May 24, 2013

M.D. Harmon: Shooting holes in the belief that gun crimes are on the rise

Two research groups reveal that gun homicides have been falling ever since peaking in 1993.

Everyone knows that when the 1994 gun control law expired 10 years later, the number of gun crimes rose considerably, leading to today's much-higher-than-the-historic-average rates of criminal offenses with firearms.

Except for one thing: Everybody who "knows" that is wrong.

Two recent news releases, one from the federal Bureau of Justice Statistics and the other from the private Pew Research Center, show that gun homicides peaked in 1993 and have been dropping ever since.

This occurred even as the law limiting the sale of so-called "assault rifles" and high-capacity magazines came to an end.

And it occurred even as the population was growing, and even as gun sales skyrocketed in recent years, with millions of new firearms in private hands.

But as Pew reported, "Despite national attention to the issue of firearms violence, most Americans are unaware that gun crime is lower today than it was two decades ago."

Indeed, the center said, "Today, 56 percent of Americans believe gun crime is higher than 20 years ago and only 12 percent think it is lower."

Yet, the exact opposite is true. The BJS report says instead, "Firearm-related homicides declined 39 percent and nonfatal firearm crimes declined 69 percent from 1993 to 2011."

In addition, Pew reported, the rate of gun homicides fell from 7 per 100,000 people in 1993 to 3.6 in 2010, a drop of 49 percent. The rate of non-fatal gun crimes fell by around 70 percent in the same period, both studies reported.

But we all know, too, that those semi-automatic rifles that on the surface look like guns used by the military are the ones preferred by criminals, right?

Uh, no. The Bureau of Justice Statistics also reported, as J.D. Tuccile of Reason magazine wrote recently, such weapons, "of the sort targeted by Sen. (Dianne) Feinstein at the federal level and by new laws in Colorado, Connecticut and New York, make up a whopping 3.2 percent of the weapons possessed by federal inmates, and 2 percent of the weapons possessed by state inmates, at the time of their offense."

Instead, nearly all gun crimes are committed with handguns, and most of the deaths of juveniles involve inner-city gangs -- in the places where gun laws are strongest.

As Forbes contributor Larry Bell wrote May 14, "With the toughest gun laws in the nation, Chicago saw homicides jump to 513 in 2012, a 15 percent hike in a single year. The city's murder rate is 15.65 per 100,000 people, compared with 4.5 for the Midwest, and 5.6 for Illinois."

Of course, we all know that criminals buy their weapons at gun shows or in other private transactions.

Again, the Bureau of Justice Statistics shows that's in error.

The bureau said, "In 2004 (the most recent year of data available), among state prison inmates who possessed a gun at the time of the offense, fewer than 2 percent bought their firearm at a flea market or gun show. About 10 percent ... said they purchased it from a retail store or pawnshop, 37 percent obtained it from family or friends, and another 40 percent obtained it from an illegal source."

Golly. So much for the usefulness of expanding background checks by "closing the gun show loophole." (Presumably, most store purchases were made by people who could pass a background check, but then committed a crime with a gun they bought legally.)

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