Right-to-Carry Laws and Violent Crime: A Comprehensive Assessment Using Panel Data, the LASSO, and a State-Level Synthetic Controls Analysis
NBER Working Paper No. 23510
The 2005 report of the National Research Council (NRC) on Firearms and Violence recognized that violent crime was higher in the post-passage period (relative to national crime patterns) for states adopting right-to-carry (RTC) concealed handgun laws, but because of model dependence the panel was unable to identify the true causal effect of these laws from the then-existing panel data evidence. This study uses 14 additional years of state panel data (through 2014) capturing an additional eleven RTC adoptions and new statistical techniques to see if more convincing and robust conclusions can emerge.
Our preferred panel data regression specification (the “DAWmodel”) and the Brennan Center (BC) model, as well as other statistical models by Lott and Mustard (LM) and Moody and Marvell (MM) that had previously been offered as evidence of crime-reducing RTC laws, now only generate statistically significant estimates showing RTC laws increase overall violent crime and/or murder when run on the most complete data. A LASSO analysis finds that RTC laws are always associated with increased violent crime. To the extent the large increases in gun thefts induced by RTC laws generate crime increases in non-RTC states, the panel data estimates of the increase in violent crime will be understated.
We then use the synthetic control approach of Alberto Abadie and Javier Gardeazabal (2003) to generate state-specific estimates of the impact of RTC laws on crime. Our major finding is that under all four specifications (DAW, BC, LM, and MM), RTC laws are associated with higher aggregate violent crime rates, and the size of the deleterious effects that are associated with the passage of RTC laws climbs over time. Ten years after the adoption of RTC laws, violent crime is estimated to be 13-15 percent higher than it would have been without the RTC law. Unlike the panel data setting, these results are not sensitive to the covariates included as predictors. The magnitude of the estimated increase in violent crime from RTC laws is substantial in that, using a consensus estimate for the elasticity of crime with respect to incarceration of .15, the average RTC state would have to double its prison population to counteract the RTC-induced increase in violent crime.
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Document Object Identifier (DOI): 10.3386/w23510