Does Increased Gun Ownership Help Decrease Crime? After a bystander helped stop the shooter in Sutherland Springs, Texas on Sunday, there is more talk about "good guys with guns." NPR's Robert Siegel talks with Stanford University law professor John Donohue about his research on whether or not increased gun ownership helps decrease crime.
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Does Increased Gun Ownership Help Decrease Crime?

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Does Increased Gun Ownership Help Decrease Crime?

Does Increased Gun Ownership Help Decrease Crime?

Does Increased Gun Ownership Help Decrease Crime?

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After a bystander helped stop the shooter in Sutherland Springs, Texas on Sunday, there is more talk about "good guys with guns." NPR's Robert Siegel talks with Stanford University law professor John Donohue about his research on whether or not increased gun ownership helps decrease crime.

ROBERT SIEGEL, HOST:

A neighbor of First Baptist of Sutherland Springs is being celebrated for shooting and wounding the gunman after he exited the church. His account was featured on the National Rifle Association's video channel, NRATV. Here's host Grant Stinchfield.

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GRANT STINCHFIELD: He told his story, the one the mainstream media doesn't want to hear. A good guy with a gun stopped a bad one.

SIEGEL: The good guy is certified NRA instructor Stephen Willeford. He recounted how he exchanged gunfire with the church attacker.

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STEPHEN WILLEFORD: He got in his vehicle, and he shot two rounds through the side window. And I saw very distinctively two rounds come through the window. And I shot through the window with my rifle. And the window collapsed down when I did. And I took another shot.

SIEGEL: We'll never know whether Willeford's shots prevented the gunman from harming more people, but Stanford law professor John Donohue's research offers some clues as to the impact of so-called good guys with guns on violent crime rates. He's looked at more than 30 years of data from states with right-to-carry laws.

And professor Donohue, welcome to the program.

JOHN DONOHUE: Good to be with you.

SIEGEL: First, describe what statistics you actually looked at.

DONOHUE: Yes, we were looking at data across all 50 states and the District of Columbia over the period from 1977 through 2014 to evaluate what the impact on violent crime would be when a state adopted a right-to-carry law that allowed citizens to carry concealed weapons outside the home.

SIEGEL: And what did you find?

DONOHUE: The basic finding was that the net effect of allowing citizens to carry concealed handguns was an increase in violent crime, which essentially rose to about a 15 percent increase after 10 years of existence of the right-to-carry law.

SIEGEL: And were you able to look inside the numbers and see why that was? That is, were there that many more domestic abuses that turned into homicides or that many more suicides by - with a gun? What was the big difference?

DONOHUE: Well, none of our data focused on suicides, but basically, the single biggest effect seemed to be an increase in aggravated assaults. Now, that can be either altercations caused by the permit holder or because their guns are stolen and therefore made available to criminals. And also because increased right to carry does complicate the task for police and therefore sort of serves as a impediment to good policing. And the one thing we know is good policing is probably the single most important thing in curtailing crime.

SIEGEL: Was your research funded by any group that has a vested interest in guns or gun control?

DONOHUE: No. I am a salaried employee at Stanford University. And so in that sense, they are funding my research.

SIEGEL: As someone who studies the data very seriously, though, you must encounter the power of the anecdote. That is, if people with semi-automatic weapons entered our workplace, boy, it would be nice to know that somebody with a powerful weapon was shooting them and protecting us at the critical moment as the violence is being done. Even if we know that that's not a typical incident or something that might make good policy, you know, it's good to know somebody could have been there.

DONOHUE: Yeah. You know, the interesting thing is the FBI did a very intensive study of 160 mass shootings over the period from 2000 to 2013. And what they found was that over that period, in the 160 cases, there was only one incidence of a private citizen who was not security personnel or a police officer who effectively intervened in the mass shooting, and that individual was an active duty Marine. On the other hand, 22 unarmed citizens intervened to stop those mass shootings, typically when the individual was reloading. And so it gives you a sense of the relative effectiveness of relying on someone with a gun to intervene in an active shooting scenario.

SIEGEL: Professor Donohue, thanks for talking with us today.

DONOHUE: My pleasure.

SIEGEL: Stanford law professor John Donohue, who has studied the phenomenon of the good guy with a gun.

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