I haven’t had time to write this up yet, but an underlying theme in academic studies of guns is that carrying a concealed firearm (and in some cases even owning one) is not a rational decision for most Americans under most circumstances. “Rational” here understood in the classical economic sense of maximizing benefits and minimizing costs.

Even less rational, then, would be arming yourself for self-defense under extraordinary or exceptional circumstances. Like after a mass public shooting. And yet we see interest in concealed carry spike after mass public shootings time and again.

John R. Lott, Concealed Carry Permit Holders Across the United States: 2017, p. 27.

The official statistician of the gun rights movement, John Lott, is not alone in suggesting this connection. For my Sociology of Guns seminar last week we read an article that systematically connected high profile mass public shootings with concealed carry permit applications in Tennessee.

“Reacting to the Improbable: Handgun Carrying Permit Application Rates in the Wake of High-Profile Mass Shootings” was published in 2017 in the academic journal Homicide Studies.

The authors looked at the effect of 10 specific (systematically identified) high profile mass public shootings from 2008 to 2014 on the rate of concealed carry permit applications in 95 counties in the state of Tennessee, controlling for a host of other factors that could effect permit applications.

In the end, they found that these 10 high profile mass shootings were related to an 11% increase in the rate of permit applications (with a 95% confidence interval of 9% to 13%).

Screen cap of “Reacting to the Improbable,” from http://journals.sagepub.com/doi/abs/10.1177/1088767917699657

Of course, the study is not without limits, and the authors go on for page after page specifying alternative statistical models and acknowledging shortcomings. But the core finding, that some significant part of the population will seek to arms themselves in the wake of a mass public shooting, as opposed to calling for citizens to give up their arms, is significant.

These diametrically opposed responses — disarmament now! vs. arm yourselves now! — reflect the differing views of risk and safety that exist in American society with respect to guns, and different understandings of the role of government (including law enforcement) as opposed to individuals in mitigating risk and ensuring safety (Kahan and Braman).

Rational or not, many people continue to opt for “DIY security citizenship” (Caroline Light) under which they serve as “law-abiding one man armies” or “mobile sovereigns” (Elizabeth Anker).