|January 6, 2008 |
By DAWSON BELL / Detroit Free Press
FREE PRESS STAFF WRITER
Six years after new rules made it much easier to get a license to carry concealed weapons, the number of Michiganders legally packing heat has increased more than six-fold.
But dire predictions about increased violence and bloodshed have largely gone unfulfilled, according to law enforcement officials and, to the extent they can be measured, crime statistics.
The incidence of violent crime in Michigan in the six years since the law went into effect has been, on average, below the rate of the previous six years. The overall incidence of death from firearms, including suicide and accidents, also has declined. More than 155,000 Michiganders -- about one in every 65 -- are now authorized to carry loaded guns as they go about their everyday affairs, according to Michigan State Police records.
About 25,000 people had CCW permits in Michigan before the law changed in 2001.
"I think the general consensus out there from law enforcement is that things were not as bad as we expected," said Woodhaven Police Chief Michael Martin, cochair of the legislative committee for the Michigan Association of Chiefs of Police. "There are problems with gun violence. But ... I think we can breathe a sigh of relief that what we anticipated didn't happen."
John Lott, a visiting professor at the University of Maryland who has done extensive research on the role of firearms in American society, said the results in Michigan since the law changed don't surprise him.
Academic studies of concealed weapons laws that generally allow citizens to obtain permits have shown different results, Lott said. About two-thirds of the studies suggest the laws reduce crime; the rest show no net effect, he said.
But no peer-reviewed study has ever shown that crime increases when jurisdictions enact changes like those put in place by the Legislature and then-Gov. John Engler in 2000, Lott said.
In Michigan and elsewhere (liberal permitting is the rule in about 40 states), those who seek CCW permits, get training and pay licensing fees tend to be "the kind of people who don't break laws," Lott said.
Nationally, the rate of CCW permits being revoked is very low, he said. State Police reports in Michigan indicate that 2,178 permits have been revoked or suspended since 2001, slightly more than 1% of those issued.
Another State Police report found that 175 Michigan permit holders were convicted of a crime, most of them nonviolent, requiring revocation or suspension of their permits between July 1, 2005, and June 30, 2006.
But even if more armed citizens have not wreaked havoc, some critics of Michigan's law chafe at how it was passed: against stiff opposition in a lame duck legislative session and attached to an appropriation that nullified efforts at repeal by referendum.
Kenneth Levin, a West Bloomfield physician, was one of those critics. In a letter to the Free Press in July 2001, he referred to the "inevitable first victim of road or workplace rage as a result of this law."
Last month, Levin said he suspected "it probably hasn't turned out as bad as I thought. I don't think I was wrong, but my worst fears weren't realized."
But the manner in which the law was enacted was nevertheless "sneaky" and "undemocratic," Levin said.
Other opponents remain convinced that it has contributed to an ongoing epidemic of firearms-related death and destruction.
Shikha Hamilton of Grosse Pointe, president of the Michigan chapter of the anti-gun group Million Moms March, said she believes overall gun violence (including suicide and accidental shootings) is up in Michigan since 2001. Many incidents involving CCW permit holders have not been widely reported, she said.
The most publicized recent case came early in 2007, when a 40-year-old Macomb County woman fired from her vehicle toward the driver of a truck she claimed had cut her off on I-94. Bernadette Headd was convicted of assault and sentenced to two years in prison.
Hamilton said that even if gun violence has ebbed, it remains pervasive, tragic and unnecessary. At the least, a more liberal concealed weapons law means there are more guns in homes and cars and on the street, she said, and more potential for disaster.
Advocates for the law argue that there is nothing equivocal about the experience of the CCW permit holders who have warded off threats and, in a few instances, saved themselves from harm.
In September, a 36-year-old Troy man killed an armed 18-year-old assailant who, with three other suspects, attempted to steal his car outside Detroit Police headquarters.
Michelle Reurink, 40, a consultant in Lansing, got her CCW permit last year, not so much because she felt an imminent threat to her well-being, she said, but because she's a strong believer in the Constitution's Second Amendment -- the right to bear arms.
"The primary reason I got it is because I feel like I have the right to have it," she said.
Still, she doesn't often carry her gun during her daily routine, though she takes it when she and her husband go on their boat, she said.
Having the license and a handgun makes her feel more secure in her home (where no one needs a CCW license to have a gun), she said. She also feels more secure because of the required training, including self-defense lessons, she took as part of the license application.
Mark Cortis of Royal Oak, who conducts concealed weapons license training and sits on the Oakland County gun board, said he believes the benefits of an armed citizenry are evident in small ways almost every day, as permit holders deter trouble and live more confidently.
"The police just can't protect you," Cortis said. "If you have to call 911, it's probably already too late."