Thursday, March 20, 2008

Gun Laws & Crime - Nothing Good Will Come

"If the citizens were armed, maybe the crooks would think twice about sticking someone up."

How many times have you heard that from a pro-gun person? As the supreme court debates the constitutionality of DC's handgun ban, I thought I would post a bit of research I did a while ago after an argument with an office mate. A concealed carry law in DC would probably not happen for a long time, if ever, but whenever you discuss crime & guns with pro-gun people, the same argument always comes up.
As such, it seems that concealed carry is really the goal for most people who want to legalize gun ownership here. They want to be able to carry a gun on their person.

Intuitively, it kinda makes sense, doesn't it? Unfortunately, it's the same argument used to support incredibly harsh punishments for crimes. The deterrent effect. It fails to account for the fact that most criminal acts are not conducted with a lot of regard for the potential consequences. Criminals are desperate. It should be obvious to anyone who lives in this country that the insane punishments we now have for drug crimes hasn't reduced drug consumption, just put a lot more people in prison.

But lets look specifically at a situation where we can see data before and after a concealed carry law was enacted. This piece of fine journalism proudly trumpets the decline in crime after Texas' concealed carry law was enacted. Unfortunately, it's fatally flawed in the most basic of ways.

The triumphant battle cry:

"Jerry Patterson, the author of Texas' concealed carry law that was enacted 10 years ago, wrote in a recent publication of Texas Insider about the legacy of his bill's passage. He happily announced that the success of the concealed carry law has won over even previously vociferous critics of the legislation."

Here are the arguments:

"Between 1995 and 2004, handgun murders in Texas dropped by 18 percent"

Well that's fascinating. Unfortunately, in a vacuum, it's also meaningless. Because nationally, gun murders declined 31% in the same time period. So this decrease in Texas, when compared to the national trend, actually shows the opposite - gun homicides have decreased at a significantly slower rate than in the United States at large following the concealed carry law.

"Gun owners proved to be much less likely than their peers to be arrested for non-violent crimes and violent crimes, including murder."

So he's saying that your average registered gun owner is less likely to be involved in a crime than your average person who hasn't registered a gun. This is pretty much meaningless. What criminal is going to register a handgun in his name before going out to do crimes? Obviously, unregistered guns are pretty easily available now, given the amount of gun crime in DC. There's no rational reason to expect that legalizing guns would make it harder for the crooks to get their hands on one without having to register it.

"And even though Texas (in 2004) had a population three million larger than when the bill was passed, the overall crime rate was lower in 2004-5,032 crimes per 100,000 Texans, as opposed to 5,478 crimes per 100,000."

See point #1. Crime decreased nationally, irrespective of gun laws, at a much higher rate than in Texas.

I am not arguing that the carry law is responsible for Texas' worse-than-average performance on crime during that period. I can't prove that. But these arguments presented in this article certainly DO NOT support that the carry law has been good for crime in Texas compared to the national average -- with even a slightly more thoughtful analysis, they appear to say just the opposite.

The reality is that there are many, many factors involved that could contribute to these statistics. The crime rate in Texas, and nationally, changed dramatically in that time period, having nothing to do with concealed carry laws. That clearly shows that the existence, or lack of, a concealed carry law has little impact on homicide rates compared to other factors.

A complete analysis of what caused crime to drop in this time period (or increase in others) would have to account for many demographics like the economy, poverty, racial profile, and so on, that are widely different from region to region and constantly changing. These are the major drivers of crime rates. While concealed carry laws may have some minor effect, it should be clear from the Texas example that it's insignificant, at best, and at worst, could actually causes crime to increase.

So one could argue, why not let us carry guns if it makes no difference one way or the other? The problem is, it might make a difference. It puts more guns into homes. Children may have access to their parent's guns. A drunken brawl at a bar is more likely to become a shootout. If it's clear that there's nothing good that can come if it, but there are potential bad things, then why do it?

There's one more observation I want to make about the idea that carrying a gun will make you safer. How exactly does having a piece in your pocket help you on the street? When you are mugged, the vast majority of the time, you didn't see it coming. You don't get a chance to pull out your gun first. Or, perhaps, the would-be gun toter imagines himself as Bernard Goetz -- do you plan to whip out your gun the moment your thug-dar goes off and start shooting? That sounds promising. Or, maybe you were just going to shoot the crook in the back as he runs away. Also, not likely to help your long term career prospects. The point is, it's not like you are defending a bunker. I can't imagine very many scenarios where having a gun would help you on the street -- unless you typically get involved in drive-by shootings or executions, that is. The best way to survive a mugging is to give it up, not get in a gunfight.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I don't think you understand the purpose of the 2nd amendment. It is our right and our duty to ensure that our government follows the constitution and does not ever cross the very fine line between good democracy and evil tyranny.
As for your comments about concealed carry laws,you assume that if the right to carry doesn't lower crime by huge numbers then it is a bad idea. The truth is unless you can show me how the right to carry is raising crime,then it doesn't matter. It should be my right to protect myself and my family.
Your point about criminals carrying guns regardless of laws is absolutely right and the perfect argument against any kind of gun control laws!
Remember the first thing Hitler did in Nazi Germany was disarm the people!