In the national debate over reforming the nation’s gun laws, one critical component is often missing: the facts. In particular, the metrics with respect to gun-related crime.
If we are to take President Barack Obama at his word, gun violence is an “epidemic” in this country. But if one stops and examines the actual numbers, would he/she reach the same conclusion? Is gun-related crime widespread and out of control in the U.S.?
To help answer those questions, one should consult a recent report published by the Department of Justice, entitled “Firearm Violence, 1993-2011.” At its core, the report is an unbiased statistical analysis of the number and rate of fatal and nonfatal firearm violence between those years.
So, what were the central findings of the report?
Well, from 1993 to 2011, firearm-related homicides declined 39 percent while nonfatal firearm crimes (aggravated assault, robbery and sex crimes) declined 69 percent. In terms of the actual numbers, in 1993 there were 18,253 gun-related homicides. In 2011, that number had fallen to 11,101. With respect to nonfatal firearm crimes, there were 1.5 million victimizations in 1993. By 2011, that metric had plummeted to 467,300.
Another way to look at the decline in fatal and nonfatal gun crime is its prevalence per 100,000 people. So, for example, in 2010 there were 3.6 gun homicides per 100,000 people as opposed to 7.0 per 100,000 people in 1993. For nonfatal gun crime, there were 181.5 crime victimizations per 100,000 people in 2011 versus 725.3 per 100,000 in 1993. Clearly, a big drop.
At a glance, here are the highlights:
-Firearm-related homicides declined 39%, from 18,253 in 1993 to 11,101 in 2011.
-Nonfatal firearm crimes declined 69%, from 1.5 million victimizations in 1993 to 467,300 victimizations in 2011.
-Firearm violence accounted for about 70% of all homicides and less than 10% of all nonfatal violent crime from 1993 to 2011.
-From 1993 to 2011, about 70% to 80% of firearm homicides and 90% of nonfatal firearm victimizations were committed with a handgun.
-Males, blacks, and persons ages 18 to 24 had the highest rates of firearm homicide from 1993 to 2010.
-About 61% of nonfatal firearm violence was reported to the police in 2007-11.
Pew Research Center conducted its own analysis of the data, drawing similar conclusions, i.e. all gun crime is strikingly lower than it was in the mid-1990s.
However, Pew also surveyed Americans this spring to see how aware they were of the reduction in gun crime. According to Pew’s survey, more than half of respondents (56 percent) believe that gun crime is higher than it was 20 years ago. Twenty-six percent said it stayed the same and only 12 percent were correct, noting that gun crime had actually dropped over the past two decades (6 percent didn’t respond to the question).
Pew Researchers did not have an explanation to explain why the public was so in the dark about the decline in crime. “It’s hard to know what’s going on there,” said D’Vera Cohn, senior writer at the Pew Research Center.
Moreover, Pew did not identify a single reason to explain why firearm-related violence has dropped so precipitously. Instead, researches cited several popular theories, including: the offspring of the outsized baby boom generation, which allegedly drove up much of the crime in the 1960 and 1970s, has grown up; the legalization of abortion combined with an increased access to birth control; reductions in exposure to lead in gasoline and paint, which is said to be associated with violent behavior, among others.
The impact that gun ownership has had on crime was only obliquely addressed, with Pew pointing out that the “number of firearms available for sale to or possessed by U.S. civilians (about 310 million in 2009, according to the Congressional Research Service) has grown in recent years, and the 2009 per capita rate of one person per gun had roughly doubled since 1968. It is not clear, though, how many U.S. households own guns or whether that share has changed over time.”
What is clear, however, is that the number of states that have “shall-issue” concealed carry laws has grown over that same time span, as illustrated by the chart below (a fact that wasn’t explicitly mentioned in either report):
Another interesting point is that the DOJ report cited a 2004 study that found “among state prison inmates who possessed a gun at the time of the offense, fewer than two percent bought their firearm at a flea market or gun show. About 10 percent of state prison inmates said they purchased it from a retail store or pawnshop, 37 percent obtained it from family or friends, and another 40 percent obtained it from an illegal source.”
In other words, the “gun-show loophole” does not appear to be the problem that gun control advocates have played it out to be.
Moving forward, as the nation continues to debate federal and state restrictions on gun ownership it would behoove all parties involved in the discussion to take a look at these facts and figures. If they did, they might rethink the way they characterize the current state of affairs.
Bottom line: it’s pretty evident to any rational individual that the prevalence of guns in the U.S. does not have a statistically significant impact on gun-related crime rates. Simply put, more guns does not mean more gun crime.