How useful are firearms for personal protection? It’s an important question. Self-defense is one of the most important justifications we have for the right to keep and bear arms; we already know that in competent hands, a firearm can be useful to deter or defeat an assailant. The Violence Policy Center (VPC), a prominent gun control lobbying organization, seems to disagree. They maintain an online database called “Concealed Carry Killers,” which attempts to portray those of us with concealed handgun permits as vigilantes. Let’s take a look at the numbers.
“Concealed Carry Killers,” according to the VPC, “provides detailed information on hundreds of examples of fatal, non-self defense [sic] killings by private citizens with permits to carry concealed handguns.” In big red numbers, the website claims that “concealed carry killers” killed 2,240 people from 2007 to 2022, the time period for which data is available. The implication here is clearly that 2,240 wrongful homicides have been committed by permit holders carrying in public. That is not the case. A closer look at the website shows that the majority of those deaths were suicides, which, while tragic, should not be treated the same as murders. In reality, only 905 of those were homicides or accidental deaths. Lumping in suicides with homicides is a common method anti-Second Amendment groups use to inflate the numbers and distort the truth. By presenting vague information without important context, the “Concealed Carry Killers” website misleads the reader into forming an inaccurate view of the issue at hand.
When analyzing a population to uncover trends and guide public policy, statisticians tend to think in terms of rates instead of just numbers. Academically rigorous studies often use qualifiers like “per year” and “per 100,000 people” to turn raw data into useful statistics. Given that the Violence Policy Center engages in political lobbying, it stands to reason that the same treatment should be applied to their data to determine how often a licensed concealed carrier wrongfully causes another person’s death. 905 homicides and accidental deaths over 15 years averages out to about 60.3 per year. Finding out the rate per 100,000 is far more difficult, as there is a lack of easily available and authoritative data on the number of people with concealed handgun permits, but a study published last year in the American Journal of Public Health contains some estimates. The study found that in 2015, halfway through the time period “Concealed Carry Killers” covers, about 9 million Americans reported carrying a handgun within the past month, 80% of whom held permits. Using the resulting 7.2 million number as a proxy for the average number of permit holders each year, we find that permit holders commit homicide at a rate of about 0.83 per 100,000.
How does that homicide rate compare with those of other populations? It’s lower than that of any U.S. state, for one thing. If concealed carriers were a country, our homicide rate would be lower than in France, Germany, Denmark, and Sweden. The population of the notoriously anti-gun United Kingdom commits 44% more murders per capita; Belgians and Canadians are more than twice as violent as us, on average.
According to the VPC’s own data, it’s clear that concealed carry permit holders are disproportionately law-abiding, but how useful are those permits? The VPC also analyzes and republishes FBI statistics on defensive gun use. Their reports point to an average of 264 instances per year (316 in 2019, the most recent year for which data is available) of a victim successfully killing his or her assailant with a firearm, regardless of concealed carry permit status. 264 justifiable homicides compare favorably with 60.3 unjustifiable ones by a ratio of 4.4 to 1. More often, though, the would-be victim only needs to present a firearm to dissuade his or her attacker. The VPC’s latest study indicates, on average, a whopping 70,040 instances per year in which a would-be crime victim took “self-protective behavior… threatened/attacked [the assailant] with a firearm.”
In attempting to back up its unfair portrayal of concealed carry permit holders as a bunch of violent maniacs, the Violence Policy Center’s “Concealed Carry Killers” database unintentionally disproves their own point. The organization’s own numbers show that concealed carriers are in fact an exceptionally safe and law-abiding subset of the population. To be fair, the VPC disclaims that the database may be inaccurate, claiming that “the total number of fatal incidents involving concealed carry killers is almost certainly far higher” without presenting any direct evidence for that or even an estimate of what they think the real number is. Clearly, though, they have enough faith in their research to devote an entire website to it and use it to lobby for bad laws that disproportionately affect sane, trained, law-abiding citizens.