The Impact of Right-To-Carry Laws and the NRC Report: Lessons for the Empirical Evaluation of Law and Policy

51 Pages Posted: 1 Jul 2010 Last revised: 13 Jan 2011

See all articles by Abhay Aneja

Abhay Aneja

Stanford University; University of California, Berkeley - Haas School of Business

John J. Donohue

Stanford Law School; National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER)

Alexandria Zhang

Johns Hopkins University; Government of the United States of America - Bureau of the Census

Date Written: June 29, 2010


For over a decade, there has been a spirited academic debate over the impact on crime of laws that grant citizens the presumptive right to carry concealed handguns in public – so-called right-to-carry (RTC) laws. In 2005, the National Research Council (NRC) offered a critical evaluation of the “more guns, less crime” hypothesis using county-level crime data for the period 1977-2''003 15 of the 16 NRC panel members essentially concluded that the existing research was inadequate to conclude that RTC laws increased or decreased crime. One member of the NRC panel concluded that the NRC panel data regressions supported the conclusion that RTC laws decreased murder, while the 15-member majority responded that the scientific evidence did not support that conclusion. We evaluate the NRC evidence and show that, unfortunately, the regression estimates presented in the report appear to be incorrect. We improve and expand on the report’s county data analysis by analyzing an additional six years of county data as well as state panel data for the period 1977-2006. While we have considerable sympathy with the NRC’s majority view about the difficulty of drawing conclusions from simple panel data models, we disagree with the NRC report’s judgment that cluster adjustments to correct for serial correlation are not needed. Our randomization tests show that without such adjustments the Type 1 error soars to 4''270 percent. In addition, the conclusion of the dissenting panel member that RTC laws reduce murder has no statistical support.

Our paper highlights further important questions to consider when using panel data methods to resolve questions of law and policy effectiveness. We buttress the NRC’s cautious conclusion about right-to-carry legislation’s impact by showing how sensitive the estimated impact of RTC laws is to different data periods, the use of state versus county data, particular specifications, and the decision to control for state trends. Overall, the most consistent, albeit not uniform, finding to emerge from the array of models is that aggravated assault rises when RTC laws are adopted. For every other crime category, there is little or no indication of any consistent RTC impact on crime. It will be worth exploring whether other methodological approaches and or additional years of data will confirm the results of this panel-data analysis.

Keywords: Crime control, econometric methodology, right-to-carry legislation, model sensitivity

Suggested Citation

Aneja, Abhay and Donohue, John J. and Zhang, Alexandria, The Impact of Right-To-Carry Laws and the NRC Report: Lessons for the Empirical Evaluation of Law and Policy (June 29, 2010). 5th Annual Conference on Empirical Legal Studies Paper, Available at SSRN: or

Abhay Aneja

Stanford University ( email )

Stanford, CA 94305
United States

University of California, Berkeley - Haas School of Business ( email )

545 Student Services Building, #1900
2220 Piedmont Avenue
Berkeley, CA 94720
United States

John J. Donohue (Contact Author)

Stanford Law School ( email )

559 Nathan Abbott Way
Stanford, CA 94305-8610
United States
650-575-7166 (Phone)

National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER)

1050 Massachusetts Avenue
Cambridge, MA 02138
United States

Alexandria Zhang

Johns Hopkins University ( email )

Baltimore, MD 21218
United States

Government of the United States of America - Bureau of the Census ( email )

4600 Silver Hill Road
Washington, DC 20233
United States

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