Thursday, March 07, 2013


Guns & Crime

Gun control supporters frequently like to point out that the US fares poorly (or worst) in comparison with other industrialized countries on firearms-related homicide rates. They often further correlate this with "lax American gun laws" and imply or openly claim that correlation is causality. There is some logical basis for this--guns, as compared to other weapons used in crime, are generally more deadly.

The illogic comes in play when gun control advocates suggest that the answer is more gun control laws and more draconian ones at that. I have pointed out to such people that there are countries with much stricter gun laws and lower gun ownership rates than the US that nevertheless have higher firearms-related homicide rates, which suggests that the solution to reducing the use of guns in homicides is not so simple as more and/or stricter laws.

More evidence for this comes from Craig. R. Whitney, author of Living with Guns: A Liberal's Case for the Second Amendment (Public Affairs, 2012). Make no mistake, Whitney's case is truly a liberal's--he's no "gun nut" or libertarian when it comes to gun control. But he seems to be sincere and striving to be honest.

Any way, on p. 156, Whitney points out:
... a closer look at the statistics shows that strict gun-control laws by themselves do not lead to less gun violence. Census bureau figures show that the homicide rate in Massachusetts, where the gun laws are pretty strict, was much lower in 2008 than it was in Georgia or Mississippi, where they are pretty lax. But the Massachusetts rate was barely below Vermont's, a state that has no statewide gun laws at all, and it was almost twice as high as the rate in Utah, where guns laws are also very relaxed (Utah adopted the Browning M1911 .45 pistol, invented by a native son, as the state firearm, in 2011).

Even in cities where handgun ownership has been so severely restricted that it amounted to a ban, it is hard to see what effect that has on gun violence. Chicago banned handguns in 1982. Yet in the years that followed, the crime rate and the murder rate rose steadily. The rate of murder involving handguns in Chicago was 9.65 per 100,00 residents in 1983, the Supreme Court was told in the McDonald case, but by 2008, with the ban in effect, it was even higher at 13.88 per 100,000. Similarly, in the District of Columbia, the homicide rate also rose in the 1980s, after the district banned handguns--in fact it rose even more than it did in forty-nine other comparable major cities, as Justice Breyer conceded in his dissent in the Heller case. In 2008, the murder rate per 100,000 of population in the District of Columbia was 31.4, far higher than the rates of 6.3 per 100,000 in New York City (where handguns are not banned but only 37,000 people are licensed to own them and only 4,000 have concealed-carry permits) and 3.1 in Austin, Texas, where as everybody knows, it's a lot easier for anybody legally to get a gun.
Below, using the source Whitney consulted, Table 304 of the Statistical Abstract of the United States, 2011, are the homicide rates for the five states he mentions. The figures in parentheses are the percentage, by state, of the 201,881 respondents to the CDC's 2001 Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance System survey who said they kept firearms in or near their home (I couldn't find any more recent figures).

Georgia 7.1 (40.3%)
Massachusetts 2.6 (12.6%)
Mississippi 8.9 (55.3%)
Utah 1.5 (43.9%)
Vermont 2.8 (42.0%)

I also want to point out that Vermont does not issue permits/licenses for the concealed carry of firearms. In Vermont, anyone who can legally own a handgun can lawfully carry a concealed handgun.

See also: Don B. Kates and Gary Mauser. "Would Banning Firearms Reduce Murder and Suicide? A Review of International and Some Domestic Evidence." Harvard Journal of Law & Public Policy. Vol. 30, No. 2. Spring 2007.

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