Gun Control Laws and the Reduction of Homicides in the United States
The objective of this study is to determine whether gun control laws will serve to bring about a reduction in the number of homicides in the United States. Toward this end this study will conduct an extensive review of literature in this area of inquiry.
It is held by many that gun control laws will serve to bring about a reduction in the number of homicides in the United States. However, there are those who reject this idea stating that gun control laws will take guns out of the hands of the everyday individual while criminals will still have access to guns and commit crimes with those guns.
Kates and Mauser
The work of Kates and Mauser (nd) entitled "Would Banning Firearms Reduce Murder and Suicide: A Review of International and Some Domestic Evidence" states that "International evidence and comparisons have long been offered as proof of the mantra that more guns mean more deaths and that fewer guns, therefore, mean fewer deaths. Unfortunately, such discussions are all too often been afflicted by misconceptions and factual error and focus on comparisons that are unrepresentative. It may be useful to begin with a few examples. There is a compound assertion that (a) guns are uniquely available in the United States compared with other modern developed nations, which is why (b) the United States has by far the highest murder rate. Though these assertions have been endlessly repeated, statement (b) is, in fact, false and statement (a) is substantially so." (p. 650) The following table shows the gun ownership rate in Europe and accompanying murder rates.
Figure 1 -- European Gun Ownership and Murder Rates
Source: Kates and Mauser (nd)
According to Kates and Mauser (nd) "While American gun ownership is quite high" it is demonstrated that many other developed nations including Norway, Finland, Germany, France, and Denmark, all of which have high rates of gun ownership have murder rates "as low or lower than many developed nations in which gun ownership is much rarer. For example, Luxembourg, where handguns are totally banned and ownership of any kind of gun is minimal, had a murder rate nine times higher than Germany in 2002." (Kates and Mauser, nd, p.651)
Kates and Mauser state that the 'same pattern appears when comparison of violence to gun ownership are made within nations. Indeed, data on firearms ownership by constabulary area in England, like data from the United States show a 'negative correlation', that is 'where firearms are most dense violent crime rates are lowest, and where guns are least dense violent crime rates are highest." (nd, p.651) Kates and Mauser state that a misconception exists on the "relationship between firearms and violence attributes Europe's generally low homicide rates to stringent gun control. That attribution cannot be accurate since murder in Europe was at an all-time low before the gun controls were introduced." (nd, p.653-4) Two recent studies are reported to be of particular notice and specifically stated is that in 2004, "the U.S. National Academy of Sciences released its evaluation from a review of 253 journal articles, 99 books, 43 government publications, and some original empirical research. It failed to identify any gun control that had reduced violent crime, suicide, or gun accidents. The same conclusion was reached in 2003 by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control's review of then-extant studies." (Kates and Mauser, nd, p. 654)
Professor John Lott addresses the issue in the work entitled "More Guns Equal Less Violent Crime" stating that he and his colleagues in order to "provide a more systematic answer" on whether gun laws reduce crime "recently completed a study of one type of gun control laws -- laws on concealed handguns, also known as 'shall-issue' laws. Lott reports that the findings in the study are "dramatic. Our most conservative estimates show that by adopting shall-issue laws, states reduced murders by 8.5%, rapes by 5%, aggravated assaults by 7% and robbery by 3%. If those states that did not permit concealed handguns in 1992 had permitted them back then, citizens might have been spared approximately 1,570 murders, 4,177 rapes, 60,000 aggravated assaults and 12,000 robberies. To put it even more simply Criminals, we found, respond rationally to deterrence threats." (nd, p.1) Lott states that the inherent benefit of concealed handguns "are not limited to just those who carry them or use them in self-defense. . The very fact that these weapons are concealed keeps criminals uncertain as to whether a potential victim will be able to defend himself with lethal force. The possibility that anyone might be carrying a gun makes attacking everyone less attractive; unarmed citizens in effect "free-ride" on their pistol packing fellows." (Lott, nd, p.1) Lott reports that his study found that "while some criminals avoid potentially violent crimes after concealed handgun laws were passed, they do not necessarily give up the criminal life altogether." (nd, p.1)
Lott states that some criminal switch to crimes in which the rise of confronting an armed victim is much lower. Indeed, the downside of concealed-weapons laws is that while Violent crime rates fall, property offenses like larceny (e.g. stealing from unattended automobiles or vending machines) and auto theft rise. This is certainly a substitution that the country can live with." (nd, p.1) The support for strict gun control laws has been emphasized the most in larger cities with the highest crime however, according to Lott "that's precisely where right-to-carry laws have produced the largest drops in violent crimes. For example, in counties with populations of more than 200,000 people, concealed handgun laws produced an average drop in murder rates of more than 13%. The half of the counties with the highest rape rates saw that crime drop by more than 7%." (Lott, nd, p.1)
In addition, Lott reports that concealed handguns are more assistive to women than they are to men and while murder rates are noted to decline when either gender carries more guns the effect is "especially pronounced when women are considered separately. An additional woman carrying a concealed handgun reduces the murder rate for women by about three to four times more than an additional armed man reduces the murder rate for men." (nd, p.1) Lott reports having collected data on whether owners of concealed handguns are more likely to use them in the commission of violent crimes and reports that the "The rarity of these incidents is reflected in Florida's statistics: More than 300,000 concealed- handgun licenses were issued between October 1, 1987 and December 31, 1945, but only five violent crimes involving permitted pistols were committed in this period. And none of these resulted in fatalities. That's of 1% misuse rate for permitted pistols in an eight-year period or LESS than 1/1000 of 1% misuse rate per year." (nd, p.1)
New York Times
The New York Times article entitled "Gun Laws and Crime: A Complex Relationship" addresses the question of whether gun control laws reduce crime and states that Justice Stephen G. Breyer, "one of the dissenters in the 5-to-4 decision, surveyed a quite substantial body of empirical research on whether gun control laws do any good." Breyer wrote as follows: "The upshot is a set of studies and counter studies that, at most, could leave a judge uncertain about the proper policy conclusion." (Liptak, 2008, p.1)
Liptak (2008) states that there is no question that "guns figure in countless murders, suicides and accidental deaths. Over the five years ending in 1997, the Justice Department says, there was an average of 36,000 firearms-related deaths a year. (Fifty-one percent were suicides, and 44% homicides.) Determining whether particular gun control laws would have, on balance, prevented some of those deaths is difficult. Take Washington, D.C., whose near-total ban on handguns in the home was on the receiving end of last week's decision. At the crudest level, as Justice Breyer wrote, violent crime in Washington has increased since the ban took effect in 1976." (Liptak, 2008, p.1)
Breyer is reported to have written "Indeed "a comparison with 49 other major cities reveals that the district's homicide rate is actually substantially higher relative to these other cities than it was before the handgun restriction went into place. "(Liptak, 2008, p.1)
Justice Breyer is noted to have additionally stated "after it does not mean because of it." (Liptak, 2008, p.1) Gary Kleck, professor at Florida State University's College of Criminology and Criminal Justice stated that it is well-known that "handgun ban didn't reduce homicide." (Liptak, 2008, p.1) It is reported that not everyone is in agreement with that statement as a study in 'The New England Journal of Medicine' published in 1991 is reported to have "compared Washington to its suburbs before and after the gun law took effect. It found that the law was linked to a 25% drop in homicides involving firearms and a 23% drop in such suicides. The study found no drops in other kinds of homicides and suicides in…