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Crime | Criminal Justice

August 8, 2016

More Guns, Less Crime

  • As gun ownership has risen to an all-time high, the nation’s total violent crime rate has fallen to a 44-year low and the murder rate has fallen to an all-time low.

  • Since 1991, when violent crime hit an all-time high, the nation’s violent crime rate and its murder rate have decreased by more than half, as Americans have acquired over 170 million new guns, roughly doubling the number of privately owned guns in the United States.

  • 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.

  • There are now 42 RTC states, which account for 74 percent of the U.S. population, and 13 million people with carry permits. Permit-holders are statistically more law-abiding than the rest of the public.

  • The downward trend in crime, coinciding with the upward trend in firearm acquisitions, is the opposite of what gun control supporters repeatedly predicted over the last 40 years, and the opposite of what they are predicting for the future.

  • Violent crime has decreased as gun control restrictions have been eliminated or rolled back at the federal, state and local levels.

  • 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 survey of felons for the federal government found that 40 percent had not committed one or more crimes because they feared that their prospective victims were armed. Thirty-four percent had been scared off, shot at, wounded, or captured by an armed victim.

  • “Hot burglaries,” in which criminals invade homes while home dwellers are present, are much less common in the United States, where many people have guns, than in England, where most people don’t have guns.

  • Studies for Congress, the Congressional Research Service, the Library of Congress, the National Institutes of Justice, the National Academy of Sciences, and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention have found no evidence that gun control reduces crime.

  • The FBI doesn’t list gun control as one of the factors that determine the type and level of crime.

It’s an article of faith among gun control supporters that more guns equals more crime. For example, in the mid-1970s, the Brady Campaign, campaigning for a ban on handguns,[1] 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.[2] 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.”[3]Gun control supporters have made similar doomsday predictions about Right-to-Carry laws, “assault weapons,” and “large” ammunition magazines.[4]

More Guns—Since gun control supporters began making these predictions, the number of privately owned firearms has doubled, from about 175 million to about 350 million, including about 150 million handguns.[5] Americans acquire roughly 10 million new firearms annually. The number of Right-to-Carry states has risen from 10 to 42, accounting for three-fourths of the U.S. population.[6] Nearly 13 million Americans have carry permits.[7] The number of the most popular “assault weapon,” the AR-15, has risen from several hundred thousand to over eight million.[8] The number of “large” magazines—used in rifles like the AR-15 and in semi-automatic handguns designed for self-defense—has risen from tens of millions, to a number so large that it seems pointless to venture an estimate.

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.[9] More guns did not, as it turned out, equal more crime.

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 hinged, expired in 2004 and through 2014 the murder rate dropped 19 percent. 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 29 percent. Accordingly, some states have eliminated obsolete waiting periods and purchase permit requirements.

            As noted, there are now 42 Right-to-Carry states. All states have hunter protection laws, 48 have range protection laws, 48 prohibit local gun laws more restrictive than state law, 44 protect the right to arms in their constitutions, 33 have “castle doctrine” laws protecting the right to use guns in self-defense, and Congress and 33 states prohibit frivolous lawsuits against the firearm industry. Studies for Congress, the Congressional Research Service, the Library of Congress, the National Institutes of Justice, the National Academy of Sciences, and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention have found no evidence that gun control reduces crime.[10]The FBI doesn’t list gun control as one of the factors that determine the type and level of crime.[11]

Below are links to Excel spreadsheets showing, for the U.S., each state, and the District of Columbia, the numbers and rates of violent and property crimes, with year-to-year and year-to-present trends, and incarceration data, with charts, for years 1960-2014.

United States     Alabama     Alaska     Arizona     Arkansas     California     Colorado     Connecticut     Delaware

District of Columbia     Florida     Georgia     Hawaii     Idaho     Illinois     Indiana     Iowa     Kansas     Kentucky

Louisiana     Maine     Maryland     Massachusetts     Michigan     Minnesota     Mississippi     Missouri     Montana

Nebraska     Nevada     New Hampshire     New Jersey     Mew Mexico     New York     North Carolina

North Dakota     Ohio     Oklahoma     Oregon     Pennsylvania     Rhode Island     South Carolina     South Dakota

Tennessee     Texas     Utah     Vermont     Virginia     Washington     West Virginia     Wisconsin     Wyoming




[1] 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.

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

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

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

[5] For a 1994 estimate of the number of privately owned firearms, see Philip J. Cook and Jens Ludwig, Guns in America: Results of a Comprehensive National Survey on Firearms Ownership and Use, Police Foundation, p. 2. For data for subsequent years, see Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, Firearms Commerce in the United States, Annual Statistical Update 2015. Also see ATF’s estimate of 215 million guns in 1999 (“Crime Gun Trace Reports, 1999,” 11/00, p. ix, www.atf.gov/firearms/ycgii/1999/index.htm) and The National Academy of Sciences’ subsequent estimate of 258 million (National Research Council, “Firearms and Violence: A Critical Review,” National Academies Press, 2005).

[6]Note 4, Right-to-Carry fact sheet.

[7] John Lott et al, Concealed Carry Permit Holders Across the United States, Crime Prevention Research Center, July 13, 2015.

[8]See Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, Annual Firearms Manufacturers and Export Reports. To calculate the number of AR-15s requires knowledge of which manufacturers produce the rifles.

[9]See the FBI UCR Data Tool for years 1960 to 2012. See FBI, Crime in the United States 2014, Violent Crime Table 4 for 2013 and 2014. FBI data for the 1930s, 1940s, and 1950s, not available online, are on file with the NRA-ILA. See Claude Fischer, A Crime Puzzle, The Public Intellectual, May 2, 2011, for early murder rates.

[10]Roth, Koper, et al., “Impact Evaluation of the Public Safety and Recreational Firearms Use Protection Act of 1994,” 3/13/97, www.urban.org/url.cfm?ID=406797; Reedy, Koper, “Impact of handgun types on gun assault outcomes: a comparison of gun assaults involving semiautomatic pistols and revolvers,” Injury Prevention 2003, http://ip.bmjjournals.com/cgi/reprint/9/2/151; Koper et al., “Report to the National Institute of Justice, An Updated Assessment of the Federal Assault Weapons Ban: Impacts on Gun Markets and Gun Violence, 1994-2003,” 6/04, www.sas.upenn.edu/jerrylee/jlc-new/Research/Koper_aw_final.pdf; Wm. J. Krouse, Congressional Research Service Report for Congress, “Semiautomatic Assault Weapons Ban,” 12/16/04; Library of Congress, “Firearms Regulations in Various Foreign Countries,” 5/98, LL98-3, 97-2010; Task Force on Community Preventive Service, “First Reports Evaluating the Effectiveness of Strategies for Preventing Violence: Firearms Laws,” Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report, 10/03/03, www.cdc.gov/mmwr/preview/mmwrhtml/rr5214a2.htm; Nat’l. Research Council, “Firearms and Violence: A Critical Review,” Nat’l. Academies Press, 2005, http://books.nap.edu/books/0309091241/html/index.html.

[11]FBI, Crime in the United States 2014, Uniform Crime Reporting Statistics: Their Proper Use, pp. 1-2.


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