People who advocate controls on gun ownership generally claim that increased firearms ownership would lead to increased rates of violent crime. Indeed, that is about the only reason they argue against allowing full free access to firearms – their concern about the misuse of firearms.
The last couple of decades have seen a massive increase in gun ownership, and a massive decrease in firearms related restrictions, primarily in the form of the huge switch from, twenty years ago, nearly every state forbidding concealed (and open) carry of firearms, to the point today where nearly every state allows this.
In 1998, when new legislation required every person buying a firearm to first undergo an instant federal background check, the FBI started tracking statistics for the numbers of background checks being carried out. While the background checks don’t exactly correspond to actual numbers of new guns being sold each month, there is at least a strong correlation, and so, for the first time, we now have a reasonably accurate way of tracking new gun sales each month.
As you can see from this table here, there has been a steady increase in the rate of new gun sales each month and year since the statistics started to be kept.
It is interesting also to keep in mind that most new guns are not replacing old guns, but rather are adding to the total number of guns ‘out there’. How long does a gun last before being junked? Maybe 50 years? Maybe 100? We certainly have older guns that we still treasure, and indeed, apart from one gun that has become a ‘project gun’ and has been lying around in parts for some years, we’ve never junked a gun.
So the FBI ‘NICS’ statistics show not only that the total number of guns in the population as a whole are increasing, but also that they are increasing at ever greater rates. So far in 2012, gun sales (as implied by the NICS statistics) are up 11% on 2011, and the 2011 numbers were, in turn, up 15% on the 2010 figures.
If the gun control advocates are correct, we would have seen a corresponding explosion in violent crime rates over the last some years or decades.
The reality couldn’t be more different. The FBI has just released their latest annual compilation of violent crime statistics, reporting a 4% reduction in violent crime in 2011 compared to 2010. Since 1990 – 22 years ago – there have only been two years in which the violent crime rate did not fall, year on year.
Violent crime rates (measured in terms of rates per 100,000 of population) steadily increased from 1960 (the start of the FBI’s modern violent crime database series) through to 1991/2, pretty much in line with the steady increase of more and more gun laws and restrictions. Violent crime in 1960 was at a level of 161 cases per 100,000 of population, by 1991/2 it had increased nearly five-fold to a level of 758 cases per 100,000 of population.
But an amazing thing happened. In 1993 the rate dropped, and continued to drop every year subsequently, with only two exceptions. In 2011, the rate was now down to 384/100,000 – almost exactly half the rate in 1991/2, and the lowest level since 1970.
Is it just a coincidence that rates of violent crime increased to an extraordinary five-fold level in thirty years, at the same time gun control was steadily increased; and then since the rebirth of gun carry freedoms, has already declined by half in a mere 20 years?
It would be interesting to see how the gun control advocates explain this! We’ll readily concede that many other factors need to be considered as well, but it is certainly persuasive to see the huge swings in violent crime rates and to match them to the massive changes in gun control and ownership trends that have happened in similar time frames.