That action bucked a strong trend that has lasted for many years. Florida granted its millionth concealed-carry license this week, making it more pistol-packing than any other state.
It is true that violent crime rates in the state have gone down every year since 1992, five years after the rules were loosened. In the United States as a whole, violent crime rates, including murder, which is mostly committed with handguns, are about half as high as they were 20 years ago. But is this really cause and effect?
A distinguished conservative jurist, Richard A. Posner of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 7th Circuit in Chicago, doesn't think so. Even though he issued an opinion Dec. 11 striking down the Illinois ban on concealed-carry outside the home as unconstitutional, he said there was no conclusive empirical evidence to prove the more-guns-equals-less-crime connection that the gun owners' lobbies are so fond of making. More people carrying guns in public isn't the same thing as more people having guns, he wrote in his ruling. He cited a study showing that gun ownership has in fact gone down somewhat in recent years.
More people who have handguns take them along when they leave home than they did in decades past. "A gun is a potential danger to more people if carried in public than just kept in the home," Posner said. "But the other side of this coin is that knowing that many law-abiding citizens are walking the streets armed may make criminals timid."
He conceded that "the net effect on crime rates in general and murder rates in particular of allowing the carriage of guns in public is uncertain both as a matter of theory and empirically." Yet his ruling gave the benefit of the doubt to the argument for carrying and put the onus on Illinois to prove the opposite: "Illinois had to provide us with more than merely a rational basis for believing that its uniquely sweeping ban is justified by an increase in public safety. It has failed to meet this burden."