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Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Why Have Murder Rates Gone Down? Not Because Of Gun Control

A short time after Washington, DC liberalized its gun laws – some of the most restrictive in the nation – I was surprised to find that the most registered guns were in one of the wealthiest and most crime-free ZIP codes of the city; and that the most crime-ridden areas had far fewer.  It only took me a few minutes to realize that only law-abiding citizens register their guns, and the rest buy them illegally.

The DC homicide rate for guns is the highest in the nation; and is also tops for robberies with guns. At the same time, violent crime is down by 50 percent since 1995, a trend which has been seen in other major metropolitan areas as well.  In other words, illegal guns are still very much a part of life in DC, but the city is far safer than it was almost twenty years ago.

David Brooks (New York Times 3.26.13) has suggested that the reason murder rates and other violent crimes have decreased has nothing to do with gun control.  The number of guns has actually gone up over the same period during which violence has gone down.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention did an analysis of 51 studies of a series of gun control regulations. It could not find evidence to prove the effectiveness of gun control laws. A 2012 study conducted at Arizona State University and the University of Cincinnati found that waiting periods and background checks had little statistical effect on gun crimes.

Brooks suggests that the reduction in violence is due to a range of other factors, and that the focus on guns, gun control, and gun crimes has diverted attention from far more important measures for public safety.

Over the last 25 years, American authorities have tried to interrupt that killing chain at almost every link except one. In a hodgepodge but organic manner, there have been vast changes in proactive policing, mentoring programs, gang eradication programs, incarceration rates, cultural attitudes and so on. The only step in the killing chain that we haven’t really touched is gun acquisition. Federal gun control laws have become more permissive over the last several years.

This de facto approach — influencing the whole killing chain except gun acquisition — has nonetheless contributed to a phenomenal decline in violence. Murder rates over all have fallen by about 50 percent, back to levels not seen since the Kennedy administration. There are thousands of people alive today because homicide rates dropped so precipitously.

One of the most effective measures adopted by many cities – DC and Boston in particular – is to deploy police to areas which experience the most violent crimes.

As can be seen from this map, almost all homicides occur east of Rock Creek Park, and especially in the neighborhoods in Anacostia and Congress Heights; and the MPD is convinced that its more visible and muscular presence in these areas has reduced the crime rate.  This phenomenon is not restricted to DC:

For example, as Heather Mac Donald of City Journal, published by the Manhattan Institute, points out, 75 percent of the shootings in Boston over the past 30 years have occurred in 4.5 percent of its area, while 88.5 percent of the city’s street segments had not had a single shooting. So how can we focus police resources on those few areas that host most of the killing?

Why this obvious, targeted approach was not used in the past is because of politics.  Past DC Administrations did not want to ‘stigmatize’ the majority black populations in these areas and was concerned that pictures of cops (especially white and Latino ones) searching, questioning, and arresting black residents would smack of South African apartheid.  Liberal whites were concerned about what they saw as constitutional issues associated with aggressive policing in minority neighborhoods.  The ACLU recently objected to successful ‘Jump Out’ squads deployed in high-crime areas of Wilmington, DE for these same reasons.  Targeted police action in majority black neighborhoods is tantamount to the racial profiling of an entire group, critics say. .

It is clear that gun control is not likely to happen any time soon. We are a gun-loving nation and we are attached to our guns for practical, economic, and ideological reasons.  Not only do we legitimately use guns to hunt, for self-defense, and for pastime; gun ownership, as enshrined in the Second Amendment, is a political statement; and in the mind of many is the last bastion of individual liberty. 

Not only that, but as the CDC statistics indicate, there is no correlation between gun control and murder.  As I have shown in the case of DC, the most draconian rules in the nation have done nothing to curb gun-related violence.

Past efforts to control guns have not dramatically reduced violence. The Gun Control Act of 1968, the Brady Act of 1993 and the Assault Weapons Ban of 1994 all failed to reduce homicides significantly. The Brady law, for example, led to a drop in suicides for those age 55 and older, but a 2000 study commissioned by the American Medical Association found that it did not lead to a reduction in the overall murder rate.

It is very hard for gun control advocates to consider the larger picture of gun-related violence in the country; and for them nothing will suffice except for a complete ban on all kinds of handguns and assault weapons.  Their efforts and considerable financial resources have been spent on a losing cause.  If only a fraction of these funds had been spent on other promising interventions to reduce violent crime, the rates might have dropped even further. Just as gun ownership is a symbol of liberty, self-reliance, independence, and fundamental American values for some; it is considered the evil center of an anti-‘progressive’ society, one which favors individualism over community and collective action.  Just as the NRA hardens its position, the anti-gun lobby hardens theirs, and the ideological wars continue.

There seems to be one reasonable not of compromise between the two – universal background checks; but this will hardly make a dent in gun-related violence because most such violence is committed with illegal firearms.  The only way to reduce gun-related crime is to reduce the crime; and this, as Brooks has shown, can happen only if a more intelligent, apolitical, and rational deployment of police is carried out; and much more investigation, testing, and analysis needs to be carried out to find out the best and most promising means to enhance policing. For example:  

Robert Maranto of the University of Arkansas points out, in New York police chiefs and precinct leaders are held accountable for changes in the murder rate in their areas. New York has seen an 80 percent drop in the homicide rate.

Why shouldn’t this approach be applied much more widely?

More fundamentally, the roots of crime are in the dysfunctional families and neighborhoods in Anacostia and the inner cities of other American metropolitan areas.  Unless local community and religious leaders address anti-social behavior, condemn violence, refuse entitlements, and accept majority social norms, the violence will continue.


  1. He will not do that because he relates to the criminals better then he does the police.

  2. We don't live in the wild west. We pay for police officers, at least until the same people who are the most fervent "gun rights" advocates undermine the public sector to the point that state law enforcement becomes a thing of the past

  3. Extraordinary Article it its truly enlightening and creative update us as often as possible with new upgrades. its was truly important. much obliged. Combat Handgun Training


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