The Tennessee Senate voted by a wide margin on Tuesday to permit any gun owner to openly carry a firearm, provided that they are not legally barred from owning a gun. One consequence of this bill, should it become law, is that it would eliminate the requirement that gun owners complete a training course on firearm safety before they are allowed to wander the streets of Tennessee while armed.
The bill appears to be part of a trend of pro-gun lawmakers trying to remove checks on who may have a firearm in public spaces. Until 2007, Vermont was the only state in the country that did not require gun permits to carry a gun in public. In recent years, however, legislation eliminating the permit requirement became law in Wyoming, Arizona, Alaska, Arkansas and Oklahoma.
Although the most common justification for more permissive gun laws is that they are needed for self-defense — “the only thing that stops a bad guy with a gun is a good guy with a gun,” in NRA Executive Vice President Wayne LaPierre’s words — data on gun violence does not support this justification. The presence of guns is far more likely to lead to a criminal homicide than an act of self defense. In 2010, for example, there were 8,275 illegal homicides and only 230 justifiable killings.
A likely explanation for why the NRA’s narrative does not actually resemble reality is that mass shootings — the kind of gun murders where an armed vigilante would be most useful — are actually quite rare. According to a paper by Josh Blackman, a libertarian law professor at South Texas College of Law, “[r]oughly .1% of deaths from gunfire take place during a mass shooting (defined as 4 or more deaths in a single event). The overwhelming majority, 99.9% are not during a mass shooting.”
The most common motive for gun homicides is an argument, often involving a drunken assailant. As Washington State Sociology Professor Jennifer Schwartz explains, “[n]early half of all homicides, committed by men or women, were preceded by some sort of argument or fight, such as a conflict over money or property, anger over one partner cheating on another, severe punishment of a child or abuse of a partner, retaliation for an earlier dispute, or a drunken fight over an insult or other affront.” When an argument breaks out that otherwise would have only escalated to screaming or hitting, and a gun is readily available, that argument can turn into a murder.