A number of commenters on the previous two posts have basically told me I don’t know what I’m talking about, citing certain statistics and studies that supposedly prove that we’d all be safer if everyone carried a gun. I certainly wouldn’t claim expertise on the subject, so I was interested to read the op-ed piece in this morning’s WaPo co-authored by Police Chief Cathy Lanier, who one must assume does have considerable expertise. If you haven’t already, I’d suggest you read it.
I’m not totally uninformed on the subject, however, nor am I so naïve as to think arguments can change the mind of true believers. But in fact there are volumes of writings on both sides of the issue, and I think it’s fair to say that neither one is a slam dunk (though I obviously find one side more persuasive). So if you want to dive into these murky waters, you could do worse than to start with the Wikipedia articles on “Gun Violence in the US” and “Gun Politics”, which lay out the major arguments and evidence with sources cited.
And for extra credit, class: Here’s a DOJ paper on the demographics of gun violence. Here’s another DOJ paper (from the Ashcroft years) on a program tried in St. Louis to get guns off the street. Here’s a Johns Hopkins study on strategies for reducing gun violence. Here’s a UN paper giving comparative crime statistics for countries around the world. (Homicide rates in the US are 2 to 4 times those in other developed countries in western Europe, Canada, Japan, and Australia.)
The leading academic proponent of the “guns make us safer” school is Gary Kleck, author of Point Blank: Guns and Violence in America. He argues that many crimes are prevented because their intended victims have guns. Other researchers such as SUNY criminologist David McDowell have challenged his methodology and find far less evidence of that. Another key figure in the debate is Arthur Kellermann, who studied data on firearm related killings and injuries resulting from robberies, burglaries, and domestic violence. He concluded that having a gun on the home represented a greater risk overall of homicide than the protection it offered against intruders. His findings have also been challenged, though even Kleck has conceded that the likelihood of homicide in the home by an invading stranger is much less that that of one involving domestic violence. And so it goes.
Personally, I don’t think the macro crime statistics prove very much one way or the other, but if you’re inclined to delve into that sort of thing, the FBI publication Crime in the United States can give you all the crunchable numbers you could want. Here are a few nuggets from the 2005 report (the most recent completed one):
--In 2005, there were 14,860 homicides in the US, 10,100 of which were by firearm, and 7,543 by handgun.
--Of 8,136 cases in which the relationship of the killer to the victim was known, 1823 of the victims were family members, 4234 were other known persons (acquaintance, neighbor, girlfriend, etc.), and 2070 were strangers to the killer.
--63% of the victims were between the ages of 17 and 34.
--Out of 9,251 cases where the circumstance of the killing was known, 11% occurred during a robbery, burglary or car theft; 45% occurred because of a romantic triangle, a booze- or drug-fueled brawl, or other argument (the last accounts for 42%)
--Just 1% of homicides by firearm by a private citizen were considered justifiable homicide.
Here are the violent crime rates (crimes/100K population) for DC and some other major eastern cities:
Washington, DC 1401
New York 673
St. Louis 2405
If you can find a consistent correlation between those figures and strict/permissive gun laws, you see more than I do. New Jersey and New York are pretty restrictive; Virginia, Florida, and Georgia pretty permissive; other places in the middle. As for Texas, the ur-guntotin’ state, the figures are 1254 for Dallas and 1172 for Houston, but they’re not really comparable because those cities’ incorporated areas include vast suburban stretches that in the DC context would be like including everything inside the Beltway—which would, of course, bring the DC rate way down.
So do your homework and make up your own mind. As for me, I’m with Chief Lanier.