Crime rates declined in Springfield and Clark County after Ohio approved its concealed carry weapons law, and more local residents want CCW permits than ever before.
Although supporters believe the crime decrease is linked to CCW changes, some experts disagree. Instead, they cite stricter punishments for crimes committed with guns, better controls on gun sales to convicts and the mentally ill, and improved law enforcement work.
About 4,150 Clark County residents are permitted to carry a concealed gun. So many others are seeking new permits that the sheriff had to change the application process to by appointment only last week.
Guns may deter how a criminal might commit a crime but not necessarily prevent the crime itself, said Brooke Wagner, a criminologist and an associate professor of sociology at Wittenberg University.
“Criminals report that they are worried about people having guns,” Wagner said. “Criminals who commit burglaries say, ‘Well, we case out the places because of that reason, because we don’t want to break into someone’s house if someone’s there, because that’s how you get shot.’ ”
A spate of school shootings has prompted a debate in the United States about potential limits on weapons and ammunition clip sizes.
Gun control advocates say limits would stop these and other heinous crimes. Gun rights advocates say arming more people — including teachers — would deter violent crime and, if it were to happen, be a tool to stop it.
The Springfield News-Sun examined Clark County crime rates, how those compared to a similar county in Ohio, and how the state crime rates compared to a state with fewer restrictions on guns and to a state with strict gun control.
The investigation found a reduction in crime in Clark County in the years after 2004 — when the state’s concealed carry law took effect — and an overall slight reduction in Ohio, Arizona and California from 2001-11. It compared Ohio to Arizona and California because those states were at the top and bottom of BradyCampaign.org’s rankings for gun control levels among all 50 states.
By comparison, crime rates in Ohio’s Licking County — with demographics similar to Clark County — remained fairly steady throughout much of the same period until 2010 when its crime rates increased dramatically.
That difference in the the two counties’ rates, Wagner said, indicates that concealed carry has not necessarily had an effect on crime rates.
From 2001-11, violent crime in Clark County peaked at nearly 4.5 incidents per 1,000 residents in 2003, according to FBI and U.S. Census statistics. Violent crime statistics include murder and non-negligent homicide, forcible rape, robbery and aggravated assault.
The combined violent crimes reported in Clark County and Springfield began to trend downward after 2005 and fell drastically from 2006 to 2008.
It’s not clear just how much the violent crime rate fell in 2007 because only crime statistics from the city were available from the FBI that year. But violent crime rates dropped from nearly 4.3 per 1,000 residents in 2006 to about 2.4 per 1,000 in 2008.
Violent crime rates in Clark County increased again to about 3.5 and 3.6 per 1,000 residents in 2009-10.
Reported property crime rates fell drastically from 2006 to 2008, too, from 59.3 per 1,000 residents in 2006 to 42.4 per 1,000 residents in 2008, according to statistics. Those include theft, burglary, motor vehicle theft and arson.
From 2009 to 2010, property crime rates were about 39 and 39.5 per 1,000 residents, respectively.
It appears both violent and property crime fell again in 2011, but it’s not clear by how much because only statistics from the city were available through the FBI for that year.
By contrast, the violent crimes in Licking County combined with Newark remained below the 1 per 1,000 resident range from 2001 until 2010 when it increased to about 1.3 and more than doubled to nearly 2.7 in 2011. Property crimes also remained steady there, hovering around 20 per 1,000 residents.
Declining crime rates in Clark County since CCW started are likely a fluke, in part because the same trends aren’t reflected in Licking County, said Wittenberg’s Wagner.
CCW effect on crime rates
In Clark County Sheriff Gene Kelly’s experience, CCW hasn’t added to or deterred crime.
“I don’t think there’s any hard data to substantiate that,” he said.
Kelly said gun safety courses and awareness, background checks to get a CCW, known criminals being put behind bars for many years, and proactive law enforcement operations have played a larger role in reducing crime rates than more people carrying concealed weapons.
“The people we’re issuing CCW to have gone through the safety course, are law abiding and play by the rules,” he said. “I think (the course) has really been beneficial. They learn to be responsible, safely load and unload a gun and that it’s a weapon, not a toy.”
Butch Adams, a gun rights advocate and NRA-certified gun safety course instructor through his company CCW4U2.com, said he has personal experience that guns deter crime — even if they’re not pointed at anyone.
Recently Adams said he was leaving a restaurant on Leffel Lane when a man wearing a ski mask and with his hands in his pockets charged at him and demanded money.
Adams, whose gun was concealed by a jacket, warned the man that he was armed. The man kept coming, Adams said, so he pulled his jacket back and displayed the gun, never pulling it out of its holster.
The man left, according to Adams. “In my view, that’s an attempted robbery,” he said.
Because the firearm wasn’t drawn and because he wouldn’t be able to identify the man later, he said, he didn’t report it to authorities.
Groups like the Ohio Coalition Against Gun Violence, a statewide organization that provides advocacy and public awareness on gun control, believe that more guns don’t equate to more or less overall crime, but that fewer guns will result in less gun crimes, Executive Director Toby Hoover said.
The group wants more restrictions on guns, including banning assault weapons, stricter gun crime laws and ending what it called the unpopular concealed carry law.
“We were the major opposition to concealed carry, which started in ‘95 and didn’t pass until 2004,” Hoover said. “We still object to the fact (lawmakers) have weakened that law in every single session.”
“Now they’re even talking about training teachers and sending guns into schools,” Hoover said. “It’s appalling that we would react to Newtown by putting more guns near our little kids.”
Regardless, Kelly said deputies weren’t seeing problems with permit holders.
While the sheriff’s office takes permits away from permit holders from time to time, it doesn’t do so often, Kelly said. And rarely does the reason involve the direct use of a gun, but for some other reason that by law requires them to not carry a concealed weapon any more.
Causes for gun crimes
Studies suggest about 80 percent of crimes are committed by someone carrying a gun illegally, according to Wagner. And a majority of those revolve around gangs and drugs, she said.
“Shootings at schools are rare … That’s not to say that they’re not rising,” she said. “Regardless, those aren’t a majority of the murders … The majority of the homicides are in inner cities, gang related, often times African-American on African-American violence.”
“The reasons why we’re re-addressing the gun control debate now, if you think about keeping the guns out of peoples’ hands who are mentally ill, that’s not actually solving the larger crime issue, the larger homicide issue,” Wagner said.
Television and video game violence are frequently cited as a reason for the U.S.’s higher crime rates, but other industrialized countries have violent television and video games, too, she said.
Countries like Canada are also often compared to the U.S. crime rates, according to Wagner, who said Canada has a lower gun violence rate than the U.S. but has more guns as a country.
“What we do have that makes us unique is gangs and crack cocaine. Not surprisingly, that is where we’re seeing the gun violence and homicides,” she said.
Reducing crime rates
Given that the majority of gun crimes are committed in gang and drug-related settings, gun control policies need to focus on people who obtain guns illegally, Wagner said.
And destroying the structures of gangs and drug trafficking networks is one sure way of reducing the violent crime rates, Wagner said.
Additionally, weapons permits, not allowing people with prior criminal records or mental illness to have weapons, local licensing of gun sellers and stronger punishments on those found to be carrying a weapon illegally have lowered crime rates, she said.
“Even (stronger punishment) is a little bit problematic because the states that have those punishments … they already have a different viewpoint or different perspective about carrying guns illegally. So it might not necessarily be the law as much as the people applying the law in a more rigorous type of way,” Wagner said.
Part of the problem, she said, is gun control only controls legal guns. not illegal firearms.
“The policies we have right now aren’t really aimed at illegal guns. Not that police aren’t trying to get rid of illegal guns, but when we talk about our policies of gun control, that never seems to be our focus,” she said.
And she said what really needs to be considered to reduce gun violence is how to get people in impoverished areas out of that situation.
“You have these neighborhoods that are poverty stricken, and people aren’t going in to help them and cutting off social services, (so) being involved in gangs seems to some members of that community as their best option in life,” she said.
CCW requests rise again
CCW4U2 classes have been booked full since December, with particular interest from school teachers, Adams said.
“People just generally are concerned and don’t want it to happen here in Ohio,” he said of Newtown. “The numbers are showing it.”
While violent crime and property crime rates in Clark County have fallen, new CCW licenses fell each year from 2009 through 2011 before spiking in 2012.
New CCW licenses during those years dropped from 664 in 2009 to 474 in 2010 and 385 in 2011. It rose to 683 last year.
And permits have more than doubled so far this year when compared to the same time period last year, up from 190 to 396.
By contrast, the Licking County Sheriff’s Office in 2010 and 2011 issued and renewed 867 and 788 permits, respectively. So far this year, it’s already issued and renewed 470.
Those figures include applications from residents of bordering counties, said Licking County CCW Administrator Sondra Schlaegel.
“It’s definitely increased,” Schlaegel said. “Every county that surrounds me is busy, too.”
What the future holds as far as concealed carry, crime rates and laws remains to be seen.
But Wagner believes society needs to try to reduce gun violence in a variety of ways.
“That’s where a lot of people take this debate: ‘Well, see none of this seems to work, then why are we even trying,’ ” she said.
“I think it’s important to point out that just because our policies so far have not been 100 percent conclusively effective, that doesn’t mean we should not do anything,” she said. “It just means we haven’t found the answer yet.”
By the numbers - Clark County
4,150 - current concealed carry permits
683 - new permits issued in 2011
396 - number of permits issued so far this year, double this point last year
600 - number of violent crimes reported in 2006
497 - number of violent crimes reported in 2010*
8,340 - number of property crimes reported in 2006
5,466 - number of property crimes reported in 2010*
* Most recent stats available from both Clark County and Springfield.