The Shocking Toll Of (Legal) Concealed Guns

Photo: Joe Raedle/Getty Images.
It's practically a routine: After almost every mass shooting, someone suggests that the tragedy could have been averted if more people had been carrying concealed weapons. But no matter how many times representatives from the National Rifle Association say "the only thing that can stop a bad guy with a gun is a good guy with a gun," it will never be true; a look at more than 700 recent gun deaths proves it.

The Violence Policy Center, a group dedicated to reducing gun fatalities, looked at 763 deaths in 579 fatal shootings between 2007 and October 2015. Despite the fact that concealed weapons are marketed aggressively to people concerned about self-defense and personal safety, the most common reason for death by gunfire was suicide — followed by homicide and murder-suicide. “Far more often than they use their guns to kill in self-defense, concealed-handgun permit holders kill themselves or others,” VPC legislative director Kristen Rand said in a statement.
Courtesty of Violence Policy Center
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As The New York Times editorial board pointed out in a column, though, this is only a rough — and certainly low — estimate of the actual toll of gun violence, thanks to incomplete data. There were thousands of gun deaths over the eight years the VPC studied, but getting data on shootings committed by individuals who own legal, concealed weapons is surprisingly difficult. In the end, the VPC was able to collect data from only 38 states and Washington D.C.

Based on what data is available, many studies have found that women in violent relationships are often the victims of gun violence. As Shannon Watts, founder of Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America, pointed out in an August op-ed, background-check loopholes make it surprisingly easy for people with histories of domestic violence to purchase guns. And according to a Huffington Post report, more than half of mass shootings over five years targeted family members or intimate partners.

Research shows that American women are 11 times more likely to be killed with guns than women in similar countries, and the presence of a gun in a violent home makes it five times more likely that a woman will be killed. These statistics are not solely focused on concealed and legally owned weapons, but they nevertheless provide strong evidence against arguments that victims can successfully protect themselves from gun violence by having access to guns themselves.

The NRA and gun manufacturers have a major financial incentive to keep the true toll of gun violence obscured, especially with a presidential election on the horizon. But, there were 294 mass shootings before October 1 of this year — with three school shootings, including the one that left nine dead in Oregon, over the course of one week. The question of what to do about America's gun problem is urgent, and findings like these help illustrate just how badly we need to change course.
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