In the wake of the attacks in Paris, which have taken the lives of at least 129 people and injured hundreds more, some public figures have taken the opportunity to talk about guns. Specifically, they have used the tragedy to argue that had people in France been allowed to carry firearms, they would have been able to thwart—or at least diminish—the act of terrorism.
Newt Gingrich, the former Republican speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives, was among the first. Early Friday night, he suggested on Twitter that things would have been different.
Imagine a theater with 10 or 15 citizens with concealed carry permits. We live in an age when evil men have to be killed by good people— Newt Gingrich (@newtgingrich) November 13, 2015
But he was hardly alone. Conservative pundit Anne Coulter had a similar takeaway,
it's "too bad there were no concealed carry permits ... anywhere in Europe ... since 1818." So too did presidential hopeful Donald Trump, who
—some of the strictest in the world—at a campaign rally in Texas on Saturday. "If they were allowed to carry, it would have been a much, much different situation," he said.
The reaction echoes those that followed the attacks earlier this year in Paris, when terrorists stormed the headquarters of satirical newspaper Charlie Hebdo, killing a dozen journalists. "Isn't it interesting that the tragedy in Paris took place in one of the toughest gun control countries in the world?" Trump wrote on Twitter after the news broke. A piece published in The New American, a conservative magazine, meanwhile, suggested that the attack should serve as a lesson to those living in the United States. "Americans should take note: Next time politicians and the media seek to infringe on the right to keep and bear arms, remember Paris," it said.
The cry for concealed carry permits, which allow citizens to carry firearms in public, has been met with ample criticism. Many have called the response opportunistic, including journalist Mark Owen, who took issue with the reaction on French television. Even Erick Erickson, who writes for the popular right-wing blog Red State and argues for looser gun laws, expressed disgust over the regression to partisan politicking.
France is a particularly ripe target for advocates of concealed carry permits, given the country's stringent stance on gun ownership. As Adam Taylor pointed out in The Washington Post earlier this year, unlike in the United States, French law stipulates that citizens do not have the right to bear arms. In France, legal gun ownership requires a hunting or sporting license, which is hard to get.
France is also something different in that gun deaths, like those endured in Paris, are extremely rare. The number of deaths from firearms was roughly 0.2 per 100,000 people in 2010, according to Gun Policy, a project at the University of Sydney. By comparison, it was close to 3 per 100,000 people in the United States.
There is also little evidence that more guns—especially in the possession of regular citizens—would do much to change the outcome when gun-bearing terrorists, bombs strapped to their chests, barrel through concert halls, sporting events, restaurants, and other public spaces.
In the United States, where the National Rifle Association has capitalized on an uptick in mass shootings to argue for putting guns in the hands of as many people as possible, most evidence suggests just the opposite: armed citizens either don't try to stop shooters, or fail when they do. Guns have also been shown to lead to more violence. And they're rarely used in self-defense.
Research has raised questions about whether regular people are helpful at all when in possession of a gun. A study, conducted earlier this year, showed that regular people are clumsy with firearms. Christopher Ingraham detailed the findings on Wonkblog:
They found that, perhaps unsurprisingly, people without firearms training performed poorly in the scenarios. They didn't take cover. They didn't attempt to issue commands to their assailants. Their trigger fingers were either too itchy -- they shot innocent bystanders or unarmed people, or not itchy enough -- they didn't shoot armed assailants until they were already being shot at.
In other words, it's not clear that more people with guns would have done anything other than get themselves killed, too. Especially given the military-grade firearms, like the Kalashnikov automatic rifles that have been flooding the black market in France, and were reportedly used by the terrorists in Friday's attack.