shall issue” concealed-carry laws were passed, meaning non-felons could apply for a license to carry a concealed handgun and their state government was obliged to respect their right to carry for self-defense.
Meanwhile forty states had either “May Issue” laws in place – meaning the state had discretion in the matter, typically resulting in denial – or no law respecting a citizen’s right to carry a concealed handgun for personal protection.
Just one state – Vermont – required no license. Any American citizen could carry a concealed handgun in the Green Mountain State.
The anti-gun crowd predicted blood in the streets and Wild West shootouts at the local supermarket. They said crime and violence would only increase as a result of these “shall issue” laws.
By 1992 the number of “shall issue” states had risen to sixteen. Armageddon surely loomed on the horizon.
But it never came. Peaking in the early 1990s, homicide, rape, robbery, and assaults all began a rapid decline. A criminologist named John Lott published More Guns, Less Crime in 1998, arguing that states with permissive concealed-carry laws saw the most significant drops in violent crime.
Gary Kleck, a Florida State University criminologist, published his own research finding that Americans were defending themselves with guns as often as two million times per year.
Suddenly the anti-gun crowd had a new argument: Concealed carry has no impact on crime! Lott was left chuckling as he pointed out the irony of groups like the Brady Campaign launching an all-out assault on his findings and concluding that more people carrying guns had no effect on crime rates. Who would have thought?
The public, however, wasn’t buying it.
Quite the opposite. In 2003 “shall issue” was the law in thirty-four states, and Alaska joined Vermont: Residents of The Last Frontier could now carry a concealed handgun without first obtaining a license – referred to by proponents as “constitutional carry” – and over the next ten years the state’s murder rate would drop by twenty percent.
By 2010 the number of “shall issue” states stood at thirty-six, and Arizona joined the ranks of “constitutional carry” states, followed by Wyoming in 2011, Arkansas in 2013, and Kansas and Maine in 2015. The Crime Prevention Research Center would report in May 2017 that over fifteen million Americans had a concealed-carry license – not including those people living in the fourteen states (!) that had changed their carry laws and now require no license at all. Only seven states retain “May issue” concealed-carry laws: California, Delaware, Hawaii, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Jersey, and New York.
It is becoming increasingly difficult to ignore the value of armed self-defense in public places – the whole point of concealed-carry. Over ninety percent of defensive gun uses involve merely brandishing the weapon to scare off an attacker, but a number of high-profile cases in Colorado, Pennsylvania, Illinois, and elsewhere in recent years demonstrate that armed citizens are very effective at protecting themselves and those around them when bad guys strike.
A survey of fifteen thousand police officers in 2013 found that over ninety percent support permissive concealed-carry laws. The number of Americans who believe that protecting the right to keep and bear arms is more important than passing more gun-control laws surpassed fifty percent in 2014 – for the first time in two decades. In 2016 Gallup found that the number of Americans supporting a handgun ban had dropped to just twenty-three percent – about one in five. Blacks, women, and Millennials are the fastest growing groups of new gun-owners, belying the stereotype that only old white males care about guns.
A major cultural shift is taking place. More than ever, Americans are arming themselves against criminals and madmen in the modern era. Interestingly, this trend is also catching fire abroad. In Austria and the Czech Republic, for example, the migrant crisis, rising crime, and several high-profile terrorist attacks have been met by a renewed interest in self-defense and gun ownership. People are figuring out that when seconds count the police are always going to be too far away.