Road Rage Shootings Soar as New Laws Put More Guns in Cars

Henry Hoenig
· 4 min read
With the number of
road rage shootings
doubling in recent years, the next time a person is angrily tailgating you, consider whether they have a loaded gun at hand.
More than two-thirds of all states — 35 in total — now allow residents to carry loaded handguns in their cars without any special permit or formal training. They include 25 states that have passed “permitless carry” laws, most of them in the past five years, including Alabama, Ohio and Indiana this year.

Key Insights

  • In 35 states it is now legal for people to carry a loaded handgun in their vehicle without obtaining any sort of permit. (That includes Alabama, whose “permitless carry” law will take effect in January 2023.)
  • In the past five years, at least 19 states have passed permitless carry laws, which grant people the right to carry loaded handguns in public, including in their vehicles, without a license or any formal training. Not all states that allow people to keep loaded guns in their cars are permitless carry states.
  • The number of “road rage” shootings doubled from 2018 through 2021, when they totaled at least 522 nationwide, resulting in at least 131 deaths.
  • Texas, Florida and California have seen the most fatal road rage shootings over the past five years. New Mexico, Arizona and Tennessee have seen the most per capita.
  • Having a gun in the car has been linked to an increase in aggressive driving, and permitless carry laws have been linked to an increase in violent crimes.
Most permitless carry laws don’t mention vehicles. They simply grant most people the right to
carry concealed weapons pretty much wherever they please
, with rare exceptions often including public venues such as schools and courthouses or private property if the owner objects. (In a handful of the 35 states where it is legal to keep a loaded gun in a vehicle, the gun must not be concealed. It must be visible to someone who might be approaching the car — for example, mounted on the dashboard.)
But of course people who carry guns in public will have guns on them or in their cars when they are driving. So if more people are carrying guns as a result of these laws, it is safe to assume there are more guns in cars and on the streets and roads. 
Researchers have found that merely having a gun in the car
makes people drive more aggressively
, including tailgating,
making obscene gestures
at other drivers, or both. And the presence of a gun can quickly turn an ugly incident into a deadly one.

Temperatures Rising

Road rage is a growing problem. The numbers of people shot in road rage incidents totaled at least 522 in 2021, according to data from
Everytown for Gun Safety
and the Gun Violence Archive. That’s the most on record, and more than double the number just three years earlier, they said. (Data on road rage is likely incomplete, particularly on the national level, meaning there are probably more shootings and fatalities than that.)
Texas, Florida and California suffered the highest number of fatal road rage shootings over the past five years. Texas had nearly triple the amount of second-ranked Florida and third-ranked California. Neither of the latter two states have permitless carry laws but they are two of the country’s three most populous states, which likely explains their rankings among the states with the highest number of fatal road rage shootings.
On a per capita basis, New Mexico saw both the most road rage shootings and the highest number of fatal ones over the past five years. Nine of the 10 states with the most fatal road rage shootings per capita are all permitless carry states. Only two states — North Dakota and Wyoming — did not record any road rage shootings during those five years.
No single factor — gun-related or otherwise — has been definitively established as the cause of the recent increase in road rage and resulting shootings. A number of trends could help explain it.
Stress levels have soared
since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, as have (possibly related) incidents of
aggressive driving
traffic fatalities
Gun sales have also soared
to record levels. And, of course, tens of millions of people have been allowed for the first time to carry loaded handguns in their cars.
Still, multiple studies have found that permitless carry laws result in more violent crime. According to a
2022 report
by researchers at Stanford Law School and Duke University, the enactment of such laws led to a 29% increase in violent firearm crimes in 47 major cities and a 35% increase in gun thefts, often from vehicles.


The Supreme Court’s
recent ruling
that it was unconstitutional for cities and states to require people to demonstrate a need to carry a concealed weapon before being permitted to do so will only affect the handful of states — such as California, New Jersey and Massachusetts — that still have such a requirement. Another thing the court’s ruling did was recognize a constitutional right to carry a firearm in public, opening the door to future court challenges to virtually every single gun-control law.
Meanwhile, road rage incidents seem likely to become more frequent and
as more and more stressed-out drivers confront each other with firearms. So, for your safety, think twice about responding the next time a motorist makes an obscene gesture or cuts in front of you.

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