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President Barack Obama may be considering executive action on gun sales in his final year in the White House, but Texas’ lieutenant governor says his state shows why the country needs less gun control, not more.
Texas became the 45th state to allow concealed-carry permit holders to openly tote their firearms on Jan. 1. Concealed carry has been allowed in the state since the 1990s with basically "zero problems," Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick said on NBC’s Meet the Press.
"Everywhere that we have more citizens carrying guns, crime is less," Patrick said Jan. 3. "There's a study showing that where states have open carry or concealed carry, but particularly open carry, the crime is down 25 percent. Murders are down. Having law-abiding citizens having guns is a good thing."
Is it true that states with concealed carry have seen a 25 percent decline in crime?
The evidence for such a sweeping statement, we found, is lacking.
Correlation, not causation
Patrick’s statement reminded us of a very similar claim by Florida state Rep. Matt Gaetz, R-Fort Walton Beach, who said, "In the states that allow open carry, violent crime was 23 percent lower."
Gaetz crunched the numbers himself, comparing the rate of violent crimes (murder, forcible rape, robbery and aggravated assault) in the 42 states that allowed open carry in 2012 with the eight states that didn’t.
While his math technically checks out, experts told PolitiFact Florida that Gaetz’s statistic is meaningless, as you can’t really draw conclusions about the impact of a single law with data from a single year.
But Patrick cited a "study," not Gaetz’s napkin calculations. He did not get back to us by deadline, but he could be referencing one by economist John Lott, president of the pro-gun Crime Prevention Research Center, and flubbing some of the details.
Lott’s research — which was not published in a peer-reviewed journal but on the Crime Prevention Research Center’s website — looked at the increase in concealed-carry permits but did not discuss open carry, as Patrick mentioned on air. And the 25 percent refers to a decrease in murder rates across the nation as well as a decline in violent crime.
According to the study, the number of concealed-handgun permits across the country has increased by 178 percent from 4.6 million to 12.8 million from 2007 to 2015. Meanwhile, national murder rates have fallen from 2007 to 2014 by 25 percent, from 5.6 to 4.2 homicides per 100,000.
"Overall, violent crime also fell by 25 percent over that time period," Lott writes, though he doesn’t give the numbers behind this rate in the study.
In an interview with PolitiFact, Lott noted that the third edition of his book More Guns, Less Crime, shows that murder rates decreased 1.5 percent every year after concealed-carry legislation was passed, while robberies and rapes declined by 2 percent. Over 10 years, that comes out to about 15 to 20 percent, he said.
Experts said that the study notes an "association" but doesn’t actually show causation between increased gun ownership and fewer murders or less crime. Daniel Webster, director of the Johns Hopkins Center for Gun Policy and Research, called Patrick’s claim "ridiculous" and pointed out another coinciding trend.
"Mass shootings have more than doubled over that time," said Webster. "But I don’t make the claim that more gun carriers have led to more mass shootings."
A peer-reviewed study in the Journal of Criminology directly refuted Lott’s findings (and Lott in turn criticized that research). Researchers at Texas A&M University looked at county-level crime data in Florida, Michigan, Pennsylvania and Texas from 1998 to 2010 — the only four states with at least a decade’s worth of data after concealed-carry legislation was passed.
While all the states saw an increase in the amount of concealed-carry permits, the crime trends varied. Rape and burglary decreased across all four states from 1998 to 2010, and murder decreased in Michigan and Texas. However, robbery, aggravated assault and larceny increased in Michigan and Pennsylvania while murder increased in Florida and Pennsylvania.
"We found no effect of increases in (concealed-carry permits) issued in a county on changes in crime rates," Charles Phillips, a public health professor at Texas A&M and lead author of the study, told PolitiFact.
An inconclusive theory at best
The "more guns, less crime" theory largely stems from Lott’s highly influential and equally controversial book of the same name, which analyzed 30 years’ worth of crime data. More than a decade after its first publication, the theory continues to be the subject of heated academic and policy debate as well as numerous fact-checks.
Lott contends the "vast majority" of research supports his work, but some researchers say he’s been discredited.
"The only real dispute is whether the benefits and the costs of these (right-to-carry) laws are a wash or whether they lead to increases in violent crime," said Stanford Law professor John Donohue, a vocal critic of Lott’s work. Donohue’s own influential 2014 working paper shows an increase in violent crime in 22 states.
According to Donohue, much of the national decline in crime came from New York, a state that has no right-to-carry law. Webster of Johns Hopkins pointed out that permit holders are low-risk when it comes to involvement in violent crime, so it’s counter-intuitive to suggest that they’re the cause of a decline in murders.
That holds true in Patrick’s home state of Texas, where concealed-carry licensees commit very few crimes, said Phillips of Texas A&M, based on his own research. "But when convicted, they are more likely to be crimes involving violence, guns and death."
Finally, experts have pointed to a lot of theories beyond right-to-carry laws that may account for falling crime rates,including improved police technology, mass incarceration, online financial practices that keeps paper money out of homes, and extended unemployment benefits. So it's not as if the crime is falling because of loose gun restrictions alone.
Patrick said, "There's a study showing that where states have open carry or concealed carry, but particularly open carry, the crime is down 25 percent."
It’s possible that Patrick is referencing a disputed study by gun rights advocate John Lott and getting some details wrong.
Lott’s study shows a 25 percent decrease in murder and violent crime across the country from 2007 to 2014, as well as a 178 percent rise in the number of concealed-carry permits. Those two trends may be correlated, but experts say there’s no evidence showing causation. Further, gun laws may have little to nothing to do with rates of falling crime.
We rate Patrick’s claim Mostly False.
NBC, Meet the Press, Jan. 3, 2015
PolitiFact Florida, "Is violent crime lower in states with open carry?" Oct. 9, 2015
Crime Prevention Research Center, "Concealed Carry Permit Holders Across the United States," July 16, 2015
Email interview with John Lott, president of the Crime Prevention Research Center, Jan. 3, 2015
Email interview with Daniel Webster, director of the Johns Hopkins Center for Gun Policy and Research, Jan. 3, 2015
Journal of Criminology, "Concealed Handgun Licensing and Crime in Four States," May 27, 2015
Crime Prevention Research Center, "PROBLEMS WITH A NEW STUDY FROM JOURNAL OF CRIMINOLOGY CLAIMING THAT PERMITTED CONCEALED HANDGUNS HAVE NO EFFECT ON VIOLENT CRIME," Sept. 29, 2015
Email interview with Charles Phillips, public health professor at Texas A&M University, Jan. 3, 2015
Washington Post Fact-Checker, "Do concealed weapon laws result in less crime?," Dec. 17, 2012
Crime Prevention Research Center, "DO RIGHT-TO-CARRY LAWS REDUCE VIOLENT CRIME?," Nov. 1, 2014
Stanford Law Review, "Shooting Down the ‘More Guns, Less Crime’ Hypothesis," Aug. 2003
National Research Council, Firearms and Violence: A Critical Review, 2004
Email interview with John Donohue, professor of law and economics at Stanford University, Jan. 3, 2015
Stanford Law and Economics Olin Working Paper, "The Impact of Right to Carry Laws and the NRC Report: The Latest Lessons for the Empirical Evaluation of Law and Policy," Sept. 4, 2014
American Journal of Public Health, "When Concealed Handgun Licensees Break Bad: Criminal Convictions of Concealed Handgun Licensees in Texas, 2001–2009," March 17, 2012
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