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A Post-Heller, Post-McDonald Question:<br>Does an Increase in Handguns Increase Crime?

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

In the mid-1970s, the Brady Campaign, a handgun ban activist group then known as the National Council to Control Handguns, said “There are now 40 million handguns . . . . [T]he number could build to 100 million by the year 2000. . . . The consequences can be terrible to imagine.”1 In 1979, the group, renamed Handgun Control, Inc., updated its prediction, saying, “over 50 million handguns flood the houses and streets of our nation. . . . If we continue at this pace, we will have equipped ourselves with more than 100 million handguns by the turn of the century.” Hoping to provoke the reader to answer “no,” it asked, “Will we be safer then?”2

“More guns = more crime” is an article of faith for some politicians too. In 2008, after the Supreme Court, in District of Columbia v. Heller, struck down that city’s handgun ban, D.C. Mayor Adrian Fenty said “introducing more handguns into the district will mean more handgun violence.”3

In 2010, after the Court ruled in McDonald v. Chicago that the Second Amendment protects a fundamental, individual right to arms nationwide, requiring Chicago and Oak Park, Illinois, to repeal their handgun bans, Chicago Alderwoman Freddrenna Lyle said, “If people bothered to read, as opposed to getting their news from the ‘Tea Party Times,’ they would understand and see that there is more harm done by the proliferation of handguns than there is benefit.”4  Discredited activist preacher Rev. Al Sharpton commented, “the last thing any city or town needs is more readily available guns.”5

We’ve all heard the fearful, naive, sarcastic rhetoric. Now here are some facts. Since 1980, as the number of handguns has increased 50 percent,6 the nation’s per capita rate of murder (the only violent crime most often committed with a firearm7) has decreased 52 percent.8           

Chicago imposed handgun registration in 1968 and retained it in an ordinance 9 imposed after the McDonald ruling. But, after the 1968 law went into effect, Chicago murders increased.10

 

The District of Columbia, which already required registration of handguns, banned handguns in 1976. By 1991, D.C.’s murder rate (the number of murders per 100,000 population) had increased 201 percent, while the U.S. rate had increased 12 percent.11

 

Chicago banned handguns in 1982. By 1994, its murder rate had increased 49 percent, while the U.S. rate had decreased one percent.12

   

Since 1991, when the U.S. murder rate peaked, the U.S. rate has decreased 50 percent  and Chicago’s has decreased 51 percent. D.C.’s has decreased 70 percent, including a 24 percent decrease from 2008 to 2009, following the repeal of its handgun ban.13

  

 

As these and other statistics14 show, having “more guns” doesn’t increase crime, and handgun bans and registration don’t reduce crime. Many factors determine crime rates in a given jurisdiction. According to the FBI, these factors include: population density and degree of urbanization; variations in composition of the population, particularly youth concentration; stability of the population with respect to residents’ mobility, commuting patterns, and transient factors; modes of transportation and highway system; economic conditions, including median income, poverty level, and job availability; cultural factors and educational, recreational, and religious characteristics; family conditions with respect to divorce and family cohesiveness; climate; effective strength of law enforcement agencies; administrative and investigative emphases of law enforcement; policies of other components of the criminal justice system (i.e., prosecutorial, judicial, correctional, and probational); citizens’ attitudes toward crime; and crime reporting practices of the citizenry.15


Of course, regardless of crime trends, people have a fundamental right to protect themselves. The Brady Campaign’s notions that “the only reason for guns in civilian hands is for sporting purposes,” and that self-defense “is not a federally guaranteed constitutional right”16—in addition to defying common sense—were rejected by the Supreme Court in its Heller decision, which declared that the Second Amendment guarantees “the individual right to possess and carry weapons in case of confrontation.” Based upon his study of National Crime Victimization Surveys, criminologist Gary Kleck concluded that “robbery and assault victims who used a gun to resist were less likely to be attacked or to suffer an injury than those who used any other methods of self-protection or those who did not resist at all” and that “defensive gun uses by crime victims are three to four times more common than crimes committed with guns. . . . [A]vailable evidence is consistent with the hypothesis that civilian ownership and defensive use of guns deter violent crime and reduce burglar-linked injuries.”17

 

Notes:
1. NCCH pamphlet, “There is now a nationwide, full-time, professional organization to battle the gun lobby!,” circa 1975.
2. HCI pamphlet, “By this time tomorrow, 24 Americans will be murdered,” circa 1980.
3. D.C. Mayor’s Office Press Release, “District Government Reacts to Heller Ruling,”June 26, 2008. For legal briefs and more information on the Heller decision, see http://www.nraila.org/heller/.
4. Editorial, the Chicago Sun-Times, “More guns in city not a good thing,” July 5, 2010.
5. Sharpton, “Supreme Court Contributes to Lethal Violence in America,” Wilmington Journal, July 7, 2010.
6. BATF, in Gary Kleck, Targeting Guns, Aldine de Gruyter, 1997, p. 97, and BATFE, Annual Firearms Manufacturers and Export Reports, www.atf.gov/statistics.
7. However, knives, bludgeons, and bare hands are all used to commit more murders than are “assault weapons” and other real and imagined sub-categories of guns often singled out by gun control supporters. For example, see www.fbi.gov/ucr/cius2008/offenses/expanded_information/data/shrtable_08.html.
8. See http://bjsdata.ojp.usdoj.gov/dataonline/ for crime data from 1960 to 2008, and www.fbi.gov/ucr/ucr.htm#cius for the FBI’s annual reports from 1995 to 2008 and its preliminary estimates for 2009. Data for 1960 to 2008 are presented by NRA-ILA in convenient form at www.nraila.org/Issues/FactSheets/Read.aspx?ID=128.
9. http://mayor.cityofchicago.org/mayor/en/press_room/press_releases/2010/july_2010/0702_supreme_court.html.
10. FBI, Crime in the United States, annual reports. Hard copies on file with NRA-ILA.
11. Ibid. See also note 8.
12. Ibid. See also note 8.
13. Ibid. See also note 8.
14. See also Library of Congress, “Firearms Regulations in Various Foreign Countries,” May 1998, “[A]mong (the 27) countries surveyed, it is difficult to find a correlation between the existence of strict firearms regulations and a lower incidence of gun-related crimes.”
15. For example, see the FBI’s 2008 report at www.fbi.gov/ucr/cius2008/about/variables_affecting_crime.html.
16. Sarah Brady in “Keeping the battle alive,” Tampa Tribune, 10/21/93; Dennis Henigan in USA Today, 11/20/91.
17. Note 6, Kleck, pp. 171, 184.

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