Study Suggests Gun Licensing Laws Do More Harm Than Good

AP Photo/Lynne Sladky, File

The American people aren’t interested in defunding our police departments, but nor are we in favor of living in an actual police state. The happy medium, at least when it comes to addressing violent crime, seems to me to involve a strategy of prioritizing arrest and prosecutions of violent offenders. From both a constitutional and a practical standpoint, I can’t get on board with the gun control philosophy of banning and regulating our way to safety.

new study from Loyola University Chicago’s Center for Criminal Justice Research, Policy, and Practice suggests that my practical concerns, at least, are well-founded (the paper doesn’t really address the constitutional issues involved). The project examined the effects of Illinois’ very tough gun laws, which make it a felony to carry a firearm without a license. According to the study’s authors, their research has caused them serious concern.

The two-year study conducted by Loyola’s Center for Criminal Justice Research, Policy and Practice is the most comprehensive and detailed analysis of sentencing for gun possession offenses in Illinois, and David Olson, who co-directs Loyola’s Center said “it calls into question the equity of enforcement and sentencing as well as the effectiveness of tougher mandatory sentences in reducing violent crime.”

“The narrative has been that these laws and mandatory prison sentencing requirements target ‘violent gun offenders.’ These analyses found that most of those incarcerated have not been convicted of acts of gun violence, most have never been previously convicted of a violent crime, and most do not commit violent crimes after completing their sentences,” said Garien Gatewood, Director of the Illinois Justice Project. The Illinois Justice Project engages in criminal justice reform efforts that promote policies that make communities safer and reduce recidivism.

That’s right. Illinois’ carry laws, which make it a felony to carry without a license, are mostly creating felons out of non-violent offenders rather than preventing violent criminals from carrying a gun.

The study’s data is pretty compelling, and awfully damning to the gun control lobby.

  • Out of all arrests and convictions in Illinois for firearm-related offenses over the past decade, the vast majority were not for violent offenses carried out with a gun; 72 percent have been for firearm possession, while 28 percent were for discharge of a weapon or use of a firearm in the commission of a violent crime.
  • The majority of firearm possession convictions in Illinois occur in Cook County, are disproportionately concentrated in a few Chicago neighborhoods, and primarily involve Black men.
  • Increased arrests for illegal gun possession, and mandatory prison sentences for most of the offenses, meant that incarceration for these crimes increased 27 percent between 2014 and 2019, a period when incarceration for all other crimes fell 38 percent.
  • Of those firearm possession offenses where prison is not mandatory, people convicted in Cook County were more likely to be sentenced to prison than in the rest of Illinois.
  • The majority of those sentenced to prison for firearm possession do not have prior convictions for violent crimes, and the vast majority of those sentenced for firearm possession were not arrested for violent crimes during the three year period they were tracked following their release from prison or placement on probation.

I know you’ll be shocked that a gun control law is being used disproportionately against young black men, and is responsible for adding to the inmate population at a time when overall incarceration is declining. Gun control is racist?? Who would have guessed?

As the study points out, almost 75% of all firearm-related offenses in the state of Illinois involve mere possession of a firearm without a license, and the majority of those serving prison time as a result have no history of violence either before or after their conviction. If the goal of the criminal justice system is to reduce violent crime, then this study suggests that we’re putting the wrong people in prison.

How much time and public treasure is spent on investigating, arresting, prosecuting, and incarcerating these individuals when law enforcement could be focusing on violent offenders? If Illinois were to do the unthinkable and adopt Constitutional Carry, how many young black men in Illinois would remain free instead of being turned into felons thanks to the state’s draconian licensing and carrying laws?

The Right has long argued that these types of gun control laws are unconstitutional, but the Left doesn’t really care. The Constitution is a living, breathing document than can mean whatever they want it to, at least according to them. This new study, on the other hand, makes the argument that the types of licensing laws in place in Illinois are also unconscionable; that they do far more harm than good.

Of course, the study’s authors don’t go as far as calling for Constitutional Carry, though they do recommend some changes to the existing law.

“Given the substantial cost associated with prison relative to probation, mandatory prison sentences now required under Illinois law for most firearm possession crimes should be reconsidered,” said Olson. “For example, rather than everyone with a prior felony conviction possessing a firearm receiving a mandatory prison sentence, criteria should focus more narrowly on those related to risk of recidivism involving violence, such as prior convictions for specific types of violent crimes.”

That’s fine and good as far as felons in possession go (and I find it interesting that they’ve largely adopted the position held by Justice Amy Coney Barrett), but what about the issue of a license to possess or carry a firearm in the first place? If there’s anything I find disappointing about this study, it’s that the authors ultimately shy away from the obvious conclusion that the data presents: laws mandating a license to carry a firearm end up creating more non-violent criminals (a disproportionate number of them young black men) than incarcerating violent offenders.

The issue isn’t reducing the crime from a felony to a misdemeanor, it’s the fact that states like Illinois, where the gun control lobby holds sway, consider the exercise of a civil right to be a criminal offense to begin with. You want to talk about root causes of crime? There’s a big one; gun control organizations and anti-gun politicians carving up a fundamental right and criminalizing the pieces.

Possess a gun without a license? Felony. Have a 17-round magazine for your legally possessed gun? Felony. Own one of those super scary black rifles? Felony. And so on and so forth, and every new law a chance to put another (usually) young black man behind bars so that Shannon Watts and her action-demanding cohorts can sleep a little easier at night. Meanwhile, violent criminals are still getting sweetheart deals and probation, homicide clearance rates are falling even as the number of homicides themselves increase, and the good people in bad neighborhoods aren’t sleeping well at all.

Unconscionable and unconstitutional. And both arguments are important ones to make.