Easing Concealed Firearms Laws: Effects on Homicide in Three States
McDowall, David, Loftin, Colin, Wiersema, Brian, Journal of Criminal Law and Criminology
Restrictions on carrying concealed weapons are among the most common gun control policies.(1) These statutes limit who may have a deadly weapon--usually a handgun--hidden on their person when outside the home. By reducing access to guns in public, concealed weapons laws seek to make firearms less available for violence.(2) Details of concealed weapons laws vary greatly among localities, but most approaches fall into two categories. One of these is a discretionary system, sometimes called "may issue" licensing.(3) Under this policy, legal authorities grant licenses only to those citizens who can establish a compelling need for carrying a gun.
The other approach is a non-discretionary, or "shall issue," system.(4) Here the authorities must provide a license to any applicant who meets specified criteria. Because legal officials are often unwilling to allow concealed weapons, adopting a shall issue policy usually increases the number of persons with permits to carry guns.(5) In 1985, the National Rifle Association announced that it would lobby for shall issue laws.(6) Several states, including Florida, Mississippi, and Oregon, have since changed from may issue to shall issue systems. Advocates of shall issue laws argue that such laws will both prevent crime and reduce homicides.(7)
This Article examines the frequency of homicides in the large urban areas of Florida, Mississippi, and Oregon, before and after their shall issue laws began. The analysis provides no support for the idea that the laws reduced homicides; instead, it finds evidence of an increase in firearm murders.
II. THE LAWS
On October 1, 1987, Florida adopted a shall issue law that greatly expanded eligibility to carry a concealed weapon.(8) The new statute required the state to grant a concealed weapon license to any qualified adult who had taken a firearms safety course. Those persons with a history of drug or alcohol abuse, a felony conviction, mental illness, physical inability, or who were not Florida residents were disqualified from obtaining a license.
Prior to the passage of the Florida shall issue law, county officials set their own standards for concealed carrying. Throughout the state, about 17,000 persons held permits, including 1,300 in Dade county (Miami) and 25 in Hillsborough county (Tampa).(9) The number of licenses rose steadily after the passage of the new law, reaching 141,000 in September 1994.(10)
Mississippi adopted a shall issue law on July 1, 1990.(11) The Mississippi law was similar to the Florida law, except that it did not require firearms safety training. Mississippi's earlier law was highly restrictive, generally allowing only security guards to have concealed weapons.(12) In contrast, the new law is more lenient; by November 1992, the state had issued 5,136 new licenses.(13)
Oregon adopted a shall issue law on January 1, 1990, in a compromise between supporters and opponents of stricter gun control measures.(14) Oregon's new law required county sheriffs to provide a concealed handgun license to any qualified adult who had taken a firearms safety course. People who could not obtain a license included: those with outstanding arrest warrants, those on pretrial release, those with a history of mental illness, or those with a felony or recent misdemeanor conviction.
In addition to easing laws on concealed carrying, Oregon's new law also tightened standards for buying a gun. While the old law barred convicted felons from owning handguns, the new law prohibited convicted felons from owning any type of firearm. Oregon's new law also lengthened the waiting period for handgun purchases and required more detailed background checks. It further prohibited most persons ineligible for a concealed handgun license from obtaining any firearm.
Before the passage of the new law in 1991, Oregon's sheriffs issued concealed handgun licenses at their discretion. In 1989, there were fewer than 500 licensed carriers in Clackamas, Multnomah, and Washington counties, the core of the Portland metropolitan area. …