Major crime fell dramatically in states which have legalized the carrying of concealed handguns, according to a comprehensive new study at the University of Chicago.

For the first time, researchers analyzed crime statistics for all 3,054 counties in the United Sates between 1977 and 1992, according to one of the authors of the unpublished study, Professor John Lott. After adjusting for a general fall in crime rates, the study found that:

In the 31 states that now have \"concealed right to carry\" laws, murders were down, on average, by 8.5 percent.

Rapes were down 5 percent and serious assaults by 7 percent.

In cities with populations of more than 250,000, murder rates dropped after the passage of such laws by an average of 13.5 percent.

According to the study, the fall in crime did not result from an increased use of guns, but from potential criminals avoiding confrontations. In fact, criminals apparently shifted to lower-risk offenses, since property crimes increased in those states. Other findings included:

The most dramatic falls in murder rates were in areas where the number of women carrying firearms was high.

The study found that for every woman who carries a concealed hand, the murder rate fell by three to four times more than it would have if one more man had carried a concealed gun.

If states with concealed handgun bans had allowed them in 1992, about 1,570 murders, 4,177 rapes and more than 60,000 aggravated assaults would have been avoided.

In addition, the researchers found no evidence of an increase in accidental killings or suicides in states with concealed carry laws.

Sources: Ian Katz, \"\'Gun Law'Cuts Crime Rate, US Study Finds,\" Guardian, August 3, 1996, and Dennis Cauchon, \"Study: Weapons Laws Deter Crime: Fewer Rapes, Murders Found Where Concealed Guns Legal,\" USA Today, August 2, 1996.