More Guns Means More Guns

James Alan Fox

January 12, 2011



On Oct. 16, 1991, Suzanna Gratia Hupp helplessly watched her mother and father die as George Hennard Jr. methodically blasted away at a crowd of stunned customers in Luby’s Cafeteria in Killeen, Tex. In the carnage, she had a clear shot at the assailant and reached for her purse to get her gun. But Hupp soon realized she didn’t have it with her, as state law prohibited citizens to carry guns concealed inside pocketbooks or clothing. As a survivor, she became a forceful advocate for concealed-weapons laws.

In the two decades since the Killeen massacre -- during which time the nation was horrified by mass shootings in schools, churches and even a military base -- the campaign for expanding "right to carry" laws gained traction around the country. Arizona has one of the most liberal provisions, allowing citizens to carry concealed firearms in a variety of public places, even without a special permit. Saturday's tragic shooting became a real life-and-death test of the supposed benefits of concealed carry, with disappointing results for the more-guns-less-crime believers.

The prospect of facing armed opposition hardly dissuades mass murderers, like the Arizona gunman, who are determined to pursue their vengeful plan. In fact, many mass killers fully expect to die in battle; some even taking own life.

The crowd that witnessed Saturday's rampage would have included citizens armed for protection, yet none apparently tried to fire at the assailant. Some may have been too surprised to react, or they may have feared hitting innocent bystanders in the chaos. Even when bystanders heroically tackled the assailant as he paused to reload, it wasn't clear which one was the perpetrator among those struggling for control.

Beyond this one episode, the effectiveness of concealed-carry laws in deterring mass murder is an empirical question. The criminologists Grant Duwe, Tomislav Kovandzic, and Carlisle Moody found the effect of various right to carry laws on the incidence of public mass shootings to be negligible.

Regardless of the factual data, however, public opinion on concealed carry laws will continue to driven by political agendas as well as fear. More guns means more guns, but not necessarily less crime.

James Alan Fox, a professor of criminal justice and law, policy and society at Northeastern University,