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Sources: Data points, through 1994, Gary Kleck, Targeting Guns: Firearms and Their Control, Walter de Gruyter, Inc., New York 1997 (pp. 96-7), and FBI Uniform Crime Reports (handgun homicide rates became available in 1966). More recent gun supply figures are here.
More guns more crime? More guns less crime? Without the entire picture, one could play all sorts of statistical games with the above data. Depending on the starting year and time frame, we could find "evidence" to support either position. However taking the long view it appears that the gun supply does not have a significant impact on total homicides or suicides. (Since 1945 the handgun per capita rate has risen by over 350% and over 260% for all firearms.)
Kleck in Targeting Guns commenting on the gun stock relationship:"About half of the time gun stock increases have been accompanied by violence decreases, and about half the time accompanied by violence increases, just what one would expect if gun levels had no net impact on violence rates. The rate of gun suicide is correlated with trends in the size of the gun or handgun stock, but the rate of total suicide is not, supporting a substitution argument--when guns are scarce, suicide attempters substitute other methods, with no effect on the total number who die. Trends in the size of the cumulated gun or handgun stock have no consistent correlation with crime rates."Incidentally regarding non-lethal violent crime:
- Offenders were armed with a firearm in 10% of all violent crimes; a knife in 6% and some other object used as a weapon in 5%.
Source: Bureau of Justice Statistics, Criminal Victimization in the United States, 1993, May 1996.
- Offenders used or possessed a weapon in an estimated 27% of overall violent incidents, 8% of rapes/sexual assaults, 52% of robberies, and 25% of assaults.
Why is violent crime decreasing?
The FBI lists many major contributing factors to violent crime in their 1997 FBI Uniform Crime Report.
As for the declining violent crime rate over the last several years:"There is, at present, little consensus among criminologists, legal analysts and law enforcement officials about the explanation or causes of the decrease. Possible explanations include: increase in the incarceration rate; community based policing; changes in drug markets; aging of the criminal population; and cyclical trends in the homicide rate." (Conference announcement: Why is Crime Decreasing, Northwestern University School of Law).
Reporting a record 7-year plunge in crime rates a Los Angeles Times news article stated:"Law enforcement experts credited a variety of factors, including a booming economy and declining unemployment, greater attention to community-based policing, more prison beds and tougher sentencing in some areas through measures such as California's 'three strikes' law. But they stressed that no one factor can explain the downward spiral" (May 17, 1999, p. A6)
Excerpted from the abstract of the Koch Crime Institute's paper, The Falling Crime Rate (April 1998):"The consensus on the falling crime rate is that there is no singular event, policy implementation, or social action that can account for the decrease during the last six years. Individuals and organizations assessing the cause and implications of this decline are arriving at a unified theory attributing collective efforts and change as the reason or reasons."The Chicago Tribune reported a surprising finding:"Two widely respected scholars studying the causes of the declining U.S. crime rate, one of the intriguing social puzzles of the decade, have reached a provacative conclusion: Legalizing abortion in early 1970s eliminated many of the potential criminals of the 1990s..."
"Steven Levitt, a University of Chicago economist, and John Donohue III, a Stanford University Law professor, conclude that legalized abortion may explain as much as half of the overall crime reduction the nation experienced from 1991 to 1997..."
"[T]he authors conclude that the women who chose abortion were those at greatest risk for bearing children who would have been most likely to commit crimes as young adults. These women are teen-agers, minorites and the poor--all groups of women who have abortions at higher rates than the overall population of women of childbearing age..."[I]t is not simply who has the abortion that leads to the lower crime rate...but the ability of the woman to choose better timing for childrearing that lowers criminality." (Los Angeles Daily News, August 8, 1999, pp. 1, 18)What about the Brady Bill and other gun control measures?
Didn't the Brady Bill play a big part in reducing gun crime? See GunCite's analysis of that claim.
Four scholars discuss "Does Gun Control Work?" in PBS's moderated panel discussion, Think Tank (aired June 3, 1995).
What can be done about violent crime?
To read where enforcement of the numerous, already existing laws is working and achieving dramatic results in reducing gun related violence and homicide, without additional gun control laws, see enforcing the laws we already have.