William M. Briggs

Statistician to the Stars!

Update On Gun Crime: Downward Bound. Vote Accordingly

Per capita homicide rate: overall, and by firearm type.

Per capita homicide rate: overall, and by firearm type.

Elections are nearing and some of our friends are worried about guns. Measures are on ballots, votes are urged; that sort of thing. Nerves are raw, tempers are flared.

Now if your only experience with guns has been through the media, film, television, or video games, well, you’re likely to develop what psychologists call The Wrong Idea. How about looking at the actual numbers and see what they say? The picture above is from the FBI Uniform Crime Reports and shows the per capita homicide rate over time, along with the same rates due to handguns and other firearms (2012 was the last full year of data). For completeness, this link has a picture of all violent crime, which has exactly the same shape.

Notice anything? Right: where are the knives, blunt objects, hands and fists, poisonings, explosives, fires, narcotics, drownings, strangulations, asphyxiations, and other methods of dispatchment? The FBI lists them all. They all show the same shape as firearms. Excepting certain localities, we’re becoming a less violent, less murderous society.

Why? Don’t ask me. Maybe it’s because there’s fewer teenagers roaming around, maybe the cranks were right about fluoride, maybe blogs have made the populace less angry. Who knows? But given what’s been happening, there doesn’t seem to be a need to restrict the use and ownership of guns. To seek for a “solution” when there is no problem is to be a progressive—and who’d want that? So vote no on any confiscations or similar measures.

Now I have been shooting, killing, and eating with great relish animals of all kinds since I was a boy. Hunting provides the ultimate in free-range meat and is an environmentally sound practice. It also imbues a permanent sense that if it weren’t for farms and farmers, most of us would starve to death. Hunting isn’t so easy.

It’s true I don’t hunt as much now, but then the only animals that are fair game are subway rats and Central Park squirrels. Anyway, the rats do a good job clearing out the filth people dump on the tracks. And kill a squirrel and the French tourists who are endlessly fascinated with these flea-bitten beasties would turn on you and mime outrage.

Though I have owned and fired all kinds of weapons, I have never robbed even one store, took nary a hostage, and never shot at another human being who didn’t have it coming. Neither did any of the many gun-owning friends I grew up with do any of these things. I don’t recall ever hearing of a “home invasion”, but this was in Northern Michigan where the first day of deer hunting season was an official holiday. No school: no kidding. Would-be invaders were probably dissuaded by the thought that the home they wanted to bust into had gun-owning occupants.

Accidents? We used to play war with BB and pellet guns and there were, it is to be admitted, minor mishaps. Nobody died, and scars bring bragging rights. But don’t worry about that because these days rambunctious boys are medicated past interest or are sedated by glowing screens. One farmer down the road misused his shotgun and lost his head. Farming isn’t so easy, either.

Point is, guns are fun and useful.

So. Remember that NRA quip that if guns are illegal only criminals would have guns? Progressives love to sneer at that, but that is only because progressives are not friends with logic. The quip is a tautology, meaning it is true no matter what, even if you don’t want it to be.

Take Chicago, so long run by a Democrat machine that it’s not clear citizens there even know other parties exist. Guns are all but illegal there. And so the guns that are out in the street are owned primarily by criminals, just like our tautology predicted. Somehow—and the how is still a mystery to sociologists—banning guns has not eliminated them. Of course, robberies are banned, too, yet they still occur. Strange. Maybe we could have a double-extra secret ban on top of the ordinary ban?

Yet even in Chicago, though there has been a slight blip upwards, the murder rates are down from their peak in the early 1990s (data here). Certain neighborhoods in the Second City, however, are not advisable to enter unarmed.

Full disclosure: I am a long-time NRA member, a position which has not, so far as I have noticed, increased a homicidal tendency in me.

P.S. Please let’s don’t quote comparative statistics from some wee European nation which has a homogeneous population smaller than that of heterogeneous New York City on a hot day in August when everybody is on vacation.

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Thanks to reader Nate Winchester for recommending this topic.

26 Comments

  1. What is your recipe for great relish?

  2. Briggs

    November 1, 2014 at 8:21 am

    Katie,

    Freshly dead raw deer liver.

  3. The right comparative statistic isn’t whether gun crime is increasing or decreasing, it is whether it is too high compared to other places where control is a little or a lot tighter.

    Plenty of large (not wee) countries around the world have rather tighter restrictions than the USA (where controlling guns in one state seems pretty futile unless states impose border control on each other). Some, like the UK have very tight restrictions (e.g. no handguns for the public at all); others allow many weapons but impose safety checks and strict licensing rules. In most countries (even the UK) hunting weapons are not much restricted (unless you need assault rifles to hunt, which seems a little unfair on nature).

    What do their statistics on gun deaths look like (including both accidental and deliberate deaths)? Those are the right comparative statistics.

    We don’t impose urban speed limits on roads because the pedestrian death rate is rising quickly; we do it because the death rate is too high at higher speeds.

    The debate on guns in the USA looks from the outside like a religious war. It shouldn’t be. It would be better for all if it was treated like a pragmatic issue of the rules required to encourage the safer use of dangerous things.

  4. Ima Debatin' (@ImaBannedd)

    November 1, 2014 at 9:05 am

    How about statictics showing that the European countries with total handgun bans have the highest murder rates in Europe?

    http://www.law.harvard.edu/students/orgs/jlpp/Vol30_No2_KatesMauseronline.pdf

    Harvard study, very interesting.

  5. One note … the so-called assault weapons ban STILL exists. Not in legislative law, but in regulatory law. But the result is the same: only weapons deemed by the federal government to be built for “sporting” purposes can enter the US. And no weapon not allowed for impart can be assembled in the US from a majority, so to speak, of foreign made parts.

  6. Briggs

    November 1, 2014 at 9:18 am

    Ima, Steve,

    Here are more fascinating numbers (look to the 2000s) of murder rates of various countries. And as proof that heterogeneity is vastly more important than you’d imagine, see Black on White Crime: Who’s Killing Whom? The White homicide rate is low, while the Black rate is fairly high.

    Still, however you sort out the country-by-country comparison, the obvious decline overall numbers here the States does not argue for government control of all firearms.

  7. Briggs, “Who knows?” You didn’t mention the increasing incarceration rate in the USA and the increasing efficiency with which this is accomplished.

    Steve, “We don’t impose urban speed limits on roads because the pedestrian death rate is rising quickly; we do it because the death rate is too high at higher speeds.” Are you sure? I’m of the opinion that speed is very low on the list. I think the reason has to do with the income generated by speed traps, similar to the reason that cities have been caught shortening the yellow light time. Are you implying that non-urban speed limits are imposed for a different reason?

  8. Briggs

    November 1, 2014 at 10:01 am

    Scotian,

    Could be one of the causes, sure. But then we wonder how it’s tied to the Who’s Killing Whom article linked above.

  9. Briggs

    November 1, 2014 at 10:05 am

    All,

    Ima (on Twitter) points us to this interesting article, a must read.

    Joyce Lee Malcolm: Two Cautionary Tales of Gun Control: After a school massacre, the U.K. banned handguns in 1998. A decade later, handgun crime had doubled.

    Meanwhile, law-abiding citizens who have come into the possession of a firearm, even accidentally, have been harshly treated. In 2009 a former soldier, Paul Clarke, found a bag in his garden containing a shotgun. He brought it to the police station and was immediately handcuffed and charged with possession of the gun. At his trial the judge noted: “In law there is no dispute that Mr. Clarke has no defence to this charge. The intention of anybody possessing a firearm is irrelevant.” Mr. Clarke was sentenced to five years in prison. A public outcry eventually won his release…

    What to conclude? Strict gun laws in Great Britain and Australia haven’t made their people noticeably safer, nor have they prevented massacres. The two major countries held up as models for the U.S. don’t provide much evidence that strict gun laws will solve our problems.

  10. The Chicago Police Department maintains an astonishing array of statistically based reports to wit: https://portal.chicagopolice.org/portal/page/portal/ClearPath/News/Crime%20Statistics

    It has been several years since I read there, but IIRC they included percentages of the departed who had at one time been guests of the state, identified as members of gangs, were collateral or appeared in the numbers for some other reason unrelated to being basically a bad person.

    My suspicion is that the decline in violent deaths may be due to a decline in marksmanship. In fact, the level of collateral deaths seems somehow to be linked to marksmanship issues – also the proclivity of the indigenous population to use very stylish but ineffective grips on their pistols making accurate fire unlikely.

    And they tend to own lousy weapons.

    What to do? What to do?

    Claro, better weapons should be made available and training too. While I was an NRA junior member in the ’50s, Surplus, but unused, M1911 Colts were made available to full members for $25.

    We need programs like this, although maybe M1911s might be a bit heavy for this purpose.

    The NRA could organize marksmanship training.

    Like most other problems we face, this is another one where there is too little clear thinking. Imagine the savings in alternative residence costs for these miscreants if they could more effectively reduce their own populations and maybe hit fewer civilians while they were at it.

    Why is this so hard to understand?

  11. Within the last 24hrs. a DC cop was attacked with a hatchet and a similar incident took place in NYC not long ago. Who needs guns?

  12. Steve Black: I would hope you have no familiarity at all with weapons, since the comment “unless you need assault rifles to hunt, which seems a little unfair on nature” shouts out ignorance of actual weapons. Most assault rifle bans are based on appearance, not the actual caliber or use of the gun. They are based on pistol grips, flash suppressors, collapsible or folding stocks and detachable magazines, in many cases. Not one of these changes the function of the rifle. I can take an assault rifle and turn it into a legitimate hunting rifle by swapping out plastic parts for wooden ones. It’s still the same caliber, as is the bolt gun over there that is a “hunting rifle” and has a magazine that does not detach. If you see the rifle in a war movie, it’s evil. That’s pretty much the criteria. In all honesty, a properly loaded shotgun is far more lethal, but it’s a “hunting” weapon. A Smith and Wesson 50 caliber revolver is far more lethal but it’s a revolver, not a semi-auto. There is NO inherent gain from using an “assault weapon” in hunting. None. (I have a .22 with a detachable magazine. Should we ban that? I also hunt with a single shot, or use a gun with a magazine as a single shot. I don’t like semi-automatics of any kind. Personal preference, of course.)

  13. With respect, your friend needs to quit lapping up marketing blurbs that flatter prejudices, as if they’re antifreeze at a petting zoo and try actually READING the text of the actual bill he’s gushing over.

    Had he done so, he would know the bill is not really about background checks for sales, is very dangerous and will transform many people unknowingly into criminals.

    I get the feeling that doesn’t really bother him, though. On this one topic he seems to simply abandon rational debate and emote instead. Is hard to have a civil conversation with some one who calls upon God to destroy you organization.

  14. Background checks themselves don’t really bother me, though I think expanding it is not really necessary. But just ‘background checks for gun sales’ is NOT WHAT THIS LAW (Washington bill 594) IS ABOUT.

    I honestly don’t see how anyone who has read the content and actually understands the implications can support it.

    First of all, touting this as a bill that just wants to enforce ‘background checks of gun sales’ is a plain, old fashioned lie. No, it doesn’t. It takes absolute control and regulates every single aspect of your ownership.

    Under section 4 it lists the specific instances where the requirement of a background and full FFL transfer paperwork isn’t required. It is very specific, and VERY limited. EVERYTHING ELSE is considered to be covered by this law and requires a FULL FFL transfer, tax and paperwork. The verbiage is rather precise on this point. So, for example, if I’m at a local, government sanction shooting range and I let my best friend try out the new revolver I brought with me, yes, that’s totally fine. HOWEVER, if say I’m on my own property outside the city, where shooting on your own property is allowed, and let my friend fire a couple of rounds then, guess what? I just violated the law. Yes, a ‘transfer’ includes just allowing someone to use it, even on private property, for any amount of time whatsoever. Don’t believe me? Look at the definition of ‘transfer’ in the doc.

    Strangely enough, if my friend is under the age of 18, it’s totally cool to let him handle and shoot the revolver (for ‘educational and safety’ purposes). But as soon as 12:01am on his 18th birthday hits, it’s illegal.
    More examples: You and your buddy are out hunting. About to head to your respective stands and he drops his rifle, damaging the scope. Can you let him use your backup, just this once? No, according to the law, that is an unlicensed transfer, and against the law.

    Let your friend use your special 12ga when his team is shooting in the state skeet competition? Yup, that’s fine. How about letting him use it for official team practices? Nope, that’s illegal.

    Your long time girlfriend, who knows her way around firearms just fine and has no criminal record at all, is worried about someone who has been harassing her a bit and would really appreciate if you could let her borrow one of your pistols to keep in her nightstand, just to be on the safe side. No, unless you’re already living with her, that’s illegal.

    Toward the end there is a nifty bit that guarantees fantastic opportunities for law enforcement to nail FFL holders, as transfer verbiage in this law can clash with federal law depending on circumstances.

    You can now no longer have your firearm worked on or repaired by any gunsmith, no matter how qualified, unless he is also an FFL holder and a transfer is made. Otherwise, both of you are breaking the law.
    There are lots of ways to implement a background check system for sales. That’s not what this law is. Anyone who touts this a just a way to do background checks is either a liar, or they’re too lazy to read the actual text of the law.

  15. @Steve Black
    “The debate on guns in the USA looks from the outside like a religious war. It shouldn’t be. It would be better for all if it was treated like a pragmatic issue of the rules required to encourage the safer use of dangerous things.”
    – Because it’s not really about guns. Fred Reed makes an excellent point on this:

    “Actually, good and evil have little to do with it. The debate over guns is a clash of cultures, a confrontation of different kinds of character, a disagreement over social philosophy, and even–though few notice this–over free will and determinism. The contending factions don’t need guns to detest each other. They would anyway.”

    Read the rest here: http://www.fredoneverything.net/Guncontrol.shtml

  16. Dr. Kleck has written extensively on guns and crime. You might find this interesting.
    http://www.largo.org/klecksum.html

  17. Crime is only part of the story, and that are lots of parts to that story as well, and there are lots of way to parse the numbers as your ideological bent pleases.

    Part of the story is the huge numbers of guns “on the streets.” Studies show the vast majority of these guns start out with a legal purchase, at some store or such, checked, traceable, etc. What happens after to these guns gets murky. The problem here is that we really don’t have any accountability that comes with gun ownership. I can buy a gun, legally, and then, one day, “give” my gun to pretty much anyone I please. And that’s about that. This is the glaring hole in the regulation of the militia. And this is the hole the gun rights crowd refuse to close.

    The Australia example, I think, shows how accountability solves the rights problem.

    JMJ

  18. Jersey: Accountable to whom? The government—the “fast and furious government” that refuses to close the border, quarantine people returning from ebola areas and allows a class one narcotic to be sold all over Colorado and Washington? What accountability? I’ll take my chances as is.

  19. @Jersey

    “This is the glaring hole in the regulation of the militia.”

    Methinks you need to pay better attention in school when they discuss the Constitution, as it seems rather obvious you don’t.

    ” And that’s about that.”
    – Yeah, it’s actually kind of nice living in a sorta free country where the government doesn’t control you like a child. I wouldn’t change that for the world.

    Oh, and in spite of this lack of regulation you’re wetting yourself over… crime is still at a close to 30 year low, and still going down. And that is in spite of the fact that, over those same 30 years, gun laws have en general become even more lax across the US. You’re panicking over a non-issue.

    Have a drink, calm down, breath into a bag for a while and find something better to do with your time.

  20. Oh and Jersey,

    “The Australia example”
    How about this? Saudi Arabia has a lower crime rate than Australia while at the same time having almost ZERO gun control laws of any kind. So, just going off of crime numbers, my selection is better.

    Or, we could be intelligent and not try to compare one single item across multiple cultures and pretend it means anything.

  21. Pete wouldn’t that be a >50 year low according to the graphic above?

    I am all for suppressing guns, but not gun ownership.
    Anecdotally, the only time I have been held at gunpoint by uniformed 18-19 year olds, and shaken down for money was at a “Federal” road block in Baja, Mexico. It seems that when the authorities are sure they are not threatened by the populace (gun ownership is illegal in Mexico) they come up with creative ways to supplement their income.
    Of course I don’t own a firearm, but I do own a silenced pellet air rifle. The squirrels never know what hit them.
    Guns are good, suppressed (silenced) guns are even better.

  22. Bert Walker,

    I agree with your sentiment but individual gun ownership in Mexico is not illegal. The Mexican constitution (1857) listed the right “to keep and bear arms”. This was later modified in the early 1900’s when “to keep” and “to bear” were separated. Today, Mexican citizens essentially have no right to bear arms. This doesn’t seem to have reduced the incidents of gun violence in Mexico at all.

    This is becoming the case in the US with the issuance of carry permits which are effectively licenses to exercise a Constitutional right. Imagine needing a license to exercise the right to free speech.

    The existence of these licenses do not in any way prevent criminals from carrying weapons although that was apparently the intent.

  23. Briggs,
    Re. Paul Clark, 12 months, suspended, not 5 years.
    Check out: http://www.gun-control-network.org/in2009.htm
    “This is Surrey Today, 12 November 2009 *
    Paul Clarke, a former soldier, has been found guilty of possessing a firearm.  He handed a discarded sawn-off shotgun to the police in March 2009.  He spotted a black bin liner at the bottom of his garden in Merstham, Surrey, and found the gun and two cartridges inside.  He took the gun to a police station and was immediately arrested.  The jury was told that his allegedly honest intent was irrelevant, possession of a firearm is a “strict liability” charge.  There is no defence in law against it.  He has been given a one-year prison sentence, suspended for 12 months (Get Surrey, 18 December 2009).

  24. Dav,
    I’m with you.

  25. “Some, like the UK have very tight restrictions (e.g. no handguns for the public at all); others allow many weapons but impose safety checks and strict licensing rules. In most countries (even the UK) hunting weapons are not much restricted (unless you need assault rifles to hunt, which seems a little unfair on nature).

    What do their statistics on gun deaths look like (including both accidental and deliberate deaths)? Those are the right comparative statistics.”

    Even when we in the UK were armed to the teeth the murder rate was pretty much what it was now. see :

    http://www.publications.parliament.uk/pa/cm199900/cmselect/cmhaff/95/95ap25.htm
    “The evidence shows that, despite the existence of an absolute right to keep arms and the very widespread ownership of firearms as evidenced by the state of the gun trade at the time, the use of firearms in crime and disorder was extremely rare.”

  26. I worked with a guy from England. He very astutely pointed out that we are comparing two very, very different cultures, especially when it comes to gun ownership. Plus, England is a tiny island, the US a huge expanse. There are far more important factors than gun ownership going into violent crimes.

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