A new study purports no significant link between lax concealed carry laws and violent crime rates.
Researchers from the Virginia Tech Carilion School of Medicine and Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota, presented their findings at this year’s Clinical Congress — hosted in Boston last week — ahead of the article’s publication in the Journal of the American College of Surgeons next year.
“We found no relationship between the type of concealed carry process or the general permissiveness of the process and increased rates of homicide or other violent crime,” Dr. Mark Hamill, lead author on the study, told the ACS during his Oct. 22 presentation.
The team analyzed federal data collected from the U.S. Department of Justice Uniform Crime Reporting Program and Center for Disease Control between 1986 and 2015, comparing state-level results to concealed carry legislation on a sliding scale including “no carry,” “may issue,” “shall issue” and “unrestricted carry.”
“There has been a trend in all states over the past 30 years toward less restrictive concealed carry,” Hamill said. “Every state and the District of Columbia now has some legislation in place to allow for some form of civilian concealed carry. Changes to concealed carry legislation likely won’t reduce firearm violence.”
In a separate study, researchers from the University of Toledo and Bowling Green State University analyzed 180 measures of social determinants of health in 155 communities where mas shootings involving four or more people occurred between 2005 and 2018.
Dr. Stephen Markowiak, lead author, described the ensuing results as unexpected. “We definitely found some of the factors surprising, particularly related to the legal aspects,” he told ACS. “The states that were more urban, and anecdotally more liberal, had both stronger gun laws, but also more instances of mass shooting events.”
The study determined communities with strict gun laws faced a 1.5 times greater risk of a mass shooting, except when states mandated reports of mental health records to gun background check systems or restricted open carry. Markowiak said communities with twice as many mental health professionals per capita experienced fewer mass shootings, while those considered “less social, prone to overcrowding, with higher rates of economic inequality and populations with less time for leisure and physical activity,” faced increased risk.
“Those are the safe answers to gun violence because they have little to no downside and they solve other health problems too,” he said. “What we really proved with our study is that these events can be studied in a scientific sense, and done from an apolitical framework.”
Not all gun laws yielded negative results, however. Dr. Stephanie Chao, assistant professor of pediatric surgery at Stanford University Medical Center, said her research supports the efficacy of safe storage mandates — aka “child access prevention laws” — in reducing gun-related deaths among youths.
“Those with lenient CAP legislation had a pediatric firearm mortality rate nearly double that of states with strict legislation,” she told ACS. “The stringency of a neighboring state’s firearm legislation is also associated with pediatric firearm mortality rates.”
Chao’s team compared 2014 scores of the stringency of state laws from the Brady Center to Prevent Gun Violence, CDC mortality figures and existing child-access prevention laws. In 2014, researchers identified 2,715 pediatric firearm deaths, two-thirds of which comprised homicides and one-third were suicides.
“We also found that laws specific to preventing children from accessing firearms, such as laws that mandate locking mechanisms or storage requirements, are associated with decreased firearm suicide rates among children,” Chao said. “States without CAP laws had pediatric firearm suicide rates more than four times as high as those with CAP laws.”
Hamill’s own research, presented last month at the 2018 American Association for the Surgery of Trauma, likewise found a correlation between gun policy and suicide rates.
“We found a statistically significant increase in firearm suicides when you have less restrictive concealed carry legislation. There was a trend in overall suicides also,” he said. “It’s still a relatively rare event compared to the number of people who own firearms.”
Hamill, a former police officer and member of Doctors for Responsible Gun Ownership, said he advocates for unbiased research focused on keeping guns out of the wrong hands — a place he often found them while patrolling the streets of Brooklyn in the 1990s.
“I saw that it’s not the people who legally own firearms who are the problem. It’s the people who use firearms for nefarious purposes that are the problem. So how do we keep the guns out of those hands?” he said. “We need to pursue people who fail background checks. We need to pursue straw purchases, where someone intentionally purchases a gun for someone who is disqualified. These laws aren’t consistently enforced.”
He said physicians only accept high-quality, unbiased research when making clinical care decisions. “We shouldn’t accept lower-quality evidence to make policy decisions than we would to take care of our own patients,” he said.