Scholarly Comments on Academic Economics

Do Right to Carry Laws Increase Violent Crime? A Comment on Donohue, Aneja, and Weber

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John J. Donohue, Abhay Aneja, and Kyle Weber have released multiple versions of research finding that certain laws concerning the carrying of firearms, those known as right-to-carry or RTC laws, increase violent crime. Examining recent versions of their research, we find that their results concerning the effects of RTC laws on violent crime are fragile and most likely incorrect. We investigate two major features of their research: weighting their fixed-effects regressions by population and using synthetic controls. (Both topics also apply to other difference-in-differences policy studies.) We find that, without weighting by population, there is no significant effect of RTC laws on violent crime. Using feasible generalized least squares instead of weighting by population confirms this result. We also have a problem with the synthetic control model that they use to buttress their population-weighted fixed-effects model. In the critical treatment period, the synthetic control model fails to control for any of the major factors that cause crime rates to vary. It also suffers from unobserved heterogeneity. Nevertheless, when we use the synthetic control model, we find that the claim that RTC laws increase either murder or violent crime is not supported. We find states where crime increased after the implementation of the RTC law, and we find more states in which crime decreased after the law. Our tests reveal that there is no significant overall net effect of the RTC laws on murder or violent crime across all 33 states that have implemented such laws.

Response to this article by John J. Donohue, Abhay Aneja, and Kyle D. Weber: RTC Laws Increase Violent Crime: Moody and Marvell Have Missed the Target (EJW, March 2019).