Carry Licenses Dropped While Crime Soared In Philly Last Year

AP Photo/Matt Rourke

2020 wasn’t just a banner year for gun sales. The number of concealed carry licenses increased as well, according to the Crime Prevention Research Center, though the group does note that the 4.4% increase in the number of concealed carry licensees is the smallest increase that they’ve recorded since 2011. A big part of the reason for the gap between gun sales and carry licenses, according to the CPRC, is that many jurisdictions shut down their licensing completely for months during the pandemic, while other agencies operating on limited hours or by appointment were overwhelmed with requests, leading to huge backlogs and delays.

That would appear to be the case in Pennsylvania, where both gun sales and carry applications were up considerably last year… with one notable exception.

In 2020, gun carry permits rose by 25 percent in Pennsylvania, and in the city’s collar counties they rose a similar 22 percent, meaning nearly 6,800 more permits were distributed in the suburbs in 2020 than in 2019. However, in the city itself, permits fell by 19 percent.

Part of that was because the city was slow to start processing applications after the COVID-lockdown pause. But the figures remain stark: Even with fewer people becoming legally allowed to carry guns in 2020, Philadelphia still experienced a 40 percent jump in homicide victims, and is currently experiencing a 34 percent increase compared to the time last year.

Philly politicians have tried to pin violent crime on concealed carry holders for years now. I remember back in 2005 when then-Mayor John Street wanted to show that he was going to get tough on crime by making it harder for law-abiding residents to protect themselves. As Dr. John Lott wrote at the time:

While murder rates have been falling or have been flat for years in the rest of the country, Philadelphia’s rate has been rising. Last year’s murder rate was the highest since 1993, and Philadelphia replaced Chicago, the perennial leader, as the top 10 largest city with the highest murder rate. With 85 murders in the first 88 days of 2005, the city’s murder rate is well ahead of even last year’s.

Mayor John Street’s solution? He’s doing little about fixing the city’s declining arrest rates for murder. Instead, he blames the law-abiding citizens who have permits to carry concealed handguns. He announced on Thursday that the city will deliberately begin delaying issuing new concealed handgun permits. Gov. Rendell’s proposed crime task force promises to examine the issue further.

No reporters seem to have asked Street or Rendell the obvious question: If permit-holders are the problem, how many of those 85 murders were caused by a person with a permitted concealed handgun? When I asked, the city police and mayor’s office were unable or unwilling to answer that question, but my guess is zero.

2020 saw a return to Street’s strategy, with Philadelphia’s Gun Permit Unit completely shuttered for several months during the pandemic. While the move resulted in a sharp decline in the number of carry permits issued, it did nothing to actually prevent violent crime. In fact, I’d argue it made crime worse, because thousands of residents were left disarmed and defenseless on city streets, unable to use a firearm in self-defense unless they were willing to violate the law and carry without a license.

Philadelphia’s done a much better job of curtailing the exercise of a civil right than reducing violent crime, which is still soaring in the City of Brotherly Love. The city’s fixation on guns and the unwillingness to differentiate between responsible gun owners and those using firearms in the commission of violent crimes is only making things worse, but with the city’s one-party rule firmly in place, don’t expect any real change, reform, or progress on public safety anytime soon.