What Is Our Gun Problem?

by Michael Newbern on February 8, 2013

A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed. Those 27 words have been the source of more modern day controversy than any other collection of words framed into our founding documents. However instead of debating gun rights and gun control in the ideologies that someone wrote down 224 years ago, let’s discuss gun rights and gun control in the context of problems we face today.

David HemenwayLast month, a group of intellectuals held a forum on the public health crisis of gun violence at Harvard University. In the panel discussion, professor of health policy and management at Harvard School of Public Health David Hemenway made the claim that because we had such weak gun laws that we experience homicide at a disproportionately high rate compared to other developed countries. “God forgive us,” he said, “if we do nothing and allow our children to die.”

On his position of complacency, I agree.

FBI data shows that in 2011, firearms were used in

  • 8,583 (67.8%) of the 12,667 homicides,
  • 146,366 (41.3%) of the 354,396 robberies,
  • and in 159,240 (21.2%) of the 751,131 assaults.

Of the 1,118,194 violent crimes the FBI has weapons data on, 314,189 (28.1%) of those were committed with a firearm. The data also shows a continual downward of trend of 15.7% in violent crime since 2007.

Does that really constitute a public health crisis? And if so, how do we solve it? Let’s consider what gun control does. Let’s look to a city with very strict gun control. Let’s look to a city that up until just recently was effectively a gun-free zone. Let’s look to Chicago.

In Chicago, guns were used in 362 of the nation’s 8,583 homicides. Chicago’s share of gun related homicides is 4.2%. Gun crime in Chicago increased last year to over 500 homicides. This increase occurred with no mass shootings and in contrast to the downward trend experienced by the rest of the nation.

The US Census Bureau estimates the total US population for the same year at 311,587,816 total people. Chicago’s population for the same year was estimated at 2,707,120. During that year, Chicago’s share of the population was 0.87%.

Chicago’s share of gun crime for the year 2011 was nearly five times its share of the population for the same year.

But where does this gun crime come from? Chicago has had some of the most strict gun control laws of the past decade. Chicago’s city-wide gun ban was ended only a year prior in McDonald vs Chicago. Gun ownership is still heavily regulated making legal ownership very difficult. During the same year, the entire state of Illinois banned carry of firearms. That ban ended last year in Shepherd vs Madigan.

How does the rest of the country experience a downward trend in all crime while Chicago does not? Why is a disproportionate amount of gun crime occurring in Chicago? What is the rest of the country doing that Chicago is not?

The rest of the country is not empowering criminals like Chicago.

NICS background checks have been steadily increasing since 2005. With the exception of one year, the number of background checks increased by more than 10%.  In the last three years, 50,456,870 background checks were performed for the purpose of purchasing and carrying firearms.

The number of people with concealed carry permits and the number of states allowing concealed carry have also been increasing. In 1987 only 9 states had “shall-issue” concealed carry laws. A “shall-issue” law is one in which the issuing authority is required to issue a permit to an applicant based on criteria as opposed to a “may issue” law where there is no requirement that the issuing authority actually issue any permit. This year, all states will have some sort of concealed carry permitting provision allowing citizens to carry concealed firearms outside the home with only a handful of states holding on to their “may issue” licensing requirements. The states that do publish the number of permits issued are seeing increases in the number of active permits that closely track NICS background checks. Indeed some of the checks are performed to the purpose of permit applications.

While Chicago does serve as an example of criminal empowerment in the United States, there are still those gun control advocates who will insist that Chicago’s problems come from outside Chicago. They make the claim that until firearms are regulated across the nation in the same way they are in Chicago, the city won’t be able to fully realize its ultimate goal. And that goal is a crime free utopia they claim exists in the Great Britain.

But, is Great Britain the crime free utopia gun control advocates claim it is?

While a comparison of current data to current data is not salient because there are many factors influencing violent crime, a comparison of trends over time is. Great Britain’s Home Office reports a murder rate of 0.81 per 100,000 people in 1910 compared to the 7.9 per 100,000 we experienced the same year in the US. During the following 101 years, Great Britain effectively banned private ownership of firearms. We did something different in the US with respect to gun control. As a result, our murder rate dropped nearly 50% to 4.1 per 100,000 while Great Britain’s increased over 50% to 1.4 per 100,000. From 1992 to 2011 total US violent crime decreased from 757 per 100,000 to 386 per 100,000 while Great Britain’s increased from 547 per 100,000 to 1,361 per 100,000.

In fact, home invasions occur while homes are occupied at a rate nearly 4 times of that in the US because we can fight back.

While correlation is not causation and we may never fully understand the reason crime exists, we cannot ignore the impact that concealed carry has on crime. Where the law-abiding citizen is allowed to own and carry firearms, crime trends down. Research by Dr John Lott, Gary Kleck, James Wright, Peter Rossi and a bevy of other academics, criminologists, and economists confirm what is otherwise not rocket-surgery.

Gun control does nothing to decrease violent crime and only empowers criminals.

So, if we really do have a gun crime public health crisis, the cause is government restriction. The national conversation the President’s gun violence task force is having needs to include this idea. Instead of a discussion on how we can regulate violence away, let’s ask how we can de-regulate it away.

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