New Mexico: 35th State to Allow Concealed Handguns

By Jeff Johnson | July 7, 2008 | 8:21 PM EDT

Capitol Hill ( - As anti-gun critics attacked research supporting the passage of concealed carry laws to reduce crime Wednesday, New Mexico was poised to become the 35th U.S. state to allow law-abiding citizens to carry concealed handguns for self-defense.

The New Mexico Concealed Handgun Carry Act was introduced by two Democratic lawmakers, State Sen. Shannon Robinson and State Rep. John Heaton. It originally passed the State Senate by a vote of 32 to 9 and the State House by a vote of 50 to 19.

The Senate again passed the bill, with amendments made by the House, on a voice vote Friday. Colorado passed similar but less restrictive concealed carry legislation earlier this month.

New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson (D), who served in former President Bill Clinton's administration, promised to sign the bill if it was passed by the legislature. He is expected to do so at a public signing ceremony within 20 days. The bill is scheduled to take effect July 1, 2003, with the first licenses being issued in January of 2004, the delay allowing the state Department of Public Safety time to initiate the training and licensing process.

Supporters of concealed carry legislation argue that allowing citizens to exercise their Second Amendment right to be armed for self-defense reduces violent crime. They point to research by Dr. John Lott, an economist and senior research scholar at the Yale School of Law, in his book More Guns, Less Crime.

Lott studied data from the FBI's Uniform Crime Reports from 1977 to 1996 and found universal reductions in violent crime in U.S. counties that enacted so-called "shall-issue" concealed handgun licensing laws similar to Colorado's legislation.

Surveys Lott conducted in January 1997 indicated that guns are used more than two million times a year in self-defense, either by threatening to use a gun, brandishing it, firing a warning shot or actually shooting a criminal. Additional surveys completed in November and December of 2002 reported in his latest book The Bias Against Guns, support his earlier research.

New Mexico Legislation Less Effective than Colorado Law

Lott told Wednesday that he expects to see better results from the Colorado law than from New Mexico's legislation.

"I don't think New Mexico is going to see much of a big change primarily because the rules there are fairly restrictive," Lott said.

A short licensing period - two years - combined with one of the lengthiest training requirements in the country (more than 15 hours) will "greatly reduce" the number of New Mexicans who take advantage of the law. The New Mexico law also applies only to those 25 years of age and older. But those factors have a minimal effect when compared to the cost of the New Mexico license.

"It has a very high fee, which also reduces the number of people who get permits," Lott explained. "More importantly, it prevents a lot of the people who could benefit the most from getting a permit."

Lott's research shows that poor people who live in high crime urban areas are among the groups that benefit the most from permissive concealed carry laws.

"They're also the ones who likely are going to be priced out by this $100-every-two-years fee that they're going to be requiring there [in New Mexico]," he added.

By contrast, the Colorado law applies to residents and military members 21 years of age and older, and the state recognizes a wider variety of firearms training including military training.

The Colorado permits are valid for five years and, while the fee can also be as high as $100, sheriffs are limited to charging only the "actual direct and indirect costs...of processing permit applications."

Lott's Research Criticized, Findings Re-confirmed

Other scholars have criticized Lott's findings that guns in the hands of law-abiding citizens reduce crime.

"The evidence is stronger that passing shall-issue concealed weapons laws are [sic] increasing crime rather than decreasing crime," claimed Dr. John Donohue of the Stanford Law School in a press release Wednesday promoting his book, Evaluating Gun Policy.

Writing for the liberal Brookings Institution, Donohue and Dr. Ian Ayres of Yale Law School called Lott's findings "deeply flawed" and "misguided."

Donohue and Ayres' research indicated an initial spike in crime after the passage of shall-issue concealed carry laws, followed by similar reductions to those found in More Guns, Less Crime and The Bias Against Guns.

Lott points to several errors he believes Donohue and Ayres made in their research.

The pair looked at monthly crime reporting and assumed that there should be a "straight line drop" in crime rates as opposed to the gradual curving drop Lott found in the actual data from FBI crime reports.

"It's only when they use this kind of 'artificial specification' that simplifies this do they get a bad result," Lott explained. "A better way of doing it is by looking at the crime rates year by year, for one year after the law, two years, three years, and when you do that, even their own results get an immediate drop that continues to fall after that."

Donohue and Ayres also allegedly muddy the definition of crime in their attempt to discredit Lott's research.

"Lott claimed that the 10 states that enacted shall-issue laws between 1985 and 1991 experienced declines in murder and other violent crimes relative to the crime trends observed in other states that did not pass shall-issue laws," the pair wrote in their press release Wednesday. "In contrast, Donohue contends that the 13 states that enacted shall-issue laws after 1992 experienced relative increases in crime."

But Lott never argued that all crime was reduced by passage of concealed carry laws, only violent crime.

"That's the finding that people have seen all along," he said. "You have some people who were engaging in robbery in order to get money previously and, when people are able to carry concealed handguns to protect themselves, you have some criminals [who] stop committing crimes, but some switch into other crimes."

Most often, Lott said, that switch is from robbery, where criminals come into direct contact with their victims and face a newfound risk of getting shot, to burglary and property theft "because it's relatively less risky."

Those crimes are possibly committed with greater frequency because they are also less lucrative than robbery, explaining the increase in overall crimes committed while experiencing a decrease in violent crime.

"I think the thing to do is just put it in context of all the other people who have looked at [my work]," Lott said. "Nobody has found a bad effect except for this one section of [Donohue and Ayres'] paper, and even then, it's just a temporary one.

"Everybody, including this paper, finds that the crime rate falls the longer the laws are in effect," he continued. "I think that's pretty strong evidence."

Lott Initially Surprised by the Results of His Own Research

Lott began researching the issue of firearms possession by law-abiding citizens and its effect on violent crimes in the mid-1990s as a result of inquiries from his students. He was "fairly shocked by how poorly done the research was."

The studies Lott reviewed consisted of small sample groups over short periods of time and did not control for other influencing factors such as law enforcement efforts and the likelihood of conviction.

"When you're an academic, one of the reasons you do research is that you think you can do a better job than other people have done," he explained. "So I started looking at the gun issues more, and the one that stood out in terms of having any significant, real benefit on the crime rates was the 'right to carry' laws.

"The effect was fairly dramatic," Lott recalled, "and I was very surprised."

He blames that reaction on the establishment media's coverage of the gun issue.

"What you find is just how unbalanced the media...coverage has been of guns," Lott added.

In an analysis of morning and evening news broadcasts on the ABC, CBS and NBC television networks in 2001, Lott found approximately 190,000 words devoted to reporting on crimes committed using guns.

"By contrast, they didn't have one single story, during that entire year, on any of those three networks on people using guns to stop a crime or to save a life," he noted. It's the same thing with the newspapers.

"It surely has a big effect on peoples' perceptions about the costs and benefits of owning guns," Lott concluded. "When you never hear about the good things that happen and only hear about the bad, it affects peoples' views."

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