Criminal Advantage

By Linda Gorman

Sept. 14, 1999

President Clinton has proposed using $15 million of federal tax money to artificially stimulate the demand for guns. Anti-gun activists used the President’s plan as a public relations platform for the usual array of weepy arguments in favor of more gun control. The activists, a motley collection of politicians, trial lawyers, and their non-profit hangers-on who have successfully pursued money and power, have little in common with women who routinely walk home alone late at night in dangerous neighborhoods. Unacquainted with the living, they count only the dead. Ballyhooing a “crisis of violence” in America created by “easy access” to guns, they claim that more gun control will make things better. 

If these people would stop emoting and actually look at the data, they would find that the level of violence in America has little to do with guns. In fact, banning the baby boomers would probably have done more to reduce violence in America than all the gun laws presently in force.

The boomers began maturing in the late 1960s when homicide rates, and the number of gun control laws, began a rapid rise that lasted through 1993.There were 5.1 homicides per 100,000 Americans in 1964.The rate rose to 10.1 in 1974, and fluctuated throughout the 1970s and 80s with peaks at 10.7 in 1980 and 10.5 in 1991.In the last few years for which data are available (and the first few years in which the boomers have become eligible for AARP) the homicide rate has dropped. It was 7.4 per 100,000 in 1997.[1]

Two generations ago, crime rates surged as they did in the in 1960s.  In 1920, the homicide rate was 5.5. By 1933, it had peaked at 9.6. The problem wasn't baby boomers or the influence of television or the Internet. Rather, national alcohol prohibition had empowered organized crime, and turned some cities into war zones. Prohibition was repealed on December 5, 1933, and the crime rate began to decline immediately.

 In 1931, before gun control, 67% of homicides were attributed to firearms or explosives. In 1997, after gun control, 67.5% of homicides were “firearms-related.” 

Like the crime rate, the suicide rate also appears unrelated to gun availability. Suicides crept upward during World War I. They lifted off from a base of 9.0 per 100,000 residents at the beginning of the 1920s, and rocketed to 16.5 by 1932. They stayed high until World War II, receded to a low of 9.7 in 1957, and peaked at 12.7 in 1987. Rates fell slightly afterwards, to 11.9 in 1995.

The violence crisis-mongers love to talk about the fact that firearms are used 450,00 violent crimes each year. They studiously ignore the fact that guns are used defensively to protect innocent people from violent crime an estimated 2.5 million times each year.[2] For every story Denver Mayor Wellington Web tells about “gun violence,” there are at least 5 other stories in which bullets, or the threat of them, saved someone from death or serious injury.

People sincerely concerned about minimizing “violence” will find the state of affairs in Britain instructive. Like much of the American elite, British officialdom does not consider self-defense a valid reason for owning a gun. After 80 years of progressively stricter gun control laws, Britain passed laws in 1988 and 1997 that banned handguns and required registered owners to surrender their weapons. 

Unlike those who advocate gun control, British criminals understand that banning firearms helps criminals. Smugglers and clandestine machine shops supply the English underworld with everything from handguns to fully automatic weapons. As a study of British firearms control methods by Colin Greenwood, the Chief Inspector of the West Yorkshire Constabulary, concluded, “there is no case…in which controls can be shown to have restricted the flow of weapons to criminals, or in any way reduced crime.”[3] 

Under gun control, English rates of violent crime, gun robbery, and murder have skyrocketed. U.S. murder rates were 17 time those of England and Wales in 1981. By 1996, they were only three times the English rate. In the early 1980s, residents of England and Wales were less likely to be victims of crimes than residents of the U.S. By 1995, English assault and burglary rates were more than 2 times that of the U.S., and overall English crime victimization rates had surpassed those in the U.S.[4]

Because no known form of gun control can keep guns out of criminal hands, gun control laws leave the weak and unprotected at the mercy of armed criminals eager to take advantage of their plight. This means that elected officials in favor of gun control support a public policy that favors criminals and penalizes the law-abiding. Their law-abiding constituents should be asking why in heaven’s name anyone would want to do that.

Linda Gorman is a Senior Fellow at the Independence Institute, a free-market think tank in Golden, Colorado.

[1] Bureau of the Census, U.S. Department of Commerce. Historical Statistics of the United States. Series H971-986 and author’s calculations using population series A-7. Current data form U.S. Department of Justice, Bureau of Justice Statistics, Sourcebook of Criminal Justice Statistics Online, Homicide Trends in the U.S. Weapons Used. Table 3.116. See also Homicide Rate 1900-97.

[2] U.S. Department of Justice, Bureau of Justice Statistics. Sourcebook of Criminal Justice Statistics Online. Table 3.116 for violent crime numbers. Joseph P. Tartaro.10 August 1997. The New Gun Week, “NIJ Gun Study Supports Kleck Research.” p. 1.

[3] Quoted in National Firearms Association. “Retroactive Criminalization in Bill C-68,” p. 2.Calgary, Canada.

[4] Patrick A. Langan and David P. Farrington. October 1998.Crime and Justice in the United States and England and Wales, 1981-96.U.S. Department of Justice, Office of Justice Programs.

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