Concealed-Carry Permit Holders Skyrocket to Over 21M

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Photo by Rod Waddington via Flickr.

During the coronavirus pandemic, the number of concealed handgun permits has skyrocketed to over 21.52 million, according to the Crime Prevention Research Center, a nonprofit that publishes research papers and articles about gun rights.

Researchers said this is a 48 percent increase since 2016, and a 10.5 percent increase over the number of permits counted in 2020.  

This increase occurred despite 21 Constitutional Carry states that no longer provide data on all those legally carrying a concealed handgun because people in those states no longer need a permit to carry.

“These numbers are particularly topical given that the U.S. Supreme Court will hear the concealed carry case of New York State Rifle & Pistol Association v. Corlett in November,” the authors detail. “That case will determine whether those requesting permits need to provide a ‘proper cause,’ which means a good reason for obtaining a permit.”

The authors of the paper, John R. Lott Jr., Carlisle E. Moody and Rujun Wang of the Crime Prevention Research Center, dive deeper into the 21.52 million conceal carry permits, finding that in practice, it means that in most places where people are allowed to carry a concealed handgun, there will be someone carrying a concealed handgun.

In a room with 20 people, that probability of one individual carrying a concealed handgun goes up to 67 percent, the researchers found. 

The Changing Profile of Concealed Gun Owners

The profile of individuals who have concealed carry gun permits has changed dramatically. 

In 2021, women made up 28.3 percent of permit holders in the 14 states that provide data by gender, an increase from the 26.4 percent last year. Seven states had data from 2012 to 2020/2021, and permit numbers grew 108.7 percent faster for women than for men, the authors detail. 

In terms of race, Black Americans have been getting concealed carry permits at a staggering rate. In Texas, for example, Black females saw a 6.3 times greater percentage increase in permits than white males from 2002 to 2020. Similarly, in North Carolina, Black individuals’ permit applications increased twice as fast as whites from 1996 to 2016. 

The researchers found that concealed handgun permit holders are extremely law-abiding. In Florida and Texas, permit holders are convicted of firearms-related violations at one-twelfth of the rate at which police officers are convicted.

Overall, the researchers conclude that “Compared to the rest of the country, the 25 states with the highest concealed carry rates experienced markedly lower rates of murder and violent crime,” when controlled for influencing factors. 

Why the Numbers Increased

The researchers conducted a simple Google Trends search, finding that people’s interest in concealed carry has spiked in the wake of recent mass public shootings — most notably the 2015 San Bernardino Attack, and the 2016 Orlando Shooting. 

“With about 2.04 million new concealed handgun permits issued in just the last year … Americans have clearly done more than simply look up information on the Internet,” the researchers conclude. 

Moreover, Lott and Wang note that that opinion has shifted on individuals owning guns, as reported by the PEW Research Center. 

In December of 2012, PEW found that 37 percent of respondents said that owning a gun would be “putting people’s safety at risk.” By December of 2014, people’s positive impressions of gun ownership had grown to a margin of 57 to 38. 

Americans also feel more safe knowing their neighbors are armed, according to this Crime Prevention Research paper. A Rasmussen poll cited by the authors from this past June found that a 68-to-22 percent margin of Americans “feel safer in a neighborhood where guns are allowed.”

Similarly to the increase among Black Americans getting concealed handgun permits, a PEW poll found that there has been a recent 25 percentage point increase in the proportion of the Black community’s favorable view of gun ownership — which is the largest increase of any group, the researchers note. 

‘Proper Cause’ at Stake in November

Within the New York State court case to be heard by the Supreme court on November 3rd, the weighing question is what does proper cause mean when issuing firearms licenses for general self-defense. 

In New York specifically, the courts have defined proper cause as requiring an applicant to “demonstrate a special need for self-protection distinguishable from that of the general community.” 

Examples of qualifying statements include being a possible target for an attack, being in a position where your life is in jeopardy, or being afraid of being killed or injured. It’s recommended to provide documentation for these requests, but it’s not always required. 

“If the Supreme Court strikes down the “proper cause” requirement in the eight May Issue states, we estimate that there could be at least 2.3 million more concealed handgun permits,” the authors conclude. “The eight states with that rule have issued permits to only 1.24 percent of their adult population compared to 10.77 percent for the other states.”

John R. Lott Jr. is president of  the Crime Prevention Research Center. Carlisle E. Moody is  Research Director and Professor at the College of William and Mary. Rujun Wang is a Research Associate for the Crime Prevention Research Center.

The full paper can be assessed here.

This summary was prepared by TCR staff writer Andrea Cipriano.

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