US Gun Control as a Public Policy Issue

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Public policy issue

Gun control is a widely debated topic in the United States. However, the law protects an individual right to self-defense, which includes carrying firearms. Right-to-carry (RTC) laws allow civilians to have concealed handguns away from home with or without permits depending on the state. Around 74% or 42 US states have RTC laws letting their citizens carry handguns in public (English, 2021). There is a debate on whether RTC laws are increasing or reducing crime. Additionally, opponents are concerned that such regulations could produce more social dangers than advantages. Proponents feel that crime rates are reducing because criminals cannot tell if potential victims are carrying firearms or not (English, 2021). Opponents feel that the widespread carrying of concealed firearms will cause criminals to carry their weapons, leading to more deadly violence during crimes. They also claim that people are more likely to use firearms during arguments, increasing overall violence.

Some states require people carrying handguns in public to acquire permits from authorities. These states are called shall-issue regions because of the permit requirement (English, 2021). Permitless states do not require people to acquire any permit to carry concealed handguns. Nevertheless, the RTC laws do not include other firearms or weapons but only short handguns. In addition, some states limit the law to residents only and strictly for those not prohibited by the law from owning firearms (English, 2021). Therefore, where RTC laws exist, one must ensure compliance with other regulations around weapons.

How issue has been historically addressed

RTC has historically been a hotly debated topic, with scientists and researchers conducting experiments to prove or disprove their validity and contribution to a safe society. Possession of firearms began with the Second Amendment to the US Constitution, which allows the use of weapons in self-defense. By 1987, only ten states had RTC laws, with six of them being shall-issue legislation and only one a permitless carry state (Shapira et al., 2018). However, Florida enacted a shall-issue law in 1987 that was emulated by 33 other states (Shapira et al., 2018). In five years, contrary to the majority belief, Florida’s murder rate declined by 23%, while that of the US rose by 9% (Shapira et al., 2018). David McDowell investigated gun homicide trends in Tampa, Miami, and Jacksonville to disprove the RTC law. To his dismay, the rates had declined by 20%, 10%, and 18%, respectively (Shapira et al., 2018). By 2014, Florida had issued 2.7 million carry permits and only revoked 168 due to gun crimes (Shapira et al., 2018). Therefore, the majority of those permitted to carry guns are law-abiding citizens.

Vermont state has had permitless RTC laws for the longest period, allowing residents and non-residents to carry firearms without permits. However, the individual must be 16 years and above and legally allowed to own a gun. RTC laws have evolved to allow open carry, include different age limits for open or concealed carry, and allow permitless carry on only specific conditions, such as when hunting or hiking.

There are trends that shaped the development and implementation of RTC laws and policies in the US. The main one is the support of the RTC’s positive impact from empirical and statistical analyses conducted through the years. Panel data and crime rates information from government databases have been the sources of the numbers analyzed by researchers. Most researchers agree that RTC laws have generally decreased violent crime rates. However, a few studies have found that crime rates have increased over ten years after adoption or that some crimes have increased as others declined, and others remained the same. Manski and Pepper (2018) found that “RTC laws increase some crimes, decrease other crimes, and have effects that vary over time for others” (p. 1). Donohue et al. (2019) used panel data and statistical methods to conclude that RTC laws increased aggregate violent crimes by 13 to 15% after more than ten years of adoption. They argue that states would have to double their prison population to offset the impact. However, Moody and Marvell (2019) have criticized this research by Donohue et al. for lack of robustness, which led to faulty results. Therefore, most researchers agree that RTC laws decrease violent crimes in the end but do not increase them.

Why a change is called for

Although research shows that violent crimes are decreasing due to RTC laws, public perception is quite the opposite, and most citizens want stricter gun control laws. The media, such as local mass media, international reports, or social networks, mostly shape public perception. The weakening of RTC laws is allowing open and concealed carry in sensitive public spaces, including schools, bars, and churches. The Educational Fund to Stop Gun Violence (EFSGV) leads the way in lobbying against the weakening of RTC laws. According to EFSGV (n.d.), weak open and concealed carry laws allow historically violent people to carry guns, escalate conflict through a shoot-first culture, encourage intimidation by hate groups, and complicate police response to violence. Since most of the incidents mentioned and highlighted by EFSGV are reported through the media, the public considers them more important than empirical studies and statistical analyses published in journals. For example, when shootouts erupted during the Black Lives Matter protests due to RTC laws, most residents felt that lives would not have been lost if there had been no guns. Other incidents of homicides and mass shootings reported through the media have instigated a negative public perception of RTC laws.

Potential negative collateral consequences

There is a possibility that all or most of the advantages gained from RTC laws will be lost. As the US Constitution supports the right to bear arms, restricting RTC laws will lead to court battles in the Supreme Court as citizens of states will feel that their rights have been denied by the state regulations. For instance, California has enacted highly strict gun laws that have been declared unconstitutional by the Supreme Court (Walters, 2021). Such legal contests and showdowns are expected once gun laws are restricted. Due to such legal showdowns between the states and federal government or the courts, future RTC laws might require constitutional amendments to clearly define or restrict the issue. Olsen (2019) has considered the probability of amending the Second Amendment to iron out the issue of gun violence. According to Olsen (2019), there will be a need for negotiations to spell out how government can regulate RTC without infringing on people’s rights or exposing their lives to dangerous gun owners. In this case, safe users would retain RTC while others would get heavy regulations and control. This raises the issue of screening to distinguish safe users from unsafe users. The law shall have to include clear and elaborate procedures for determining who is a safe owner and who is not. Therefore, policy changes around RTC will continue to evolve to factor in all these factors.


Donohue, J. J., Aneja, A., & Weber, K. D. (2019). Right‐to‐carry laws and violent crime: A comprehensive assessment using panel data and a state‐level synthetic control analysis. Journal of Empirical Legal Studies, 16(2), 198-247.

English, W. (2021). The Right to Carry Has Not Increased Crime: Improving an Old Debate Through Better Data on Permit Growth Over Time. Available at SSRN 3887151.

The Educational Fund to Stop Gun Violence. (n.d.). Carrying firearms in public. EFSGV.

Manski, C. F., & Pepper, J. V. (2018). How do right-to-carry laws affect crime rates? Coping with ambiguity using bounded-variation assumptions. Review of Economics and Statistics, 100(2), 232-244.

Moody, C. E., & Marvell, T. B. (2019). Do right to carry laws increase violent crime? A comment on Donohue, Aneja, and Weber. Econ Journal Watch, 16(1), 84-96.

Olsen, H. (2019). Why not try to amend the Second Amendment? The Washington Post.

Shapira, H., Jensen, K., & Lin, K. H. (2018). Trends and patterns of concealed handgun license applications: A multistate analysis. Social Currents, 5(1), 3-14.

Walters, D. (2021). California gun laws headed for legal showdown. Cal Matters.

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"US Gun Control as a Public Policy Issue." DemoEssays, 31 Jan. 2023,


DemoEssays. (2023) 'US Gun Control as a Public Policy Issue'. 31 January.


DemoEssays. 2023. "US Gun Control as a Public Policy Issue." January 31, 2023.

1. DemoEssays. "US Gun Control as a Public Policy Issue." January 31, 2023.


DemoEssays. "US Gun Control as a Public Policy Issue." January 31, 2023.