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Public sector/Quality of life

Easier carry permits haven’t led to more gun deaths


(Bridge illustration/A.J. Jones)

Before Michigan joined a growing number of “shall issue” states on July 1, 2001, making it easier for residents to get concealed pistol permits, opponents feared and argued it would lead to an increase in gunplay, violence and death.

It hasn’t.

“Even legislators who voted against it have told me they were wrong,” said Sen. Mike Green, who, as a state representative, sponsored the “shall issue” law that lawmakers approved in 2000. “There have not been shootouts in the streets.”

The number of firearm homicides in Michigan dropped from an annual average of 629 in the decade before the law was changed to an average of 493 per year in the decade after, state Department of Community Health records show. That’s a drop of 22 percent. The average number of firearm suicides also declined slightly from 586 per year in the decade before the law was changed to 566 per year in the decade after.

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“People have a tendency to take one factor and one outcome and tie those together,” said Thomas Largo, a state Department of Community Health epidemiologist. Multiple social and economic factors contribute to an increase or decrease in crime, he said.

The numbers of firearm homicides and suicides in Michigan began declining in the mid-1990s, before the “shall issue” law was passed, and that trend has continued in the years since.

Violent crime in the United States has been declining since the mid-1990s.  A CNN report in 2012  summarized the reasons for the downward trend: “(C)riminologists point to a variety of factors for the continuing decline in overall violence. They cite a more settled crack cocaine market, an increase in incarcerations, an aging population, data-driven policing, and changes in technology that include a big increase in surveillance cameras.”

From proof to ‘shall issue’

Before Michigan’s concealed carry law was changed, applicants had to prove they needed to carry a concealed gun for protection. After the change, the state had to issue the license unless there was a reason to deny it, such as if the applicant had a felony record.

In 2001, the year Michigan became a shall-issue state, about 52,000 residents were authorized to carry concealed weapons. By April 1 of this year, Michigan residents held 378,584 concealed pistol permits, although the number of concealed firearms likely is much higher, since one permit can cover multiple guns.

Since the Newtown massacre, sales of firearms and applications for concealed pistol permits have increased dramatically in Michigan. As of April 1, 25,771 license applications were pending with the State Police, about double the number at the same time a year earlier.

More suicides in wake of law change

The number of suicides by concealed pistol license holders also increased since Michigan relaxed its law. The first year after the change, one license holder committed suicide, according to State Police records. Two years later, it was 16. Between July 1, 2009 and June 30, 2010, 43 concealed pistol license holders killed themselves, although the records do not specify whether a firearm or some other method was used.

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The suicide rate for Michigan’s license holders (15.3 per 100,000 license holder in 2008) was higher than for the general population (11.7 per 100,000), according to the Violence Policy Center, a Washington, D.C.-based advocacy group.

Between July 1, 2010, and June 30, 2011, nine of the state’s concealed handgun license holders were charged with or convicted of homicides, the center reported.

In the decade after Michigan’s “shall issue” law was passed, the state revoked 1,491 concealed pistol permits, because the holders were facing felony or misdemeanor charges. In 2011 alone, 349 concealed pistol permit holders were facing criminal charges.

Even after Newtown, there appears to be little political appetite to make major changes in how Michigan law regulates guns.

“There’s a Second Amendment for a reason,” said Steven Dulan, an East Lansing attorney who represents the Michigan Coalition for Responsible Gun Owners. “You’re talking about a country formed from armed revolution. If you start disarming citizens, you’re basically encouraging rape and home invasion.”

While a ferocious debate continues in research circles over the effect of concealed weapons on crime in general, it is unclear how often a firearm is used in self-defense in Michigan.

In 2006, the Legislature passed a “stand your ground” law, giving legal protection to those who use deadly force when they believe they are threatened with death, severe injury or rape. Officially, private citizens in Michigan committed 117 justifiable homicides between 2000 and 2010, according to FBI statistics, but an MLive Media Group investigation last year found many cases that were not included in those figures.

It is illogical to conclude that Michigan’s “shall issue” law caused a decrease in firearm deaths, said Genesee County Prosecutor David Leyton, president of the Prosecuting Attorneys Association of Michigan. “So many factors go into the homicide rate,” he said. “When you look into the homicide rate we have, it includes so many social problems, economic problems, unemployment, babies having babies, hopelessness.” The “shall issue” law, he added, is just one  of many factors.

Dulan, who teaches firearms law at Cooley Law School, attributes the gun control movement to “this phobia, this irrational fear of guns.”

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The proposed ban on assault rifles, he added, is “a divide and conquer strategy” by gun control advocates. “You demonize one gun and divide gun owners, and then you end up confiscating all guns.”

Therein is a common theme among gun control foes: a deep distrust of government and a fear that giving an inch will lead to confiscation of all guns.

The Michigan Coalition for Responsible Gun Owners has not taken a position on expanding background checks to cover all gun sales, Dulan said, but he added: “That’s a camel’s nose under the tent.”

Universal background checks – the subject of debate in Congress this year — could create a national firearms registry, now prohibited by federal law, he said, and “registration leads to confiscation” — although he expressed doubt that will ever happen.

“Guns are a fact of life,” Dulan said. “The Pandora’s box is already open. The guns already exist. They aren’t going anywhere.”

Pat Shellenbarger is a freelance writer based in West Michigan. He previously was a reporter and editor at the Detroit News, the St. Petersburg Times and the Grand Rapids Press.

Gun_permits (total) graphic

3 comments from Bridge readers.Add mine!

  1. Howard Moen

    This article conspicuously lacked any information on accidental deaths and injuries from guns. THAT was the primary concern of opponents of “shall issue”, NOT “shootouts in the streets” or even suicides.

    The thing about guns is, THEY GO OFF. And when they do, it’s no joke. The more minimally trained, non-bonded, inexperienced and, perhaps emotional people there are carrying them around in their pockets, the more accidents THERE WILL BE. It’s not irrational, it’s not political, it’s MATH.

    Before “shall issue” we had a reasonable risk management system. Gun accidents were low risk, but high consequence. The risk was low because one had to prove a need. Now the applicant only has to complete a low-cost, one-day class. That dramatically raises the risk, but does not diminish the consequence. It is unacceptably out of balance.

    1. trob6969

      …now take everything you just stated and apply your points to automobiles (which are WAY more dangerous) instead of guns…do you now think cars, vans, mini vans, SUV and trucks should be banned or greatly restricted the way many people think guns should be?

  2. Matt

    Only problem is that your fears haven’t happened. Accidental shooting are down also. I know it’s hard admitting you are wrong, nice try anyway.

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