The Minneapolis Star Tribune reported yesterday that the State of Minnesota issued 31,657 permits to carry handguns in 2012, a record number. No surprise there. The Strib puts that number in the context of the current debate over gun control, and concludes with these statistics, presented without comment:
Minnesota’s permit holders have committed at least 1,159 crimes since 2003, including 114 in which a gun was used, according to the BCA.
Wow, sounds like a regular crime wave among gun permit holders! But what do those data actually show? According to the same article, there are now over 125,000 permit holders in Minnesota, or around 2.6% of the over-21 population. So, other things being equal, you would expect them to commit something like 2 to 2 1/2% of all crimes (since a considerable number are committed by persons who are less than 21 years old). In order to put the Strib’s numbers in context, you need to know something about the number of crimes committed in Minnesota.
According to the Bureau of Criminal Apprehension’s numbers, there were at least 146,249 crimes of violence and crimes against property in Minnesota in 2011. (I believe that total is low, if we are trying to get a number for all crimes, since drunk driving, for instance, is not included). Let’s assume, to make the calculation simple, that the number of violent and property crimes has remained constant since 2003; actually, it has fallen somewhat. But using the 2011 rate for the period 2004-2012 yields a total of 1,316,241 crimes. (And you thought Minnesota was a law-abiding state!) Let’s assume, for the sake of argument, that over that period of time there have been an average of 50,000 carry permit holders in Minnesota; that would be roughly 1.2% of the over-age 18 population. (Again, that is an average from 2004 through 2012, assuming an average of 50,000 permit holders over that time period.)
So do the math: if permit holders were as law-abiding as the average Minnesota citizen, you would expect them to have committed 1.2% of the 1,316,241 crimes from 2004 through 2012, or a total of a little over 16,300. Which tells us, according to the Strib’s numbers, that non-permit holders are around 15 times as likely to commit a crime as permit holders. Carry permit holders must be the most law-abiding segment of Minnesota’s population, with the possible exception of Sunday School teachers.
I believe that since Minnesota enacted its shall-issue law in 2003, two permit holders have been charged with homicides. Over the eight years from 2004 through 2011, there were 807 homicides. Using the same logic employed above, one would expect 1.2%, of these homicides to have been perpetrated by carry permit holders. That would be nine or ten murders, as opposed to two.
A representative of the Minnesota Gun Owners Civil Rights Alliance offered similar numbers with respect to drunk driving:
Rothman responded that permit holders commit much less than their share of crime, citing as an example that though one in seven Minnesotans has a DWI on their record, only one in 545 of the state’s permit holders got one after getting a permit.
“No one ever claimed permit holders would be perfect,” Rothman said, “but the numbers show (they) are consistently orders of magnitude more law abiding than the general public.”
Other analyses have shown that permit holders are far less likely than other Minnesotans to commit assaults and other crimes.
One could tinker with all of these numbers around the edges, but there is no escaping the conclusion that permit holders are remarkably law-abiding, and commit far fewer crimes than would be expected, given their numbers. That being the case, it was deceptive for the Star-Tribune to recite numbers for crimes committed by permit holders without putting them into context and noting how extraordinarily low the numbers are.
UPDATE: As I noted above, the comparison of crimes was unfair to permit holders, in that the Strib article referred to all crimes committed by permit holders, while the BCA data for the state as a whole included only crimes of violence and property crimes, but omitted such crimes as driving under the influence. A reader tracked down BCA data on permit holders, which allows an apples-to-apples comparison that confirms that permit holders are even more law-abiding, compared with the general population, than my comparison suggested:
I think your recent piece on the rarity of crimes committed by permit holders significantly overstates the amount of crime they (we) commit relative to the rest of the population. If you look at the BCA data, the overall total includes a laundry list of minor offenses by permit holders including traffic crimes. The two largest categories of crimes committed with guns are carrying under the influence and DWI (51/127). While certainly not a responsible behavior, the implication that the firearm was used in commission of a crime there is totally false. Moreover, those two categories also comprise 608 of 1455 total offenses. Please direct your attention to section 5b of the BCA report and consider revising your numbers to include only serious crimes in the comparison to the overall violent/property crime rate:
Any way you slice the numbers, Minnesotans with permits to carry firearms are many times more law-abiding than the rest of the population on a pro rata basis. The crime rate among permit holders, including but not limited to crimes involving firearms, is remarkably low; for the Star Tribune to simply report the gross number of crimes committed by permit holders without disclosing that fact was misleading at best.