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Study: Easing concealed carry laws linked to more police shootings

Firearm training
Posted at 3:40 PM, Jun 10, 2022
and last updated 2022-06-10 15:40:56-04

Twenty-five states have passed laws that now allow people to carry a concealed weapon without a permit, but some states are pushing to remove concealed carry permits.

On June 13, Ohio will become the 23rd state to have a constitutional carry law, which means anyone over the age of 18 can carry a gun without undergoing training or a permitting process, but background checks are still required. If an officer in the state sees someone with a concealed firearm, he or she cannot ask if that person is authorized to carry it, but if an officer asks if that person has a weapon on them, they cannot lie, otherwise it is a misdemeanor crime.

Researchers say there is not enough data to speculate on these laws’ impacts on gun violence, but there is enough data to show its impacts on officer-involved shootings.

A recent study from Johns Hopkins University found that the average rate of officer-involved shootings increased by 12.9% in 10 states that had relaxed restrictions on concealed carry laws between 2014 and 2020.

“We want an officer to approach a situation with a certain amount of confidence and when you have a change in the law like this, that allows people to carry weapons with no permit, it puts our officers at a potential to underreact or to overreact,” said Sheriff Charmaine McGuffey of the Hamilton County Sheriff Office, which oversees Cincinnati as part of its jurisdiction.

Before the Ohio statute was made into law, McGuffey was an outspoken opponent of the bill.

“The stakes are high here because we’re talking about public safety and the safety of officers on the street,” she said.

Craig Bryan is a professor of Psychiatry and Behavioral Health at Ohio State University and has spent decades studying how guns affect the human psyche. He says preliminary findings from a new study suggest people who carry weapons see the world as more dangerous and, therefore, perceive threats more consistently than those who do not carry weapons.

“When someone is in physical possession of a firearm, the more likely they are to detect threats within the environment, even if there isn’t a threat around. They misinterpret cues as dangerous,” he said.

Bryan says this is known as anticipatory anxiety, or fear and worry about the future. It can happen when people expect big news, before a performance, or, as Bryan suggests, when a law enforcement official approaches a civilian on the street. Under Ohio's new law, any number of them might be carrying a weapon that the officer now cannot know about unless he or she asks.

“You know, when you hear of officers who have been involved in police shootings, oftentimes you hear them saying ‘I thought I saw a gun, I thought I was in danger, I thought they were pointing a weapon at me,’” said Bryan. “That’s entirely consistent with this finding that there’s something about carrying the firearm that increases this vigilance.”

“We’re training officers to be very careful not to overreact,” added McGuffey. “We’re training officers to be extra vigilant. We’re training officers to create conversations around weapons now because that’s what we can do.”