Dan Baum answers reader's questions about his article on guns in Harper's
Q: It was an excellent and important article, though personally I wanted Mr. Baum to draw a stronger conclusion. Does he think that concealed, or open, carry is a net positive for a society? Does it actually decrease crime? Or does it just enhance the potential consequences of anger, intoxication, and stupidity? Could the answers be different for different parts of the country, or for different settings (urban, rural, suburban, etc.)? Does he feel that there is, or could be, a non-paranoid, non-right-wing gun culture?
A: It isn’t a matter of whether I think concealed carry is a net positive or negative. The data demonstrate that it really doesn’t matter much one way or the other. (I think widespread concealed carry may have something to do with the big drop in crime in the past twenty years, but unlike John Lott and his acolytes, I don’t think it’s the whole story.) Anger, intoxication, and stupidity will, like the poor, always be with us. The track record of widespread concealed carry, though, shows that the angry, the drunk, and the stupid — if they’re carrying guns — aren’t giving in to the temptation to express themselves with gunfire.
As for a non-paranoid, non-right-wing gun culture, yes! I’m on a six-week road trip this summer around the Midwest interviewing people about their gun lives for a book I’m writing, and finding that most gun people I meet are neither. It’s the paranoid and the politically motivated who hog the spotlight and the airwaves, but it seems there is a — dare I say it? — silent majority.
Ugh? Well, I claim that police are the single most important factor impacting crime rates. I think that arrest and conviction rates, prison sentences, death penalty probably account for over 50 percent of the variation in crime rates by themselves. I think that lots of other factors matter to varying degrees as well. Chapter 4 in my book Freedomnomics tries to breakdown the different factors in a fairly straightforward way.
As to the issues of angry, drunk, and stupid people, I have never argued that there are no problems with permit holders. What I have argued is that the problems are extremely small. When I point to a state such as Florida, I note that there are 167 permit holders who have had their permits revoked for firearms related violations since 1987. But I also point out that over 1.8 million people have had permits. In talk after talk that I give, I point out that guns make it easier for bad things to happen, but that they also make it easier for people to prevent bad things from happening. The question is what is the net effect.