The following report entitled “Gun Violence – Gun Possession – Gun Control” was sent to the Harford County Delegation and other government officials by County Council Vice- President Richard Slutzky. A copy was provided to The Dagger for publication.
GUN VIOLENCE – GUN POSSESSION – GUN CONTROL
COUNCILMAN RICHARD C. SLUTZKY
COUNTY COUNCIL OF HARFORD COUNTY, MARYLAND
As a result of recent events, the topics of gun violence, gun possession and gun control have reached the highest level of interest experienced for many years in the United States of America and much of the rest of the world.
Hundreds of columns in print and electronic media and thousands of hours of television and radio conversations have been dedicated to these topics. Federal, state and local governments are engaged in a flurry of activity hoping to effectively respond to the special interests and concerns surrounding gun violence, gun possession and gun control. The political arena, the general public and invested interest groups are lining up on different sides of the conversation.
Constitutional freedoms, public safety, national prestige and perception, as well as individual belief systems and agendas complicate the debate. Can federal, state or local legislation realistically ameliorate the perceived danger? Is it a social/cultural paradigm that must be changed to achieve success? Are the unintended consequences a greater risk than the initial problem?
Any interested observer must be alarmed by the obvious use of fantastic claims, hyperbole and supposition – by both sides in this debate – in order to justify their positions. There are thousands of pages of information and data available to anyone with the time and interest to attempt a serious analysis of the issues involving the topics of gun violence, gun possession and gun control in the USA and the state of Maryland. Research has been provided by independent academic institutions, government agencies and private interest organizations like the National Rifle Association (NRA) and the Brady Center and Foundation (BCF). However, it appears that many private citizens and public figures marching in protests and speaking on news talk shows or from behind political podiums haven’t taken the time to research the available information and data. Perhaps they just don’t care to present what the data suggests.
Extensive statistical data and other information is available from the US Department of Justice, the FBI Crime Statistics, the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime, the National Academy of Science, the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, the University of Chicago American Law and Economics Association and the Stanford Law Review 2003, just to name a few. Almost one hundred books have been published on the topics of concern along with hundreds of articles in newspapers and magazines from around the country.
I have spent a significant amount of time reviewing information and data from many of the sources listed above and others. However, I claim no expertise on the subject and my only interest is to share what I have learned with my colleagues and other interested parties. Like almost anyone who chooses to participate in this debate, I have a personal bias which may influence this brief report but I have tried to fairly present the information and data included here.
It is not my intent to copy pages of charts, graphs or data. I will try to summarize pertinent information, provide my understanding of conclusions made and cite the sources, enabling the reader to look up the material and analyze it for themselves and come to their own conclusions.
My biggest concern at this time is an emotional rush to judgment based on half-truths and poor science that is politically motivated and has little chance to significantly influence the desired results.
A BRIEF ANALYSIS OF GUN VIOLENCE – GUN POSSESSION – GUN CONTROL
The following analysis of gun issues revolves around several related areas of interest listed below. I believe that by providing information and data on these areas of interest, a clearer picture about gun violence will appear and more thoughtful conclusions will emerge. Hopefully government policy decisions will evolve that represent true understanding of the cause and effect of gun violence and allow for positive remediation to occur.
1. Homicide Rates in the USA and Other Nations
2. Violent Gun Rates in the USA and Maryland
3. Influences Affecting Violent Crime Rates
4. Firearm Possession and Distribution in the USA
5. Crime by Legal and Illegal Firearms
6. Effect on Gun Violence Related to Gun Possession
7. 2nd Amendment Considerations and Court Decisions
8. Influence of Federal and State Gun laws on Gun Crime
1. Homicide Rates in the USA and Other Nations:
The primary resource for this section is the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime 2010 report. This information must be considered with a healthy skepticism. Methods and definitions used by various nations to track “homicide” rates differ considerably. A death defined as a homicide in one country may not be labeled a homicide in another. Certainly, the ability and motivation to carefully and accurately collect and report homicide statistics varies greatly. For example, both Iraq and Afghanistan reported homicide rates in 2010 of 2.0 per 100,000 (100k) and 2.4 per 100k, respectively. These rates are comparable to many of the safest nations in the world, just slightly higher than Canada – the safest rated nation in the Western Hemisphere.
In 2010, the USA ranked as the 4th safest out of 30 nations reporting in the western hemisphere with a rate of 4.2/100k. Argentina ranked 3rd at 3.4/100k, Chile ranked 2nd at 3.1/100k and Canada ranked 1st at 1.8/100k. The reporting of both Argentina and Chile should be considered with a grain of salt. Honduras reported the highest homicide rate with 91.6/100k. Most of the other South American and Central American countries reported rates 5 to 15 times higher than the USA. These rates make Central and South America the 2nd and 3rd most dangerous regions in the world behind Africa. It must be mentioned here that reporting in many middle and eastern Asian countries is dubious.
The USA rate of 4.2/100k in the 2010 report reflects a substantial DECREASE in the homicide rate by more than 50 percent since 1993. Western Europe and Pacific Island nations reported the lowest homicide rates in the world, many reporting only a fraction of 1/100k. A majority of these Western European nations have a population far less than just the 10 largest cities in the USA alone. In the latest report, the USA counted over 315 million people, making the USA the 3rd largest nation in the world by far. The USA has 10 cities with populations that range between 1 million and more than 8 million which is far more than any nation in Western Europe. The USA also has dozens of cities with populations that range between 500,000 and 1 million. These dense urban population centers will be an important consideration later in this report when considering influences on violent crime.
2. Violent Crime rates in the USA and Maryland:
The primary resources for this section are the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime, the Congressional Research Service and the FBI Crime Statistics.
The United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) reported in 2009 that 66.9 percent of all homicides in the USA were committed by firearms. In 2010, two-thirds of all gun deaths in the USA were suicides: 19,392 (63.6 percent) of the 30,470 deaths. Homicides accounted for 11,078 (36.6 percent) of gun deaths.
During the 1980s and the early 1990s, homicide rates in the USA rose to one of the highest levels in the modern era. Handguns accounted for most homicides at that time and murder by other weapons declined. In 2005, the FBI reported that the highest per capita rates for homicide were in Washington, DC (35.4/100k), Puerto Rico (19.6/100k), Louisiana (9.9/100k) and MARYLAND (9.9/100k). It is fair to say that since 2008, DC has experienced a significant reduction in homicides; however, DC still has one of the highest rates in the country.
MARYLAND, the wealthiest per capita in the nation (number one in education for the last five years) and a state with some of the strictest gun control laws in the nation has one of the highest gun murder rates in the nation. In 2011, MARYLAND had 398 homicides reported with 272 by firearms – the vast majority handguns. Baltimore City had 199 murders reported with 150 as the result of guns.
Since the 1980s, MARYLAND – as well as most of the nation – has experienced significant reductions in the homicide rate. The 2011 rate of 398 murders is approximately 25 percent lower than in 1984 while the population in the state has increased by almost 1.5 million. However, when counting the rates in DC, Puerto Rico and all 50 states, MARYLAND’s violent crime rate still ranks in the top 6 in the country.
According to FBI statistics, Baltimore City is the major contributor to MARYLAND’S high violent crime rate, accounting for 50 percent of all murders in the 24 jurisdictions in Maryland. Baltimore City represents about 11 percent of MARYLAND’S population and is responsible for half the violent crime.
3. Influences Affecting Violent Crime Rates:
The primary resources for this section are the US Department of Justice and FBI Crime statistics.
In the 1980s and 1990s, a great deal of research was undertaken regarding the background and circumstances of violent criminals. Surging violent crime rates, including homicide, were investigated which showed violent crime rates were highest among the low income and unemployed male populations, particularly youths, Hispanic and African-American males.
Injury and death rates tripled for black males aged 13 through 17 and doubled for black males aged 18 through 24. Violent crime and homicides were concentrated in low-income urban areas at a rate almost twice that of non-metropolitan regions. FBI statistics reported in Wikipedia’s free encyclopedia indicate that that trend continues. In 2005, 14 through 19 year olds were responsible for 11.2 percent of all killed by firearms and for 10.6 percent of all homicides. The 20 through 24 year olds were responsible for 22.5 percent of all killed by guns and committed 17.7 percent of the murders by firearms. This group comprised only 7.1 percent of the population. Youth’s between 13 and 16 accounted for 3.6 percent of gun homicides. Almost 32 percent of all homicides in 2005 were committed by those between the ages of 13 and 24.
Another major indicator for violent crime is prior criminal experience. Individuals who have prior criminal records are victimized at a very high rate, most often by others who have prior criminal records. Between 1990 and 1994 in the city of Boston, 75 percent of all homicide victims were 21 years old or younger with prior records. In Philadelphia, the rate of those with criminal records killed by guns in 1985 was 73 percent and rose to 93 percent in 1996. In Richmond, VA, the risk of gunshot injury was 22 times higher for those with prior criminal records.
Between 1980 and 1993, arguably the greatest influences on violent crime were drug use and drug trafficking along with the increase in gang culture associated with the drug trade. The crack cocaine epidemic raging at that time was the primary contributor. FBI statistics and police department data from around the country indicate that gang-related activity and the drug trade were, and probably still are, the single largest cause for homicide in the USA. Recent public statements by Baltimore City Police leadership suggest that gang violence between a few notorious gangs, often related to drug turf wars, is responsible for most gun homicides in Baltimore City. It is reasonable to conclude that this same scenario plays out in many large cities across the nation.
The other side of the coin is to consider those developments that occurred between 1994 and present that influenced a remarkable decline in violent crime and homicide in the USA. In the past 20 years, the homicide rate in the USA has dropped about 50 percent from 9.8/100k in the early 1990s to less than 5/100k in 2012. Although not always consistent, this decline has been sustained for more than 20 years. Criminologists like James Alan Fox at Northeastern University tell us that “we are indeed a safer nation than 20 years ago because the pattern transcends cities and US regions.” Different experts will favor one or two reasons for the decline in violence in the country but most agree that several developments have contributed to the pattern and we can expect them to continue if practices are maintained and enhanced. The following list includes most of the practices and conditions that have resulted in the 50 percent violent crime decline:
1. More effective policing across the nation as a result of improved strategies, innovative technology and more police with better training and education on the streets in many areas
2. The decrease in the crack cocaine epidemic
3. More convictions for violent behavior and other serious crimes resulting in longer prison terms, keeping the bad guys off the streets
4. The aging of America has reduced the population in the age groups most responsible for crime
5. Better technology to secure firearms and increased safety features
6. Improved education in many states and cities across the nation providing better access to employment for many
7. Dr. Steven Levitt, of the University of Chicago, has suggested that the 1973 Supreme Court ruling on abortion has reduced the number of unwanted births and unmarried mothers, resulting in less youth raised in unhealthy environments that breed crime
8. A few experts and criminologists believe that increases in “right to carry” an open or concealed gun has contributed to the decline in violence.
There are those who would like to add other developments to this list of influences that have resulted in a sustained crime decline and there are those who would suggest that some don’t belong on the list. I believe the list offered above includes many of the causes for a 20-year crime decline presented in the germane literature. The considerations dealing with the influence of gun control and gun possession as they relate to “right to carry” laws will be discussed in detail later in the report.
Recent polls have revealed that most Americans believe that violent crime has been increasing. When considering the horrific events that receive tremendous media coverage for weeks at a time it is hard for them to believe that violent crime is indeed substantially down in the USA and Maryland. There needs to be a better media campaign to impress the public with the facts.
4. Firearm Possession and Distribution in the USA
The primary resources for this section are surveys reported by the General Social Survey (GSS), the National Survey on Private Ownership and Use of Firearms (NSPOF) and research published by Gary Klech, Criminology Professor, Florida State University assisted by researcher E. Britt Patterson.
Firearm ownership and use estimates reported by various surveys from different time periods and regions of the country are often controversial. Citizens contacted by survey organizations may not always want to provide truthful information about gun ownership and use.
Estimates of gun ownership in the USA, outside of the military, range from 190 million to over 300 million on surveys done at different times and by different organizations using diverse methods. In 1997, a survey by the GSS reported that 40 percent of Americans had a gun in their home and in 2004 they reported that 36.5 percent of American homes had at least one firearm. This was down 46 percent from the 1989 report. This data equates to 44 million gun owners in the USA, or 25 percent of all adults owning at least one firearm. The survey determined that these owners possess 192 million total guns: 65 million being handguns and remaining 127 million being some type on long gun, rifle, shotgun, etc. The NSPOF survey in 1994 agreed with the ownership number of 192 million and estimated 36 percent were rifles, 26 percent were shotguns and 4 percent other long guns, leaving 44 percent as handguns. Gun ownership in the 1970s and most of the 1980s was calculated between 45 and 50 percent.
These numbers indicate that about 25 percent of adults possessed a firearm and many owned more than one. Gun ownership varies across the nation by region; the lowest rate of ownership was about 25 percent in the Northeastern region and highest rate was 60 percent in the Eastern-South Central region. Guns were owned by 44 percent of men and by 33 percent of the women. Those living in rural areas owned 56 percent of the guns while suburban ownership was 40 percent and city dwellers owned 29 percent of the guns.
Criminologist Gary Klech, Florida State University, criticized GSS and other proxy surveys on gun ownership for not providing details that would allow for more accurate conclusions about gun ownership and gun violence. Klech studied various surveys and proxy measures and found NO correlation between gun ownership and gun violence.
Gun possession in the USA is often compared with gun ownership in other regions of the world and with individual nations. All indicators point to the fact that the USA has the largest number of firearms in the hands of private citizens of any nation in the world. However, the USA does NOT have the highest household rate of gun possession. That distinction belongs to Switzerland, a nation with a militia-military system. In Switzerland, every mentally and physically healthy adult receives some level of military training. They maintain an army base of 220,000 men and women with 135,000 on active duty at a time. There are 5,000 professional soldiers who lead the conscripts and volunteers.
Most all of the military equipment and weapons used for defense of the nation are placed in the homes of healthy and trained adults, resulting in almost all homes in Switzerland being armed with military weapons. This is arguably the highest household firearm possession rate in the world, an important consideration as Switzerland reports one of the lowest homicide rates in the world.
5. Crime by Legal and Illegal Firearms:
The primary resources for this section are research performed by the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF), the Department of Justice and the National Academy of Science – Justice Department.
In 1999, ATF released a report stating that 0.4 percent of all federally licensed dealers sold half of the guns used criminally in 1996-97. These guns were often obtained through a “straw purchase.” New laws since 2000 have considerably reduced the opportunity for a “straw purchase” of a firearm. Nearly 500,000 guns are stolen each year in the USA. In order to develop effective strategies to respond to gun violence, it is essential to determine the source of the weapons causing the crime. Research undertaken by ATF in studies from 1985 until 2000 clearly identifies the status of most weapons used by criminals in violent crime.
ATF tracking methods determined that among the youth, only about 18 percent of the guns used illegally are in possession of the original owner, indicating that many were traded, sold or given away illegally within the criminal community.
Juvenile offenders age 18 or under who were surveyed while inside correctional facilities indicated 86 percent of the population owned a gun, with 66 percent acquiring their first gun at age 14. Of the juveniles who responded, 65 percent owned three or more guns. These juveniles acquired their firearms ILLEGALLY, most often from family, friends, drug dealers or street contacts. In Rochester, NY, 22 percent of young males carried a gun ILLEGALLY.
Almost all juvenile gun crime was committed with handguns, and considering that Federal law prohibits the sale of a handgun to anyone under the age of 21 it can be assumed that guns used in these crimes were obtained illegally. The Justice Department released a study on gun possession by inmates in federal facilities which determined that few guns used by adult criminals were acquired LEGALLY from licensed retail outlets. Almost 80 percent of the inmates interviewed obtained their guns ILLEGALLY; less than 9 percent were acquired from retail outlets and 0.7 percent came from GUN SHOWS.
A study published in 2004 by the National Academy of Science undertaken by a panel established during the Clinton Administration and chaired by Professor Charles F. Wellford, Department of Criminology and Criminal Justice at the University of Maryland concluded that they could find NO evidence that government restrictions on firearms reduces violent crime. A Justice Department study referred to above also suggested that background checks at gun shows would do little to keep guns out of the hands of criminals. This study also showed that look-alike so-called “assault weapons” are not a major cause of gun violence. Only 8 percent of federal inmates interviewed had ever used a model covered in the “assault-weapon” classification.
It is reasonable to conclude from the data available that adults who obtain firearms from LEGAL and LICENSED dealers or outlets and who are LEGALLY permitted and LEGALLY licensed to possess or carry a firearm are responsible for only a very small fraction of criminal gun violence. The vast majority of gun violence and homicides are committed by persons who obtain, possess and carry weapons ILLEGALLY.
6. Effect of Gun Violence Related to Gun Possession:
In consideration of the data, information and opinions presented in the five areas of interest preceding this topic, it is now a good time to address perhaps the most conspicuous argument in the gun violence debate. This topic may best be framed by asking this question: does increased ownership and rights to carry firearms help to prevent violent crime or do these conditions cause more violent crime and homicide?
This very controversial area of the gun debate has generated a great deal of interest, conversation and research over the course of the past 15-20 years. Proponents of stricter gun control laws claim that this is the solution to reducing gun violence and homicide. Those who favor more relaxed gun laws, particularly relating to “right to carry” concerns, argue that this is a major contributor to the declining violent crime and homicide rates.
Agencies and organizations including the Brady Center, Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, Johns Hopkins Center for Gun Policy and Research and the Stanford Law Review have published research and data they believe support the position that fewer guns and stricter gun laws may help reduce gun violence.
The NRA, the National Research Center, Professor Thomas R. Baker of VA Commonwealth University, Professor Gary Klech of Florida State University’s Department of Criminology, ATF and FBI Crime Statistics, John Lott, Jr. of University of Chicago School of Law and David B. Mustard of University of Chicago Economics Department are among the agencies and academics that believe research indicates that restrictions on gun possession have little or no effect on violent crime and that the increased right to carry laws in recent years have been responsible for helping to drive down the rate of gun violence and homicide in the US.
Perhaps the one area that seems to be consistent for both sides of the debate is that more comprehensive, academic and independent research needs to be done in order to have strong confidence about conclusions.
Public comments have been made at the highest levels of our federal and state government that there is no time to pursue more research on the topic of gun violence. This mentality suggests a rush to judgment for political reasons at the cost of creating a result that may be ineffective at solving the problem. It is time for good science performed by independent academic institutions that are not connected to or funded by agencies that have a biased agenda.
7. Second Amendment Consideration and Court Decisions:
In the middle of the 1700s, as our forefathers prepared to revolt against tyrannical authority, they were well aware of the history of national governments. At that time and throughout history, most nations were and had been ruled by tyrannical dictatorships; benevolent governments were an uncommon anomaly. Nations had been controlled by royal monarchs, emperors, czars, potentates, supreme military commanders and religious zealots, including Popes, some of whom claimed they were descendants from God. In almost all cases these leaders controlled the wealth and the military and possessed the power of life and death over their citizens. Our founding fathers also understood that nationhood was most often achieved by military conquest. It was with this knowledge that our founding fathers determined to create a unique form of government that would not accommodate tyrannical leadership and would provide the citizenry the opportunity to resist external conquest and internal power grabs.
The second amendment is the cornerstone of America’s ability to resist external conquest and retain a representative government by the people. This contention is clearly documented by the history of events in the United States of America and Western Europe since the time of American independence. We must ask the question: has the USA ever been successfully invaded by a foreign power or has its government been overthrown from within? Obviously, the answer is NO. But that is not the case for almost all Western European nations and many others throughout the world during this same time frame. Napoleon became the Supreme Emperor of France with unfettered authority; Kaiser Wilhelm and Adolf Hitler obtained dictatorial power in Germany and invaded most of Western Europe; Benito Mussolini seized power in Italy; and Francisco Franco became the dictator of Spain. The argument can be made that if it had not been for the military and industrial ability of the USA many of these nations might still be part of a German Empire. As recently detailed on the History Channel, Japan’s leadership made a conscious decision to attack Pearl Harbor and not the US mainland because there were too many arms in the hands of American citizens.
It was not the intent of the framers of our Constitution to allow American citizens the right to bear arms for hunting reasons or for sporting opportunities. America’s freedom is guaranteed by the fact that American citizens can defend themselves from tyranny in whatever form and that they must be allowed the opportunity to defend their person and home from those who live beyond the law.
For those who are not aware, I will bring to your attention circumstances relevant to this conversation that have recently developed in Australia. A year ago, gun owners in Australia were forced to surrender 640,381 personal firearms which the government destroyed. The results of this government action since the confiscation in Australia are homicides are up 6.2 percent country-wide, assaults are up 9.6 percent and robberies are up 44 percent. In the state of Victoria alone homicides are up 300 percent. Yes, law-abiding citizens turned in their guns but the criminals did not. Prior to the government confiscation of guns, Australia had experienced a 25 percent decrease in armed robbery. This has changed drastically since the criminals have figured out that their prey is unarmed. Australian politicians are at a loss to explain how this could have happened after they took the guns from law-abiding citizens. Don’t think this can’t happen here. You won’t see this on the evening news or discussed by Piers Morgan.
In the United States, recent Supreme Court decisions and other federal court decisions are having some influence on the gun violence debate. In 2008, the Supreme Court acted to clarify the meaning of the 2nd Amendment in District of Columbia v. Heller. In that case the Supreme Court invalidated the firearms ban that had been in effect in DC. Since that decision DC gun crime rates continue to decline. In 2010, the Supreme Court ruled in the case of McDonald v. Chicago and found that the decision made in the DC case applied to Chicago as well.
In 2012, Judge Benson E. Legg, Baltimore US District Court, ruled that the “good and substantial” clause in Maryland’s gun carry law was unconstitutional. Later in 2012, that ruling was appealed by the Maryland Attorney General and Governor Martin O’Malley to the Federal Appeals Court for the 4th District in Richmond, VA. That case was heard a few months back but as of now no decision has been rendered.
It is almost certain that decisions made in local, state and federal legislation that are presently being bandied about will be subject to existing court decisions, and cases that will be brought forward as a result of legislative decisions can be anticipated in the near future.
8. Influence of Federal and State Gun Laws on Gun Crime:
Since the assassination of President John F. Kennedy there have been a series of laws passed on the federal and state levels directed at gun control. The Gun Control Act of 1968 regulated gun commerce by restricting mail order gun sales and allowing shipment only to licensed dealers. The Firearm Owners Protection Act (McClure-Volkmer Act) was passed in 1986 and changed some of the provisions of the 1968 act allowing gun sales at gun shows, restricted ATF inspections, reduced record keeping and changed restrictions on convicted felons from owning firearms, etc. The Brady Handgun Violence Protection Act passed in 1993 imposed a waiting period before purchasing a handgun and required a national system for criminal background checks. The Violent Crime and Gun Control and Law Enforcement Act enacted in 1994 included the federal assault weapons ban which restricted manufacture and importation of some semiautomatic firearms with certain features and magazines holding more than ten rounds.
In the 1990s, “right to carry” laws expanded, including laws applying to open carry and concealed carry opportunities. By 2012, 41 states have enacted some form of concealed carry weapon (CCW) laws. Various experts have evaluated the effect of the CCW laws and different conclusions have been presented. John Lott’s studies concluded that the impression that more potential crime victims might be armed resulted in reduced rates of violent gun crime. Others like Jens Ludwig did not agree with the Lott analysis and concluded that such laws resulted in increased assaults. The 2004 National Academy of Science research found that available data “are too weak to support unambiguous conclusions” about the impact of right to carry laws on violent crime.
It seems reasonable to conclude that there is not enough solid science on either side of the argument about the cause and effect of gun violence and its relationship to gun ownership to make educated decisions. It is politically attractive after horrific events to say that it is “common sense” to think that the more guns there are in society, and the more people allowed to carry guns, results in more gun violence. Available data and science just does not support this kind of thinking and should not be the logic used to justify legislation on gun matters.
Case in point, after the so-called assault weapons ban was rescinded in 2004, the sale of firearms increased significantly, obviously putting many more guns into society. The number of Americans with permits to carry concealed weapons also increased dramatically from 2004 to present. However, at the same time the violent crime rate in the US continued to decline significantly. It is difficult to reconcile the simple concept that more people with more guns is the major contributor to more violent crime.
A recent Gallup Poll released January, 14, 2013 indicated that 38 percent of those surveyed supported stricter gun control laws. This is up considerably from surveys in past years. This is understandable considering the horrific tragedy at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Connecticut and the intense news media coverage and political response to it. However, 48 percent of those surveyed supported keeping gun laws the same or relaxing these laws.
The idea that Americans are now in support of across the board stricter gun control laws is not substantiated. Many Americans do support certain specific changes that they believe may help make citizens safer; some of these can be supported by existing data and others cannot. Legislation and proactive efforts to improve medical assistance for mental health conditions may go a long way toward improving violent crime rates. For those requesting carry permits, developing efficient, convenient and unobtrusive systems to do criminal and mental health background checks which would be consistent in all states and jurisdictions could be effective. Having realistic and consistent waiting periods and training requirements for handgun carry permits has merit.
Most available data indicates that restrictions on so-called assault weapons will have very little if any effect on reducing violent gun crimes. There may be some small benefit to limiting magazine capacity in certain situations. Trying to require permits to purchase most long guns will have almost no effect on violent crime. In 2011, only eight homicides out of 398 in Maryland were committed with long guns and three were by shotguns.
Attempts to correlate the number of guns in private possession with increased rates of gun violence are not supported by available data. Gun possession rates in Switzerland per household far exceed those of the US and their homicide rate is less than half of that for the USA. Obviously other social, cultural and demographic considerations are involved. Residents of rural areas of the country own 56 percent of the guns and account for the smallest fraction of gun homicides. In Maryland, about 54 percent of all gun homicides in 2011 were committed in the City of Baltimore which makes up about 11 percent of Maryland’s population. The available data tell us that across the nation, gun ownership is 29 percent in cities, the smallest percent by jurisdiction, and the larger cities are responsible for over half the gun homicides.
Data on the ability to carry a concealed weapon or to openly carry a handgun inform us that this opportunity does not correlate to increased gun violence. Gun violence rates in New York City – where there are some of the most, if not the most, restrictive carry laws in the country – are declining at a rate that is very similar to the city of Houston, TX where there are some of the most liberal gun carry laws in the nation. This dynamic is consistent across the country.
Many of what the public perceives to be useful preventative programs for violent crime cannot be supported by empirical data. Many such programs are highly publicized by police departments and elected officials but often achieve a result opposite of what is presented. Take gun buyback programs for example.
Research indicates that the guns surrendered in these programs tend to be the least likely to be used in crime and are often of poor quality; many don’t function at all, others are antiques and in many cases they are weapons for which ammunition is no longer available. Many come from law-abiding citizens who received a gun from relatives in wills or received a hunting gun years ago that was hardly ever used. Criminals often take the money received from turning in a useless weapon and use the money to help buy a better weapon on the street.
For those truly interested in responding to gun violence, they should be concentrating their efforts on the conditions that cause the greatest part of the problem. They need to address the cause and effect of poverty and unemployment in inner cities such as Baltimore. Efforts need to be directed at disenfranchisement and dysfunction in many inner city public school systems. Intense, systematic and aggressive intervention in gang-related activity and the drug culture is essential and we need to go after illegal guns with more aggressive prosecution and stricter prison consequences. Going after law-abiding legal gun owners is NOT the solution.
A large majority of Americans take their Second Amendment rights very seriously and will resist government attempts to weaken or circumvent these constitutional rights. The public will look poorly on legislative grandstanding which will have no realistic chance to effect gun violence; citizens recognize a rush to judgment precipitated by political expediency and will remember it.
Over 2000 years ago, the ancient Roman philosopher Cicero said, “if our lives are endangered by plots of violence or armed robbers or enemies, any and every method of protecting ourselves is morally right.” I passionately believe that this pronouncement holds true today.