Fort Worth Star Telegram
By Dan Freedman
WASHINGTON — In the wake of mass shootings this summer, a fusillade of a different sort erupted when gun-rights advocates suggested an audience member with a concealed weapon might have saved the day.
After gunman James Holmes opened fire in a crowded Aurora, Colo., theater, killing 12 and wounding 58, Rep. Louie Gohmert, R-Tyler, wondered whether an armed movie patron “could have stopped this guy more quickly.”
Later, New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg, a staunch gun-control advocate, called Gohmert’s view “nonsensical.”
This exchange shows how far the gun debate has come since the days when it was centered on the simple question of whether firearms ownership is a Second Amendment right.
Now, in the aftermath of research suggesting state concealed-carry laws help reduce crime, gun advocates have a new mantra: Gun ownership is not only a constitutional right, it’s socially beneficial.
In Texas, this view has become as integral a part of the state’s heritage as cowboy boots, longhorns and chili.
“You cannot name a mass-shooting in this country that has occurred in a place where guns were allowed,” said former Texas legislator Suzanna Hupp, noting the Aurora theater prohibited customers from carrying guns.
Hupp lost her parents in the 1991 Luby’s cafeteria massacre in Killeen, in which 23 died. Hupp became a concealed-carry advocate because Texas law at the time had led her to leave her .38-caliber Smith & Wesson in the car before she and her parents entered Luby’s.
Texas Land Commissioner Jerry Patterson, who carries a small Kel-Tec 380 pistol, insisted in an interview that the First Amendment right of free speech undergirded more gun violence than the Second Amendment right to bear arms.
How so? Uncensored media reports of mass-shootings inspire some copycat killers, Patterson said. And hate speech inspires others such as white supremacist Wade Michael Page, who killed six in rampage at a Sikh Temple in Wisconsin last month.
“I’m not being facetious,” Patterson said. “Freedom hurts.”
A former state senator who authored the law creating the state’s concealed-carry licensing system in 1996, Patterson said a gun-toting moviegoer might have “changed the dynamic” inside the Aurora theater. “He would have had to focus on someone who could do him harm, instead of helpless victims cowering on the floor.”
Gun control advocates counter that such “hero” scenarios don’t take into account the chances of an inexperienced gun carrier wounding innocent people.
Dan Gross, president of the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence, pointed to the shooting last month by New York police of a gunman in front of the Empire State building. Nine bystanders were wounded by police gunfire.
“If this is the result when you have highly-trained police officers, you can only imagine what would happen with average people walking around with hidden weapons,” he said. “It speaks to the danger of the gun lobby’s vision that a society where everyone carries gun is a safer society.”
At a Family Dollar store in Houston earlier this year, a customer with a concealed-carry license exchanged shots with two armed robbers and accidentally killed the assistant manager. Subsequent tests proved that the fatal bullet came from the customer’s gun, Houston police said.
Concealed-carry advocates point to cases where a licensed gun carrier had a positive impact. Among them: Vic Stacy, a resident of an RV park in Brownwood, last month shot and wounded a neighbor who had just killed two other neighbors in a dispute over defecating dogs. The shot gave an arriving police officer time to return fire and kill the assailant.
At a national level, the intellectual Godfather of concealed carry is John Lott, a Ph.D. economist and Fox News contributor who lives in Washington’s Virginia suburbs. Lott’s 1998 opus, More Guns, Less Crime, linked state concealed-carry laws to reduced crime rates.
There are more than eight million concealed-carry permit holders nationwide, 519,000 of them in Texas.
Lott’s work gave the National Rifle Association the intellectual cover it had lacked, enabling advocates and their legislative allies in nine states to get concealed-carry laws on the books. Now, all states but Illinois permit “concealed carry” in some form. In some states such as California, issuance of concealed-carry permits is at the discretion of sheriffs or local police.
“I wish we lived in society where there wasn’t any violence, and police were there instantly so people didn’t have to protect themselves,” Lott said. “But unfortunately we don’t live in a world like that.”
Some of Lott’s opponents call him a “fraudster” or “disgraced gun-nut apologist.”
Others credit him with honest attempts to gather accurate data but say he simply failed to account for other explanations of crime-rate variations, charges that Lott disputes.
Others have been unable to duplicate his findings.
“Unfortunately, the science that Lott put forth is bad but the message had political resonance with the NRA and the Republicans,” said John Donohue, a Stanford University law professor who also is a Ph.D. economist. “They linked up in a perfect storm with a false message.”
In a study last year, Donohue and two other researchers re-crunched Lott’s numbers and found that between 1992 and 2010 concealed-carry laws had little or no impact on declining crime rates with one exception: The drop in aggravated assault was less dramatic in Texas than in California and New York.