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Crime | Criminal Justice

January 2020

Gun Ownership and Crime Trends

  • For decades, gun control activists have predicted that crime will increase as more people own more guns or burdensome restrictions on gun rights are repealed. The opposite has been true. Americans own more firearms and Americans in more states can lawfully carry a concealed firearm than they could decades ago but crime rates have fallen significantly.
  • In 2018, the violent crime rate fell to the 2nd lowest total rate since 1971 and the murder rate was half of what it was at the 1980 peak. The two lowest violent crime rates of the last 48 years were 2014 and 2018.[1]
  • The violent crime rate has decreased 51% from the 1991 all-time high. Americans have acquired more than 215 million new firearms in the same time period – more than doubling the number of privately-owned firearms in the United States.[2]
  • As violent crime has decreased, the number of Right-to-Carry (RTC) states and the number of people who carry guns for protection away from home have risen to all-time highs.
  • Every state now has a system allowing residents to obtain a concealed carry permit. There are 42 RTC states, more than 18.6 million people with carry permits, and data shows that permit holders are statistically more law-abiding than the general public.[3]
  • Women and minorities are the fastest growing concealed carry permit holder populations, and the number of female permit holders are increasing faster than male permit holders among every ethnic or racial group for which data is available.[4]
  • People who use guns to defend against robbery and aggravated assault are less likely to be injured than people who use other means, or no means, of self-defense.
  • A 1986 survey of felons for the federal government found that 40% had not committed one or more crimes because they feared that their prospective victims were armed. Thirty-four percent of criminals had been scared off, shot at, wounded, or captured by an armed victim.[5]

 

It’s an article of faith among gun control supporters that more guns will bring about more crime. For example, in the mid-1970s, the Brady Campaign, campaigning for a ban on handguns,[6] predicted: “There are now 40 million handguns owned by private individuals in the United States—about one gun for every American family. At the present rate of proliferation, the number could build to 100 million by the year 2000 (which isn’t as far off as you think). The consequences can be terrible to imagine—unless something is done.[7] In 1979, when the group was known as Handgun Control, Inc., it updated its prediction, saying, “Right now over 50 million HANDGUNS flood the houses and streets of our nation. . . . HANDGUN production and sales are out of control.”[8]Gun control supporters have made similar doomsday predictions about Right-to-Carry laws, “assault weapons,” and “large capacity” ammunition magazines.[9]

More Guns—Since the early 1990s, the number of privately-owned firearms has more than doubled, from about 192 million to more than 405 million - including more than 167 million handguns.[10] Americans acquire roughly 10 million new firearms annually. More than 18.66 million Americans have carry permits.[11] The AR-15 is the most popular firearm in the country, and the number of these firearms Americans own has increased from several hundred thousand to at least 16 million.[12] The number of so-called “large capacity” magazines - the regular magazines used in rifles like the AR-15 and in semi-automatic handguns designed for self-defense – numbered in the tens of millions decades ago and, today, are so common that the number in circulation is seemingly incalculable. 

Despite gun control supporters’ predictions, murder and total violent crime have decreased by more than half since 1991. In 2014, total violent crime fell to a 44-year low, murder to an all-time low.[13] The rate in 2018 was slightly higher than in 2014 but still the 2nd lowest violent crime rate since 1971.

Less gun control – Over the last quarter-century, many federal, state, and local gun control laws have been eliminated or made less restrictive. The federal “assault weapon” ban, upon which gun control supporters claimed public safety depended, expired in 2004. The violent crime rate last year was 20% lower than it was in 2014 and the murder rate was 9% lower.

The federal handgun waiting period, for years a priority for gun control supporters, expired in 1998 in favor of the NRA-supported national Instant Check and the murder rate has since dropped 20%. Accordingly, some states have eliminated obsolete waiting periods and purchase permit requirements.

Every state allows residents to lawfully carry a concealed firearm. Fifteen states allow permitless carry, and Montana allows permitless carry outside of city limits. Eight states retain some discretion over who can obtain a permit, and the remaining states are shall-issue states: any law-abiding resident who meets the established requirements can obtain a permit to carry a concealed firearm.

All states have hunter protection laws, 48 have range protection laws, 45 explicitly prohibit local gun laws more restrictive than state law, 44 protect the right to arms in their constitutions, and 33 have “castle doctrine” laws protecting the right to use guns in self-defense.

Crime Trends

The interactive visualization below displays historical crime data going back to 1960 (or 1965 for the state of New York). The violent crime rate includes homicide, aggravated assault, robbery, and rape. The FBI definition of rape was changed in 2012 (taking effect January 1, 2013). The revised definition of rape is utilized in total violent crime calculation beginning in 2013. Prior to 2013, the legacy definition of rape was used. For more information on the definition change, see the FBI's Rape Addendum in the 2013 Crime in the United States report.[14]

 

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Notes:

[1] FBI, “Crime in the United States: 2018.” Data Table 1: Crime in the United States. https://ucr.fbi.gov/crime-in-the-u.s/2018/crime-in-the-u.s.-2018/topic-pages/tables/table-1

[2] Estimate based on 1994 survey estimate from Philip J. Cook and Jens Ludwig, Guns in America: Results of a Comprehensive National Survey on Firearms Ownership and Use, available at http://www.policefoundation.org/wp-content/uploads/2015/06/Cook-et-al.-1996-Guns-in-America.pdf, Police Foundation.  Estimates for subsequent years are based on manufacturing data from the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, “Firearms Commerce in the United States, Annual Statistical Update 2019” available at https://www.atf.gov/firearms/docs/report/2019-firearms-commerce-report/download.

[3] Lott, John R. “Concealed Carry Permit Holders Across the United States: 2019.” Report from the Crime Prevention Research Center. September 27, 2019. https://papers.ssrn.com/sol3/papers.cfm?abstract_id=3463357.

[4] Ibid.

[5] Wright, James D. and Peter H. Rossi. “The Armed Criminal in America: A Survey of Incarcerated Felons.” National Institute of Justice. July 1985. https://www.ncjrs.gov/pdffiles1/Photocopy/97099NCJRS.pdf

[6] In 1976, the group, then known as the National Council to Control Handguns, explained, “The first problem is to slow down the increasing number of handguns being produced and sold in this country. The second problem is to get handguns registered. And the final problem is to make the possession of all handguns and all handgun ammunition - except for the military, policemen, licensed security guards, licensed sporting clubs, and licensed gun collectors - totally illegal.” (Richard Harris, “A Reporter At Large: Handguns,” The New Yorker, July 26, 1976.) In 1982, when known as Handgun Control, Inc., the group filed a brief in Quilici v. Morton Grove, in support of the Illinois town’s handgun ban. In 2008, Brady Campaign filed a brief to the Supreme Court in District of Columbia v. Heller, in support of Washington, D.C.’s handgun ban.

[7] NCCH, “There is now a nationwide, full-time, professional organization to battle the gun lobby!” pamphlet, no date, but circa 1975.

[8] HCI pamphlet, “By this time tomorrow, 24 Americans will be murdered,” circa 1979 or 1980.

[9] See the NRA-ILA ‘Assault weapons’ and ‘Large’ Magazines and Right-to-Carry fact sheets.

[10] Estimate based on 1994 survey estimate from Philip J. Cook and Jens Ludwig, Guns in America: Results of a Comprehensive National Survey on Firearms Ownership and Use, available at http://www.policefoundation.org/wp-content/uploads/2015/06/Cook-et-al.-1996-Guns-in-America.pdf, Police Foundation.  Estimates for subsequent years are based on manufacturing data from the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, “Firearms Commerce in the United States, Annual Statistical Update 2019” available at https://www.atf.gov/firearms/docs/report/2019-firearms-commerce-report/download.

[11] Lott, 2019.  

[12] National Shooting Sports Foundation, “Modern Sporting Rifle: Introduction.” https://www.nssf.org/msr/

[13] FBI, “Crime in the United States: 2018.” Data Table 1: Crime in the United States. https://ucr.fbi.gov/crime-in-the-u.s/2018/crime-in-the-u.s.-2018/topic-pages/tables/table-1. Previous “Crime in the United States Reports” and the UCR Data Tool are used for historical data; see https://ucr.fbi.gov/crime-in-the-u.s and https://www.ucrdatatool.gov/

[14] FBI, “Crime in the United States: 2013” Rape Addendum. https://ucr.fbi.gov/crime-in-the-u.s/2013/crime-in-the-u.s.-2013/rape-addendum/rape_addendum_final 

 

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Established in 1975, the Institute for Legislative Action (ILA) is the "lobbying" arm of the National Rifle Association of America. ILA is responsible for preserving the right of all law-abiding individuals in the legislative, political, and legal arenas, to purchase, possess and use firearms for legitimate purposes as guaranteed by the Second Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.