“The only thing that stops a bad guy with a gun is a good guy with a gun.” – Wayne LaPierre
What comes to mind when you hear the word gun? Depending on which part of the country or which side of the political divide you live in, very different images might come to mind. Some might picture a feeling of security and power or think of the safety of their family or their property. Others might imagine a criminal with a firearm hurting innocent people.
Most of the time when we hear about guns on the news, it is in the context of crimes so it’s natural to subconsciously link guns to crime in our minds. Sure, criminals often use guns to commit their crimes but the interesting thing is that what stops those criminals and prevents those crimes from happening are also guns. And not just in the hands of the police! Civilians carrying guns are known to be a major deterrent to crime.
In this article we’ll look at how introducing gun laws (both banning and allowing guns) relates to the rate of crimes particularly homicides. We’ll consider data on 2 major cities and 3 different states in the United States to see whether the two things relate or not.
The state of crimes in US
In an ideal world, there would be no crimes and no need for guns. However, we do not live in an ideal world. Thousands of crimes continue to occur every day. And you know what else isn’t ideal? The criminal justice system. Not every crime gets solved. Not every criminal is convicted. Not every victim gets justice.
Here are a few sobering facts to consider.
- According to a 2018 report from the FBI, the following are the percentage of crimes for which a perpetrator is identified and acted upon by the criminal justice system.
- 53% aggravated assaults,
- 30% robberies,
- 33% rapes, and
- 62% murders.
- The percentage of murders that result in suspects being identified and acted upon by the criminal justice system dropped from 92% in 1960 to 62% in 2018.
- 185,000 murders committed in the U.S. from the year 1980 to 2008 were still unsolved as of 2010.
It is also found that a huge majority of violent crimes are committed by repeat offenders, including convicted felons that go back to a life of crime after release from prison.
- According to a 2014 U.S. Justice Department study on 404,638 felons released from state prisons in 2005, within 5 years of their release 77% were arrested again for a new crime, and 29% for a new violent offense. The numbers of new crimes for which these convicts were arrested are:
- 3,642 murders
- 6,879 rapes/sexual assaults
- 22,255 new robberies
- 93,067 assaults
Guns Laws and Bans vs. Crime Rate
For three decades Washington, DC had one of the strictest gun laws in the United States until they were repealed by the Supreme Court. On September 24, 1976, the Washington, DC, City Council passed the Firearms Control Regulations Act of 1975. This law prohibited residents from possessing and acquiring handguns, automatic firearms, and semi-automatic firearms. The only exceptions were for police officers and guns registered before 1976. In addition, the law also required guns kept at homes to be unloaded, disassembled, or installed with a trigger lock. This was essentially preventing the use of guns for self-defense at home.
On June 26, 2008, in the historic case of District of Columbia v. Heller, the Supreme Court, in a 5 to 4 ruling, determined that the ban violated the Second Amendment and was therefore unconstitutional.
The following graph shows the murder rates in Washington, DC before, during, and after this ban compared with those of the entire US.
The city of Chicago placed a ban on handguns in 1982, which prohibited citizens from possessing handguns excepting those registered before 1982. The pre-registered guns had to be re-registered every two years. At least five suburbs around Chicago put in place similar bans on handguns. After the 2008 Supreme Court ruling against the handgun ban in DC, four of the suburbs lifted their bans.
In June 2010, the Supreme Court ruled that the gun ban in Chicago is unconstitutional. After the ruling, the city of Chicago adopted ordinances that required licensed gun owners to have firearm range training. At the same time, firing ranges were prohibited within the city. After a federal court ruling, the city allowed firing ranges within the city subject to regulations. However, there are no fire ranges in the city limits as of 2020.
Another court decision impacting gun possession in Chicago came in December 2012 when a Federal Appellate court ruled that a law in the state of Illinois banning concealed carrying of firearms was unconstitutional. The next year in July, Illinois allowed the concealed carrying of guns by law. About 91,700 concealed carry permits were given in Illinois out of which 26% were in Cook County where Chicago also lies.
The following graph illustrates how the murder rates in Chicago varied before, during, and after these laws compared with those of the country.
Right-to-carry laws allow citizens who meet the set criteria (background check and gun safety course) to carry “concealed” guns in public. Each state has its own right-to-carry laws.
Florida’s right-to-carry law became effective on October 1, 1987. According to this law gun licensees must be 21 years old or above, have no criminal or mental health records, and complete a firearms training course.
By the end of November, 209, Florida had issued over 4.39 million gun permits and had over 2 million active gun licenses. This makes for about 13% of the population in Florida.
In the time periods before and after the law, the murder rates in Florida compared with those in the country are shown by the following graph.
In January of 1996, the right-to-carry law became effective in Texas. According to this law, the licensees must be 21 years or above or 18 years and above for veterans or members of armed forces, have no criminal or mental health records, and complete a gun proficiency course and exam. By the end of 2018, Texas had 1.36 million active licenses which makes up about 7% of the state’s population.
The murder rates in Florida before and after this law are represented in the figure below.
The right-to-carry law became effective in Michigan on July 1, 2001. According to this law the gun licensees must be at least 18 years old (or 21 if purchasing from a licensed dealer), have a clean criminal and mental health record, and complete a pistol safety course.
The following figure shows the murder rates in Michigan before and after this law as they compare with the entire United States.
The figures presented above depict a clear correlation between gun possession and the decline of murder rates in the states of Florida, Texas, and Michigan. When citizens were allowed to keep guns the rate of crime declined because people had the option to use guns in self-defense. Even when a relatively small percentage of the population carried guns, the rate of homicides declined overall.
Similarly gun bans in Washington and Chicago have a strong correlation with the rise in murder rates in those cities. Without gun use for self-defense the rates of murder rose until the bans were repealed.