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Why Have Murder Rates Gone Down? Not Because of Gun Control

Ronald Parlato

July 29, 2013

Category: Society > Rights

Too much attention has been paid to reducing the number of guns in the US, and yet we are awash with millions of illegal weapons.  The goal of social reform should not be to reduce guns, but to reduce gun-related violence. This article describes successful methods to focus on everything but guns.

Much has been written recently about gun control; and yet there is very little relationship between gun ownership and crime.  The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention did an analysis of 51 studies of a series of gun control regulations. It could not find evidence to prove the effectiveness of gun control laws. A 2012 study conducted at Arizona State University and the University of Cincinnati found that waiting periods and background checks had little statistical effect on gun crimes.

Past efforts to control guns have not dramatically reduced violence. The Gun Control Act of 1968, the Brady Act of 1993 and the Assault Weapons Ban of 1994 all failed to reduce homicides significantly. The Brady law, for example, led to a drop in suicides for those age 55 and older, but a 2000 study commissioned by the American Medical Association found that it did not lead to a reduction in the overall murder rate.

The DC homicide rate for guns is the highest in the nation; and is also tops for robberies with guns. However despite being awash in illegal guns, the city is far safer than it was almost twenty years ago with violent crime is down by 50% since 1995, a trend which has been seen in other major metropolitan areas as well.  In other words gun ownership in DC remains as high as ever, but crime has gone down.

Rather than focus on eliminating guns, American authorities in the past two decades have tried to interrupt the killing chain at various other points.  There have been vast changes in proactive policing, mentoring programs, gang eradication programs, increased incarceration rates, and aggressive police surveillance.

This de facto approach has contributed to a phenomenal decline in violence. Murder rates over all have fallen by about 50%, back to levels not seen since the Kennedy administration. There are thousands of people alive today because homicide rates dropped so precipitously.

One of the most effective measures adopted by many cities — DC and Boston in particular — is to deploy police to areas which experience the most violent crimes.

For example, as Heather Mac Donald of City Journal, published by the Manhattan Institute, points out, 75% of the shootings in Boston over the past 30 years have occurred in 4.5% of its area, while 88.5% of the city's street segments had not had a single shooting. Lesson:  focus police resources on those few areas that host most of the killing.

It is very hard for gun control advocates to consider the larger picture of gun-related violence in the country; and for them nothing will suffice except for a complete ban on all kinds of handguns and assault weapons.  Their efforts and considerable financial resources have been spent on a losing cause.  If only a fraction of these funds had been spent on other promising interventions to reduce violent crime, the rates might have dropped even further.