Welcome to Common Gunsense

I hope this blog will provoke some thoughtful reflection about the issue of guns and gun violence. I am passionate about the issue and would love to change some misperceptions and the culture of gun violence in America by sharing with readers words, photos, videos and clips from articles to promote common sense about gun issues. Many of you will agree with me- some will not. I am only one person but one among many who think it's time to do something about this national problem. The views expressed by me in this blog do not represent any group with which I am associated but are rather my own personal opinions and thoughts.

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

New study about Michigan permit to carry holders and suicide rates

The Violence Policy Center has released a new study about the rate of suicide among Michigan conceal and carry holders. One wonders if Michigan is an outlier among states that have permit to carry laws or does the state's data represent a trend nation wide?  Suicide accounts for the largest number of gun deaths per year nationally. In my state of Minnesota, the gun suicides account for over 70% of total gun deaths. It is notable that the Michigan permit holder gun suicide rate is higher than that of the general population. According to the study, in the periods form 2007-2008 and 2008-2009, the permit holders' suicide rates were 17.6 per 100,000, and 15.3 per 100,000 respectively. This compares to the gun suicide rate of the general population in the same time periods of 11.3 per 100,000 and 11.7 per 100,000.

You can decide for yourself if conclusions can be drawn from the above statistics. As the study notes, most states do not release information regarding permit holders and their rates of suicide or homicide. It's difficult to know the actual consequences of issuing more permits to more people if we can't access the numbers. Of course people don't need a permit to carry to  shoot themselves. But when the permit to carry laws were passed in state after state, it was said that it would make us safer and protect people from harm in public and private places. Has that been the case? 

As a post script to what is going on in Michigan, here are some permit holders who have been arrested for pointing their guns at other motorists while driving. This is not the kind of "self defense" that needs to be practiced on our roadways. If permit holders want to convince the rest of us that they are safer than non permit holders or the general citizenry these type of incidents are not helpful to their cause. As far as gun suicide is concerned, it is a tragedy no matter whether the victim was a permit holder or not. But, again, let us recognize that the right to carry guns comes with a responsibility to be careful and consider public safety as well as personal safety. Common sense tells us that we need more information, more dialogue and more study about gun incidents that lead to suicides and road rage, to name just a few. 


  1. Oh dear, another day, another deeply flawed VPC “study.”

    “Michigan concealed handgun license holders commit suicide at a rate higher than the general Michigan population”

    Note that one word that gives it all away. “general.” When one compares a sample of the population to the entire population, one must use common sense (there’s that phrase again). How low do you think the suicide rate is amongst Michigan residents under 10 years old? .09 per 100,000. 15-19? 12.8 per 100,000. Yet these people were included in the Michigan “general” population as a comparison. Now we know that even in your wildest nightmares, Michigan residents 10 and under are not issued Concealed Carry licenses. Comparing license holders to a group that includes these children isn’t common sense.

    In order to have a meaningful discussion about relative suicide rates, you have to compare the same sort of people. If all license holders are 21 and up, the “control” group must be 21 and up. If 80% of license holders are male, comparing their suicide rate to the (presumably 50-50 male-female) Michigan population is not common sense.

    The suicide rate VPC calculated for Michigan license holders was 15.3 per 100,000. Do you know what the suicide rate is for all male Michigan residents is 18.4 per 100,000, and that includes the almost no suicides 0-10 year old group. 20-29 year old males are 20.8, 30-49 is 23.8. 50-69 is 20.2, and it spikes in the over 70 crowd to 29.0 per 100,000. When you consider that most license holders are male, and mostly over 40, the overall license holder suicide rate looks pretty good by comparison. So I guess that Joshie just embarrassed himself.


    PDF alert:
    Data: http://www.sprc.org/stateinformation/PDF/statedatasheets/mi_datasheet.pdf

  2. Setting aside the sometimes lackadaisical quality of VPC "studies", I'm not sure what relevance it is. Even if true, what would it matter if there were a statistical correlation between permit holders and suicide?

    If there were one, would that mean we would issue fewer permits? Get rid of them? I presume you see what I mean. I'm sure there is a statistical correlation between suicide and lots of things, but correlation does not equal causation, no?

    As to the "self defense" incidents, stupid people do stupid things and you can't cure stupid. Thankfully no one did anything catastrophically stupid. I believe we are in total agreement that carrying a weapon requires, nay demands, great care and forethought. With great power comes great responsibility.

    The key thing is that whereas statistically permit holders are generally more law abiding than the general population, they/we are a group made up of fallible humans and thus some will do stupid things. No way around that really.

  3. I'm quite sure you know more than the Violence Policy Center, Sean. But taking the link you provided, the graph information showed:
    "30-49 years: highest suicide rate;
    43% of suicides; rate 1.9 times the
    rate for 15 to 19 years

    That most likely covers the age group you were talking about. The VPC found that that age group of permit holders also had the highest rate of suicide among permit holders. Is it absolutely true that most permit holders are males over the age of 40? No wonder the NRA wants to extend the age downwards for permit holders. They need to get more young people interested in carrying guns. I don't believe "Joshie" embarassed himself at all using your reasoning. But I know that is what you want to believe. You are sure no one on my side of the issue has anything to say that makes sense or that the people who do these studies must not be qualified to do so or educated or trained to do so. What is your training, by the way?

  4. I think it is going too far to call this VPC product a "study" or definitive. It is a press release (that's what Josh titled it, at least). On the plus side, Josh used rates. As we've discussed, division is key. Since he understands the technique and uses it here, I don't know why he doesn't use it more frequently.

    Unfortunately, one challenge of social science is establishing causation. It is almost impossible to do; most proper scientific designs that would allow you to establish causation have troubling ethical implications. For example, in this case, if you accept Josh's hypothesis that "more CCW is correlated with more suicides," then are suicide-prone people more likely to apply for and receive CCW permits? Or is the act of getting a CCW permit likely to encourage you to commit suicide? The causation is difficult to untangle.

    Sean points out that a good study should control for as many factors as possible. For example, controlling the suicide rate for gender and age would be obvious factors that might bias your CCW permit carrying sample. There could be many more. For example, perhaps people who live in bad urban neighborhoods are more likely to commit suicide. These people might also be more likely to apply for CCW permits. It may not be possible to account for all the lurking variables but the fact that they may exist should be noted, and the degree and direction of bias should be estimated (if possible).

    I'm also concerned that Josh has only looked at two years of data from one state. He claims the information is not available from anywhere else, but I think with a few phone calls to LE agencies combined with some data mining of death certificates you could come up with a reasonable estimate of the number of CCW permit carriers that committed suicides in other states. I'm kind of wondering if he has cherry-picked his data to fit a pre-existing conclusion.

    To be fair, those are criticisms you can levy at the back-of-the-envelope calculations I've done for comparing crime rates here. The difference is that my back-of-the-envelope calculations show differences from the general population of several orders of magnitude. When you've got differences which are factors of 10 from many states over decades of experience, even without controlling for all the possible variables, I feel pretty comfortable rejecting some theories (i.e. that CCW permit holders are more likely to commit crimes than their peers).

    I think Josh's work here is interesting. The initial conclusion I'd draw -- with low confidence -- is that permit holders suffer suicide at around the same rate as the general population. Sure, the numbers Josh presents are slightly higher, but they are certainly within the same ballpark (unlike the crime comparison). I don't even know if you'd have any statistically significant correlation to their CCW permit status after controlling for obvious factors like age and gender. That's a difference from my back-of-the-envelope calculations on crime rates, which show differences of a factor of 10 or more in many cases.

  5. \\


    Honestly, I don't know of anyone making the argument that CCW permit carriers are less likely to commit suicide. I usually make the argument that CCW permit holders are significantly less likely to commit violent crime than their peers.

    While every suicide is a tragedy, the suicide rate is kind of irrelevant to the public policy question at hand. Suicide is a serious problem in Alaska, but generally we find that people who are suicidal kill themselves by whatever means they have available. Natives in villages use rifles, which are common. City dwellers prefer handguns. People without guns (and many with guns) hang themselves, jump off cliffs, jump into freezing water, or OD on drugs.

    Almost none of the suicides occur in places where a CCW permit (if it were required in AK) would make a difference, as the vast majority occur at home or in private places. Even if some suicides did occur in public, I doubt that someone who planned on ending their life would be deterred by a "no guns allowed" sign.

    Still, I'm cautiously optimistic that Josh will continue to use division in the future. It is a first step.

    Chris from AK

  6. What is the relevance of the suicide rate of license holders? Do you think something should be done about it?

    I used to do statistics for work-if the correlation is true, I'm near certain that third factors affect both suicide and likelihood of applying or qualifying for a license, rather than licensing causing suicide.

    Most states do not release information regarding permit holders and their rates of suicide or homicide. It's difficult to know the actual consequences of issuing more permits to more people if we can't access the numbers

    This is misleading at best, at least with regard to homicide. There are states that do compile this specific information--the rates in those states are extremely low, and there is no reason to expect other states to be drastically different. Other states give revocation rates for all causes--the overall revocation rates are consistent with licencees being more law abiding than average.

    If the data pointed in different directions, I could see the small sample size being an issue--but when all available data points to the same conclusion, small samples can have very high confidence intervals. Even the VPC's 'concealed carry killers' numbers indirectly support that conclusion--San Diego is the largest city at 1.3 million with fewer murders than the VPC claims among the 6 million license holders. I think it very unlikely that the VPC has missed many license holders--it is more likely that they are over-reporting the number of licencees, since it is very common for news to initially report erroneously that someone had a license.

    I'm fine with releasing statistical data on licensees, and of releasing whether or not a convicted criminal had a license. Unfortunately there has been a history of using this sort of information on individuals for harassment, so I am not in favor of releasing names or addresses of license holders who haven't committed a crime.

  7. Chris from AK is willing to back off the suicide question but sticks to his guns on the "significantly less likely to commit violent crime" routine.

    japete covered that perfectly.

    "most states do not release information regarding permit holders and their rates of suicide or homicide."

    So what does that mean, Chris? Are you making stuff up? Or when you quote stats which are misleading are you doing the same thing you accuse the VPC of?

    The problem is there are too many bad apples among the legitimate gun owners. The guys commenting here for example, assuming they're not bad apples, should be the first ones demanding stricter controls.

    What I predict though is that their egos and their paranoia won't allow them to do that. Things will get worse and eventually the country as a whole will wake up. Gun-rights folks are an insignificant minority, albeit a vocal and well-financed one. Remember the vast majority of gun owners are not interested in gun rights. When you count only the ones who are, they're practically invisible.

  8. Mike,

    The data on CCW permit revocations is available. To say otherwise is just simply not true. I'm not saying that you're lying; I'm just saying that perhaps you are unaware of the resources which are available.

    Nearly any state that issues permits to carry concealed weapons will keep track of the revocations. Even the revocation rates -- which include revocations for any reason, in some places including parking tickets -- are way lower than violent crime rates in almost any other demographic. Most states also keep track of reasons for revocations, including criminal acts.

    Here's a quick handful of states, including some of the most popular permits (Florida & Utah for their reciprocity) and some of the largest shall-issue states (Texas).

    FLORIDA: http://licgweb.doacs.state.fl.us/stats/cw_monthly.html
    MICHIGAN: http://www.michigan.gov/msp/0,1607,7-123-1591_3503_4654-77621--,00.html
    MINNESOTA: http://www.bca.state.mn.us/CJIS/Documents/CarryPermit/2008PTSReport.pdf
    UTAH: http://publicsafety.utah.gov/bci/brady_statistics.html
    LOUSIANA: http://www.lsp.org/handguns.html
    ARIZONA: http://www.azdps.gov/Services/Concealed_Weapons/Statistics/
    TEXAS: http://www.txdps.state.tx.us/administration/crime_records/chl/demographics.htm

    It goes on and on. If the data isn't available on the internet with a quick google search, there is nothing stopping you from calling the licensing division (usually part of the State Troopers or Dep't of Public Safety) and requesting the information. It isn't a secret. In some rare cases you might need a FOIA request (every state has some sort of freedom of information statute).

    My back of the envelope estimates are just that, and nothing more. I don't bill them as statistical models or complete studies. They are order of magnitude estimates meant to get an initial handle on the scale of the issues at hand. They do well enough for that purpose.

    Point me to a single peer reviewed study that tries to claim that CCW permit holders are more likely to engage in crime than their peers. It doesn't exist. Even Josh Sugarman doesn't argue that his "CCW Killers" commit more crimes than the average citizen (he just points out that they do commit them, which nobody disagrees with... c.f. "straw man...").

    Seriously, I just can't believe that some folks are still wallowing in the "blood in the streets" hypothesis. That is so 1990s. We now have more than a decade of data on "shall issue" from many states.

    There are some legit arguments you could make about the impact on crime (indeed, academia is split on that question), but saying that CCW permit carriers are extremely likely to be violent criminals doesn't seem to have any grounding in reality.

    I am willing to back off on the suicide issue because I accept the best available data. I also am attuned to it because Alaska has some of the highest suicide rates in the country and because some of my friends and coworkers have struggled with PTSD, depression, and other related issues. It doesn't really seem like there is an exceptionally strong relationship at all between suicide and CCW permits, unlike the violent crime rates.

    Chris from AK

  9. Thanks, Chris. I believe you all have misperceived why I post these stories. I am not saying anywhere that permit holders are more likely to commit crimes than the average person. I am saying that permit holders are commiting crimes which sometimes lead to injuries and deaths. My point in blogging about these stories is that the issue of permits to carry guns in public has not turned out exactly the way either side proclaimed. There were people on my side who said blood would be flowing in the streets. That didn't happen. There were people on your side who said that it would only be law abiding citizens who would have the guns and they would only be used in self defense. That hasn't always been the case either. My point is that, again, guns are deadly weapons and when people carry them around in public, there will inevitably be problems. I know, I know, there is the criminal element that will have their guns in public anyway. But we all need to admit that having loaded guns in public isn't always making us safer. We were told that there would be NO problems with permit holders when the law was passed. That is not true. There are some problems. I am also saying that as we see more people with permits, as we are, we may also see more injuries and deaths. I am just reporting on the incidents as they happen, the purpose being to point out that they are happening.Gun injuries and deaths are happening every day at a rate that is too high. My intent is to try to reduce or prevent them.

  10. Chris, Your "order of magnitude" estimates are way off because many times no one is checking to determine if the criminal had a permit. These are ommitted from the stats.

    Common sense to me says that claiming CCW guys are safer or more responsible than any other group is wrong. They're the same since it's so easy to get the permit, it requires so little screening and training, the holders are the same as gun owners at large.

    I appreciate your saying "I'm not saying that you're lying; I'm just saying that perhaps you are unaware of the resources which are available."

  11. MIkeb, in most states nobody has to check. In Ohio, when an ID is run by police, the LEADS database system automatically brings up the license, beeping at the officer the same way as for an active warrant or sex offender.

    This isn't true in every state, but the states that do check for virtually every law enforcement interaction don't have a high rate of revocations. Ohio's revocation rate was 0.2%, this includes people moving out of state and other non-criminal revocations. Including suspensions, the number rises to just 0.5%.

  12. MikeB,

    Your "order of magnitude" estimates are way off because many times no one is checking to determine if the criminal had a permit.

    Hang on... If I understand you correctly, you're alleging that most state law enforcement/permit officials do not revoke permits when they should. That seems like a pretty serious allegation against the professionalism of law enforcement officers and the justice system in general.

    I know in Alaska we have a computerized system called APSIN. APSIN gives LEOs, court officials, and other local/state/federal officials access to key information (http://www.dps.alaska.gov/Statewide/apsin/whatisapsin.aspx). That info includes:

    A person's physical description, addresses, driver history, criminal history, vehicle information, wants and warrants, case involvement, and other similar information all from one system and all based on an individual's unique identity.

    As a note it also includes your CCW permit, if you have one (although you don't need one up here anymore). ASPIN came online in 1984, 26 years ago; I'd imagine that most states which have entered the 21st century have a similar system.

    I just get sick of folks saying that "There is no data!" There are decades of data from dozens of states. It is out there and available.

    The next argument which MikeB just pulled out is, "The data exists, but it is biased and incorrect." You have to believe in either (A) a vast conspiracy involving gun owners, the nefarious NRA, state legislatures, state law enforcement officers, and judges to manipulate and suppress the data or (B) believe that those state LEOs and justice systems are incredibly incompetent. I find the former unlikely, and the latter is disturbing; if you believe that the justice system is so incompetent then the last thing you should be advocating for is more laws before reforms occur!


    Joan, I understand that your purpose is to publicize "gun owners behaving badly." I'm disappointed that you keep repeating things like:
    "Since the laws have passed in so many states, many in the recent decade, we have not had a chance to evaluate what it means to have more people with loaded guns in more public places."

    A few threads ago, I thought you'd agreed that the data exists and does appear to show that CCW permit holders are pretty darn law abiding (although we all agree that they do commit some crimes; I don't think there's any controversy there). I don't know why we keep going around on this issue.

    Chris from AK

  13. Yes, Chris, I did agree to that. But as incidents continue to happen that may prove otherwise, I continue to be concerned. I said MAY. Time will tell.

  14. Sevesteen and Chris, Is your argument that when it comes to the IRS and the ATF, we've got total confusion, one hand not knowing what the other hand is doing and many contradictory reports coming out, so much so that you can't trust any of it. But this revocation of CCW permits business works so well that it can be reliably presented as evidence?

    I say all these bureaucratic mechanisms are so flawed that you cannot trust their results.

    That's why you have to step back and use common sense. You can't jump on the first statistics that support your biased world view and praise them to the high heavens.

    Does it really make sense that CCW permit holders would be significantly better than regular gun owners or the general public in anything, given that getting the permit requires so little in the way of screening and training?