Doody: Conceal and carry laws bring danger

Michael Doody

On July 9, 2013, the Illinois General Assembly overrode Governor Pat Quinn’s veto of the conceal and carry bill. This means Illinois has now joined the other 49 states in passing laws that allow private citizens to carry concealed firearms. The passage of conceal and carry laws in Illinois and many other states follows a 2008 United States Supreme Court ruling that overturned a District of Columbia ban on handgun possession.

In December 2012, the Seventh U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals mandated the state of Illinois to join the rest of the nation and pass a conceal and carry law. In many cases these conceal and carry laws are supported by a crime-weary public desperately looking for some relief from the endless stream of nationwide gun violence and mass shootings. Yet there is reason to question whether these conceal and carry laws will actually reduce gun violence or, in the long run, contribute to its increase.

Every day the American people are inundated with news reports of gun shootings across the nation. All of the most highest populated cities in the United States are challenged by serious gang and gun crimes. Iowans need look no farther than their Chicago neighbors to see the extent of the gun violence problem. According to the Chicago police crime statistics, there were 2,460 shooting incidents in 2012 and 2,235 shooting incidents in 2011. Chicago continues to be plagued by gun violence in 2013.

Recently, during the four day Fourth of July weekend, 74 people were wounded and 12 killed by gun violence in Chicago. Among the victims were two small boys, ages seven years and five. Since 2009, more than 260 Chicago public school students have been killed by gun violence. That statistic continues to grow. Similar stories occur in other major cities in the United States. Much of these street shootings can be traced to gang and drug activity. Conceal and carry laws will not reduce this type of violence. Only action that targets street and drug gangs will reduce the violence emanating from these illegal organizations.

In addition to the daily news reports of gang and street violence, the general public has also witnessed repeated reports over recent years of mass shootings by one or two gunmen. These are but a few of the recent mass shootings.

In April 2007, a lone gunman opened fire at students on the Virginia Tech College campus, killing 33 people and wounding another 27 before committing suicide. On February 14, 2008 a lone gunman opened fire on the Northern Illinois University campus, killing five people and wounding 27 others before committing suicide. In November 2009 an Army psychiatrist opened fire at people on the Fort Hood military base in Texas, killing 13 and wounding 32 before being wounded and apprehended by military police.

In 2011, a gunman opened fire at people attending a public speaking event by Arizona Congresswoman Gabrielle Gifford. He killed people and wounded thirteen others, including Congresswoman Gifford, before being apprehended. In July 2012, a gunman opened fire inside a Colorado movie theater, killing 12 and wounding 58 before being apprehended. On December 14, 2012, a gunman killed 20 children and 6 adults at the Sandy Hook elementary school in Newtown, Conn. He committed suicide before he could be apprehended.

All of these horrific incidents have fueled the public’s desire for a quick solution to the gun violence and thus increased public support for the conceal and carry laws that have swept the country. Yet, none of the school shootings could have been prevented or stopped as a result of these conceal and carry laws. That is because conceal and carry laws almost universally forbid the carrying of firearms on school or government property.

It is questionable whether conceal and carry laws would have prevented or lessened the carnage in the remaining incidents. Many conceal and carry laws merely require an applicant to pass a criminal background check and take a short firearms training class that primarily entails shooting at a target. Compare that to the months of intensive training and psychological and physical testing that police applicants are subjected to before they are allowed to carry a weapon and interact with the public. Imagine the potential outcome of a number of poorly trained armed citizens exchanging gunfire with a deranged gunman in a crowded theater. Would there have been fewer casualties? Or more?

There is strong evidence that increasing the number of guns on the public way will only increase the amount of violence. A study done by the Harvard Injury Control Research Center found that in every state in the union an increase in the number of guns led to an increase in violence. Additional evidence of the potential dangers of increasing the number of armed citizens through these conceal and carry laws can be seen in a study conducted by economist Richard Florida. Mr. Florida’s study found that on a per capita basis states that had stricter gun control laws had fewer deaths by gun violence.

Conceal and carry laws will allow people who don’t usually carry a gun to have a pistol on their hip. A simple traffic dispute may turn into a violent shooting. This will be another shooting statistic to add to the already too high level of gun violence. The highly publicized Zimmerman case is a prime example of an easily avoidable scenario that, because of conceal and carry laws, resulted in a tragic death.

On February 26, 2010, a member of a local community watch group, George Zimmerman, called police about a teenager that he felt was acting suspicious. The police agreed to respond to the scene and asked Zimmerman not to follow the youth, who was named Trayvon Martin. Nevertheless, Zimmerman, who was armed in accordance with the Florida conceal and carry law, ignored the police dispatcher’s advice and began to follow the teenager, who had not committed any crime.

A confrontation and physical altercation between Zimmerman and the teenager subsequently occurred, resulting in Zimmerman shooting and killing the teenager. Zimmerman claimed self defense and was acquitted of 2nd degree murder charges. Regardless of anyone’s view of Zimmerman’s innocence, the fact remains that a young man was needlessly killed. It is likely that had Zimmerman not been armed he would have remained in his car as instructed by police and allowed professionals to investigate the teenager’s activity.

As more people take advantage of the new conceal and carry laws these types of tragic incidents will only increase. The truth is, civilians are not trained and psychologically screened to handle dangerous situations like professional police officers. Allowing civilians to carry concealed weapons will only end up doing more harm than good.