When the Wisconsin Senate gathered in June of 2011 to take up a bill allowing the state’s citizens to carry concealed weapons, protesters around the Capitol building were still in a state of high dudgeon. As a result, Republicans were accused of “rushing” through “socially divisive” bills such as concealed carry and voter identification through the legislative process while the state’s attention was focused elsewhere.
Indeed, on the very day the Senate met to debate concealed weapons, the state Supreme Court issued an opinion upholding Gov. Scott Walker’s union changes. Yet in retrospect, the alleged clandestine nature of concealed carry’s passage didn’t help the bill’s supporters. Instead, it may have aided its opponents a great deal more. Now, four years later, there is scant record of how terrible their hysterical predictions actually turned out.
Naturally, there were hyperbolic predictions that Wisconsin would become the “Wild West,” where hypothetical people at traffic stops would suddenly open fire on one another. Current Senate Minority Leader Jennifer Shilling (D-La Crosse), whose parents were tragically shot to death more than 20 years ago, once argued that legalizing concealed weapons “kills people,” and that “Guns will beget guns.”
“Rational people can become irrational on occasion — good people can become bad people,” said veteran Democrat Fred Risser of Madison during the debate in June of 2011. “More guns create more possible gun accidents, and there’s going to be more gun deaths.”
Perhaps the most novel anti-concealed carry argument was made by Democratic Sen. Chris Larson of Milwaukee, who argued for exempting zoos from the law. “I don’t think we want to have someone playing ‘Big Buck Safari’ in our zoos with real animals,” said Larson, as if someone might be tempted to take a shot at a giraffe who had beat him in a poker game the night before.
Yet nearly four years later, nearly 250,000 concealed carry licenses have been issued, and one would be hard-pressed to notice any difference in the state. Total violent crimes and murders dropped between 2010 and 2011, the first year concealed carry was partially in effect. After increasing between 2011 and 2012, both measures dropped once again in 2013. Between 2008 and 2013, Wisconsin averaged about 153 murders a year, a far cry from the average of 225 between 1990 and 1995.
Further, regardless of the total violent crimes committed, it’s impossible to attribute those fluctuations to the choice to allow law-abiding citizens to carry firearms. Sure, in one case, a concealed carry permit holder was convicted of shooting a man who had pummeled him, and there have been incidents where loaded guns have been left in public places.
But one of the arguments for concealed carry is that people were carrying anyway, so it’s unclear whether these incidents would have been avoided without a law. People didn’t just start shooting each other when the law passed in June of 2011 — at the very least, those who want to carry must now receive training, which makes everyone safer.
Further, these are a couple of incidents in a state with a quarter-million license holders. Now, Wisconsin citizens are able to exercise their Second Amendment right as they are in every other state, and the crimes prevented because a permit holder might be carrying are impossible to measure.
Of course, anyone paying attention to the facts would have known this to be the case. When Wisconsin passed concealed-carry, it became the 49th state to do so. And upon passage of similar laws in other states, exactly none of them became the open firing ranges concealed carry opponents feared.
In fact, it is now safer to be an American resident than at any time in recent memory. According to the U.S. Department of Justice, firearm-related homicides declined 39% between 1993 and 2011, and non-fatal firearm crimes dropped 69% over the same period. This crime recession came at the same time states all over the country were liberalizing their gun laws allowing more people to carry hidden firearms.
That’s not to say that gun violence isn’t a problem. It is, and every time a police officer shoots a suspect or vice versa, we are reminded of it. A number of high-profile school shooting cases have put the public on edge; according to a 2013 report by Pew, 56% of Americans believe gun crime is higher than two decades ago.
But because the fickle public believes something to be the case, doesn’t mean legislators have to ignore the facts. Instead, they continue to scare people with tales of mafia activity in the kangaroo cage, knowing they rarely will be held accountable for their bogus predictions.
The question is, how wrong do these people have to be before we stop believing them?