More Guns, Less Crime

Mark Perry, Carpe Diem:

The chart above was inspired by a similar one featured by in his recent Wonkblog post titled “We’ve had a massive decline in gun violence in the United States. Here’s why.” In contrast to the widely embraced narrative, perpetuated by liberal politicians and the media, that gun violence in America is getting worse all the time, the data reveal that the exact opposite is true. According to data retrieved from the Centers for Disease Control, there were 7 firearm-related homicides for every 100,000 Americans in 1993 (see light blue line in chart). By 2013 (most recent year available), the gun homicide rate had fallen by nearly 50% to only 3.6 homicides per 100,000 population.

Ehrenfreund says that “Even as a certain type of mass shooting is apparently becoming more frequent, America has become a much less violent place. Much of the decline in violence is still unexplained, but researchers have identified several reasons for the shift.” He then points to factors explaining the decline in violent crime in general and gun homicides in particular, including more police officers on the beat making greater use of computers, a decline in alcohol consumption, less lead exposure, and an improving economy.

But there’s another possible reason for the decline in gun violence overlooked by Ehrenfreund – the significant increase in the number of guns in America , illustrated above by the dark blue line in the chart. Based on data from a 2012 Congressional Research Service (CRS) report (and additional data from another Wonkblog article “There are now more guns than people in the United States“), the number of privately owned firearms in US increased from about 185 million in 1993 to 357 million in 2013. Adjusted for the US population, the number of guns per American increased from 0.93 per person in 1993 to 1.45 in 2013, which is a 56% increase in the number of guns per person that occurred during the same period when gun violence decreased by 49% (see new chart above). Of course, that significant correlation doesn’t necessarily imply causation, but it’s logical to believe that those two trends are related. After all, armed citizens frequently prevent crimes from happening, including gun-related homicides, see hundreds of examples here of law-abiding gun owners defending themselves and their families and homes.

Yes, armed citizens frequently prevent crimes. They also frequently stop crimes in progress. Gary Kleck of Florida State University has studied this for over 3 decades and has consistently found that Americans use a gun to stop a criminal attack as many as 3 million times annually. The most interesting thing he has found is that in over 95% of the attacks no shots are fired. That’s because the criminal often breaks off the attack and runs away when the armed citizen presents a gun.

Crime is deterred even in cases where no criminal attack occurs because criminals are made wary by the knowledge that many citizens are armed but because the gun is concealed the criminal has no way to know who is and who is not armed.

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