Gun experts, speaking at a National Press Club Newsmakers news conference on Oct. 9, disagreed on the effects of citizens carrying concealed guns while agreeing that permits to carry them are appropriate if properly restricted.
George Lyon, one of the litigants whose suit led to the overthrow of the D.C. ban of carrying weapons, emphasized the benefits of armed citizens while Paul Helmke, former president and chief executive officer of the Brady Center to Prevent Gun Violence, focused on the risks.
Lyon called police and emergency medical service personnel "second responders" to crime because the first responders are the intended victims and witnesses. Carrying a gun will not guarantee safety, though, because it is ``at best only about equalizing the odds," he said.
He still favored evening the odds. He cited instances of a woman confronted with a much larger assailant, an unarmed person facing an armed attacker, and a fit young man facing several attackers as situations in which a gun could change the odds.
Helmke, who also is a professor at Indiana University, said carrying guns in public increases the risk to others and changes the behavior of three groups: criminals who perceive other people are likely to be armed; police who expect guns to be more likely in confrontations; and people in general who, if they have guns, may use them in situations of anger.
Both speakers noted that Supreme Court rulings permit guns inside the home, and that the debate is about carrying weapons outside the home. While conceding this, Helmke reported that a gun in the home is 21 times more likely to be used against the resident. He also called carrying guns outside the home a policy and personal issue, not a constitutional one.
The speakers agreed that permits to carry guns should be restricted by training requirements, background checks, and mental evaluation of applicants. Helmke, a former mayor of Fort Wayne, Indiana, added that local law enforcement officials should also approve permits because they are aware of specific situations.
"I trust local law enforcement,'' he said. "I trust police."
Helmke noted that most jurisdictions also ban guns from sensitive areas and suggested that all of D.C. could be called a restricted area because of the danger to diplomats, members of Congress and justices.
Lyon argued that violent crime decreases in places where carrying guns is allowed. He cited survey evidence that 91 percent of police favor armed citizens. Other important steps to reduce violent crime would be legalizing drugs, which would reduce gang shootings, and improving the mental health system, he said.
He quoted Cathy Lanier, D.C. chief of police, as saying that allowing guns would have a minimal effect on street crime. Forty-four states permit concealed-carrying and 11 million Americans carry guns, he said.