In September of 2021, Texas became the twenty-first state to allow some form of permitless or “constitutional” carry. That means in Texas, if you are at least 21 years old and you are not prohibited from lawfully possessing a firearm under Texas or federal law, you can carry a handgun without a permit either openly or concealed.
Since Texas enacted its law, four other states have done the same, bringing the total of constitutional carry states to 25.
While there are some differences in how these states have implemented constitutional carry (e.g., a couple of them require you to be a resident of the State to carry, while others set an age minimum, etc.) it’s fair to say that overall, half of all states now allow citizens who can legally possess a firearm to carry at least a handgun without a permit. This national wave has been a tremendous victory for gun rights and continues the trend of expanding the right to carry.
Of course, not everyone was pleased that Texas chose to respect the right to keep and bear arms. The news of constitutional carry in the Lone Star State was met with the all of the usual sky-is-falling warnings of doom from all of the usual anti-gun suspects.
For example, Ari Frielich, state policy director for the Giffords Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence, said that permitless carry could drastically endanger Texas residents and even law enforcement officials.
The research is clear that flooding public spaces with more hidden loaded guns in more hands makes them less safe. It turns more arguments, road rage incidents, and fistfights into shootings, more injuries into burials, and it can create a civilian arms race in communities most impacted by violence.
Freilich’s talking points are hardly original. Every time a state adopts constitutional carry, anti-gun groups, as well as much of the media (but I repeat myself), warn that every minor dispute will turn into a bloody shootout and the state’s homicide rate will therefore skyrocket. They also claim that the “research is clear” in favor of their arguments.
But is it really?
With so many states now having enacted some form of constitutional carry, this is no longer a hypothetical question. While some states have only recently enacted these laws, most others have had them for several years.
As of 2020, the most recent year for which detailed CDC data is available, 16 states had already embraced constitutional carry. By looking at the homicide rates in those states as well as their gun homicide rates in particular, we can get an idea of whether constitutional carry states actually are more dangerous than the nation as a whole.
If the anti-gun argument is correct, constitutional carry states should be far more violent, especially in the crime-surge year of 2020.
Fortunately, the CDC provides very detailed statistics on public health, including data on underlying causes of death, so we can check. The statistics are reported online through the CDC’s WONDER tool, an acronym which stands for “Wide-ranging ONline Data for Epidemiologic Research.” All of the data I am about to discuss can be found through that tool.
The overall US homicide rate was 7.5 per 100,000 in 2020, and the gun-related homicide rate was 5.9 per 100,000. Here is the data for each of the 16 states that were constitutional carry in 2020:
- Alaska – 7.5 homicides per 100,000; 3.7 gun-related homicides per 100,000.
- Arizona – 7.1 homicides per 100,000; 5.1 gun-related homicides per 100,000.
- Arkansas – 12.2 homicides per 100,000; 9.3 gun-related homicides per 100,000.
- Idaho – 2.3 homicides per 100,000; 1.4 gun-related homicides per 100,000.
- Kansas – 6.7 homicides per 100,000; 5.5 gun-related homicides per 100,000.
- Kentucky – 9.0 homicides per 100,000; 7.6 gun-related homicides per 100,000.
- Maine – 1.6 homicides per 100,000; 1.1 gun-related homicides per 100,000.
- Mississippi – 19.4 homicides per 100,000; 16.8 gun-related homicides per 100,000.
- Missouri – 13.1 homicides per 100,000; 11.1 gun-related homicides per 100,000.
- New Hampshire – 1.0 homicides per 100,000; no gun-related homicide data provided.
- North Dakota – 3.9 homicides per 100,000; 2.2 gun-related homicides per 100,000.
- Oklahoma – 8.6 homicides per 100,000; 6.8 gun-related homicides per 100,000.
- South Dakota – 5.8 homicides per 100,000; 2.9 gun-related homicides per 100,000.
- Vermont – 2.2 homicides per 100,000; no gun-related homicide data provided.
- West Virginia – 6.4 homicides per 100,000; 4.9 gun-related homicides per 100,000.
- Wyoming – 4.3 homicides per 100,000; 3.1 gun-related homicides per 100,000.
This listing shows that constitutional carry states certainly don’t have a perfect record. Mississippi in particular seems to have a horrific violent crime problem, as do Arkansas and Missouri to lesser degrees. But I will not dismiss any state as an outlier…all 16 are included in the averages.
Another issue is that gun-related homicide data is not available for Vermont or New Hampshire. For the sake of argument, I’m going to assume that 100% of all of their homicides were committed with guns, even though that obviously isn’t true.
With that in mind, the results are as follows: the average overall homicide rate among the sixteen constitutional carry states in 2020 was 6.9 per 100,000, beating the national average of 7.5 per 100,000. Perhaps more surprisingly, constitutional carry states also saw a lower gun-related homicide rate: 5.3 per 100,000, compared to the national figure of 5.9 per 100,000.
Whether or not a difference of 0.6 per 100,000 in each measure speaks to any kind of statistical significance is debatable. Moreover, there are certainly criticisms one could level at this analysis. Perhaps several of these states have independent reasons for why their homicide rates aren’t very high overall despite constitutional carry, or maybe one could argue the negative, that these states would have even lower homicide rates if it weren’t for such laws.
Regardless, the data does not support the anti-gunners’ argument that constitutional carry states are especially violent and that violence is caused by permitless carry. Even when it comes to gun-related homicide, constitutional carry states are at least as safe as the nation as a whole, and perhaps slightly safer.
Konstadinos Moros is an Associate Attorney with Michel & Associates, a law firm in Long Beach that regularly represents the California Rifle & Pistol Association (CRPA) in its litigation efforts to restore the Second Amendment in California. You can find him on his Twitter handle @MorosKostas. To donate to CRPA or become a member, visit https://crpa.org/.