Do "Concealed Carry" Gun Laws Lead to More Violence?

The gun industry is in the business of selling its products. Exploiting our belief system is part of its corporate model.

Candle burning next to a revolver and six bullets.

In 1964, Marshall McLuhan published his pioneering study of media theory, Understanding Media. He argued that media and not the content it carries should be studied, differentiating between ‘hot’ and ‘cool’ versions. Hot media enhances one sense alone; a detailed survey of the perimeter is not needed. Cool media requires more cognitive effort to understand the nuances being presented.

McLuhan does not simply stick to media. All objects used by humans, he speculates, are extensions of our bodies and senses. For example, clothing is an extension of an individual’s skin whereas cities are extensions of the collective skin. In his chapter on weaponry he writes that arrows are extensions of our hand and arm, while rifles are “an extension of the eye and teeth.”

Teeth are critical to the mindset of hunters, but that is not what a growing percentage of guns are being used for in America. Vision is essential to McLuhan’s work, as it is a sense used for consuming much media. Yet the eyes are not for consumption alone; they influence our reactions to situations. McLuhan writes that ‘electric technologies’ are not extensions of our bodies as much as they extend our central nervous system. Given that vision is the gateway into our brain and spinal cord, how we perceive the world outside of us determines how we act in it.


Gerald Ung did not act well in January 2010. While to this day he cannot remember exactly what triggered a fight outside of a Philadelphia bar, he did trigger a Kel-Tec P-3AT, a .380-calibre semiautomatic pistol that Ung toted legally thanks to the state’s concealed carry law. He shot Edward DiDonato six times and was later acquitted of any crime. Fortunately DiDonato lived; unfortunately he’ll deal with a limp left foot and intestinal damage for the rest of his life.

In his latest New Yorker article (I also recommend interviews here and here), Evan Osnos reports on the business of selling guns in America. He cites Ung’s case as an example of the reverberating effects of concealed carry laws, which are now legal in all fifty states. In two decades the number of concealed-carry permit holders has increased from under five million to 12.8 million. Osnos continues,

More American civilians have died by gunfire in the past decade than all the Americans who were killed in combat in the Second World War.

The media will always focus on mass shootings. While tragic, those are not the episodes that result in the majority of gun deaths. Those occur one by one, on late night streets outside of bars, in homes due to domestic fights or accidental shootings, and simply when someone’s vision is primed for violence and so decides to pre-empt the situation. In fact, this is what happened to Ung.

When Kelly [one of DiDonato’s friends] hiked up the drooping belt of his pants, Ung suspected that he, too, might have a gun. That mistake is not uncommon: a person holding a gun is more likely to misperceive an object in another person’s hand to be a gun…

While a fringe community in size, the ‘Open Carry’ sect of gun advocates presents an even more dangerous proposition. Knowing, instead of imagining, that a potential adversary—really, who initially perceives a person walking toward you with a gun as a friend?—is armed does not hint at de-escalation of violence. The human brain simply is not built that way. Add in alcohol and anger, both which stoke and taunt the lizard brain, and the difference between self-defense and offense becomes difficult to discern.


This morning, while working on a new book about brain and body fitness, I researched the longstanding myth that breakfast is the most important meal of the day. If, upon closer inspection of that concept, the statement feels more like a marketing technique than physiological maxim, you are correct. Food manufacturers have a vested interest in you believing that what they’re selling is essential.

Which appears to be the same playbook used by the NRA and gun industry. America is experiencing record highs in numbers of guns owned concurrent with lows in the number of Americans that own one. The average gun owner has eight in their collection, Osnos writes. Most every business relies on repeat customers. Being that guns are generally built to last, you need very dedicated consumers. Inventing a mythos of the patriotic statesman warrior makes for wonderful copy. Consistently drowning us with the dangers of the world and politicians hell-bent on ‘taking your guns’ keeps your wallet open.

The myth the industry has built—the only thing that stops a bad guy with a gun, etc.—is not, like the necessity of that morning muffin, based on evidence. In a 2014 FBI study, of a hundred and sixty incidents involving active shooters, only one was stopped by an armed bystander. Twenty-one were stopped by unarmed citizens. Myths are not powerful because they’re true; their power resides in the cooptation of our willingness to believe.

Once a firearm is brought into a home, the chance of a homicide nearly doubles. Protection is transformed into possibility. As the saying goes, everything looks like a nail to a hammer. While an inherent impetus to pull a trigger does not affect most concealed-carry permit holders, the potential for an escalation of violence is inherent in the medium.

The eye sees what it has trained itself to see and inextricably binds that information with the nervous system. Sadly, as the case of Ung and numerous others exhibit, our nervous system is not the most reliable guide when under duress.

Corporate propaganda greatly influences the ways societies are structured. In one in which everyone is marketed as a potential threat, it’s difficult for some not to buy what’s being sold.


Image: pangcom / Shutterstock

Derek Beres is a Los-Angeles based author, music producer, and yoga/fitness instructor at Equinox Fitness. Stay in touch @derekberes.

Were the ancient Egyptians black or white? Scientists now know

This is the first successful DNA sequencing on ancient Egyptian mummies, ever.


Ancient Egyptian Statues

Getty Images
Surprising Science

Egyptologists, writers, scholars, and others, have argued the race of the ancient Egyptians since at least the 1970's. Some today believe they were Sub-Saharan Africans. We can see this interpretation portrayed in Michael Jackson's 1991 music video for “Remember the Time" from his "Dangerous" album. The video, a 10-minute mini-film, includes performances by Eddie Murphy and Magic Johnson.

Keep reading Show less

'Ghost forests' visible from space spread along the coast as sea levels rise

Seawater is raising salt levels in coastal woodlands along the entire Atlantic Coastal Plain, from Maine to Florida.

Photo by Anqi Lu on Unsplash
Surprising Science
Trekking out to my research sites near North Carolina's Alligator River National Wildlife Refuge, I slog through knee-deep water on a section of trail that is completely submerged.
Keep reading Show less

Why professional soccer players choke during penalty kicks

A new study used functional near-infrared spectroscopy (fNIRS) to measure brain activity as inexperienced and experienced soccer players took penalty kicks.

PORTLAND, OREGON - MAY 09: Diego Valeri #8 of Portland Timbers reacts after missing a penalty kick in the second half against the Seattle Sounders at Providence Park on May 09, 2021 in Portland, Oregon.

Abbie Parr via Getty Images
Mind & Brain
  • The new study is the first to use in-the-field imaging technology to measure brain activity as people delivered penalty kicks.
  • Participants were asked to kick a total of 15 penalty shots under three different scenarios, each designed to be increasingly stressful.
  • Kickers who missed shots showed higher activity in brain areas that were irrelevant to kicking a soccer ball, suggesting they were overthinking.
Keep reading Show less