At Newsweek: Pennsylvania’s Constitutional Carry Law is Common Sense

Dec 7, 2021 | op-ed

Dr. John Lott and the Pennsylvania Senate Majority Leader Kim Ward have a piece in Newsweek.

The same predictions of doom and bloodshed keep coming from gun-control activists. They warn us of pending disaster should Pennsylvania become the 22nd state to adopt so-called constitutional carry rules that would allow law-abiding adults who legally own a handgun to conceal-carry it without a permit. Thirty-four states, including Pennsylvania, already allow open carry without a permit.

 

With the U.S. Supreme Court set to decide how the Second Amendment applies to people’s ability to defend themselves outside the home, the debate in states like Pennsylvania matter.

 

Constitutional carry laws are at the heart of New York State Rifle & Pistol Association v. Bruen. During the oral arguments for the case, Chief Justice John Roberts expressed skepticism about the permit system. He noted to Brian Fletcher, the principal deputy solicitor general of the United States, that “when you’re looking for a permit to speak on a street corner,” you don’t have to justify what you are going to say. “Why do you have to show in this case,” Roberts asked, “that you’re entitled to exercise your Second Amendment right?”

 

After Fletcher replied that asking people to prove a “demonstrated need” was consistent with the Second Amendment, Roberts responded: “I’m not sure that’s right…. Regardless of what the [constitutional] right is, it would be surprising to have it depend upon a permit system.”

 

We heard the dire predictions now being made about constitutional carry back when states first adopted right-to-carry laws, which now exist in 43 states. None of these warnings came true after other states adopted constitutional carry. Not a single one of them has seen the need to reverse its laws. None have even held a legislative hearing, let alone a vote, on undoing them.

 

A constitutional carry bill passed both the Pennsylvania state house and senate with bipartisan majorities. Regrettably for law-abiding Pennsylvanians, however, Governor Tom Wolf vetoed the bill on Thursday. Pennsylvania is already a right-to-carry state, so the bill would only make two small changes to state laws. It would allow people to start carrying more quickly and for slightly less cost.

 

The bill leaves much unchanged. Businesses and private property owners still have the right to exclude handguns. Prohibitions on carrying in sensitive places and regarding the misuse of guns are unchanged. Pennsylvanians are still required to pass a background check to buy a handgun.

 

But the changes will still be important for a lot of people. The constitutional carry bill’s most significant change is to allow people to carry a gun more quickly if need arises. Sheriff’s departments in Pennsylvania try to issue concealed handgun permits within 45 days after someone has met the requirements. If a woman is being stalked or threatened, she may not have time to wait for a license.

 

Even matters worse, last year police in Philadelphia, Montgomery, Allegheny and at least five other Pennsylvania counties stopped issuing concealed handgun permits during a coronavirus outbreak. Some counties were still slow to issue permits at the beginning of this year.

 

Philadelphia regularly revokes permits for such trivial reasons as notifications to the sheriff’s office by the permit holder that he is moving to another address in the city, parking tickets, being the victim of a burglary and a host of other unrelated reasons.

 

Constitutional carry would also save Pennsylvanians the cost of obtaining their license. These costs make a difference; just compare the numbers in Illinois and Indiana. In Illinois, a five-year permit costs $150, but there is no license fee in Indiana. While only 4 percent of Illinoisans have a concealed handgun permit, 22 percent of adults in Indiana have one, the second-highest rate of any state.

 

More importantly, the people who benefit from carrying are the most likely to be victims of violent crime—those who live in high-crime urban areas. They are also the ones who are most sensitive to all the fees required to get a permit. In Illinois, permit holders are overwhelmingly wealthy white males who live in suburbs. In Indiana, there are many more permits issued to people living in urban, heavily minority zip codes.

 

Gun-control advocates claimed there would be blood in the streets when then-governor Bob Casey signed Pennsylvania’s concealed carry law in 1989. That didn’t happen. Several dozen peer-reviewed academic studies showed no sign of any uptick in gun crimes linked to concealed carry laws, and most show violent crime declines. Research also shows that murder rates fall even more when states move to constitutional carry laws.

 

When PoliceOne asked more than 15,000 law enforcement members about the effects of private gun ownership, 76 percent of them answered that legally armed citizens are either very or extremely important in reducing crime.

 

Today, there are more than 21.5 million concealed handgun permit holders nationwide. This group is incredibly law-abiding. For a comparison—police officers are extremely rarely convicted of firearms-related violations, but it still happens 12 times more often than for permit holders. In the 19 states with comprehensive permit revocation data, the average revocation rate is one-tenth of one percent. Usually, permit revocations occur because someone moved, died or forgot to bring their permit while carrying.

 

Gun-control advocates keep trying to take advantage of people’s fears of the unknown, claiming that bad things will happen when people are allowed to defend themselves and their families. But Pennsylvanians don’t have to guess what will happen with constitutional carry. Twenty-one states are living proof that constitutional carry is common sense.

Kim Ward is the state Senate majority leader and represents part of Westmoreland County. John R. Lott is the president of the Crime Prevention Research Center.

John R. Lott and Kim Ward, “Pennsylvania’s Constitutional Carry Law is Common Sense,” Newsweek, December 7, 2021.

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