On the opposite side of this debate, there are cries for addressing mental health, addressing illegal activities with guns and to leave law abiding citizens the right to own the types of fire arms and size of magazines that they desire and the ability to maintain their access to the fire arms and magazines. They point to the story of a young man who was present when a gunman began shooting at the Clackamas Mall in Portland Oregon. Nick Meli heard the first shots fired and pulled out his concealed weapon and confronted the shooter. He did not fire as he did not want to risk bystander’s lives. The gunman then ran and took his own life (Benner, 2012). This side of the debate says that this shows how civilians can stop crime before police can arrive. Some even claim that more guns will help to control the crime and prevent mass shootings from occurring.
With all of the evidence from both sides, which side is right? This can be a difficult question to answer and requires detailed analysis to come to an informed decision. Studies that have been done on the issue of gun control have found many things that gun control affects and many things that it does not affect. One key item that studies have found is that gun control laws affect the use of specific guns in violent crimes, but do not affect the rate of crime itself.
When discussing the effect a particular law, or ban of item, has on the crime rate, it is helpful to look back at the effect similar laws and bans have had on the crime rate in the past. An example of this would be the 1994 Assault Weapons ban that Congress passed. This ban specifically selected fire arms that looked like the fire arms militaries around the world used. These types of weapons are weapons not commonly used in crime. In 2010 handguns comprised 68.5% of all gun murders in the United States (FBI, 2010). This means that in the remaining 31.5% of gun murders, shotguns, hunting rifles, and the banned assault weapons. Rifles constituted 0.6% of all murders by gun. The banned assault weapons make up a subset of these rifles. We know that less than 0.6% of all murders were by these weapons that were banned.
Another way to look at the effectiveness of prior fire arm bans is to look at the crime rate after the ban was lifted or, as in the case of the 1994 Assault Weapons ban, the ban expired. The FBI data from 2010 shows that the five year trend in crime is that it continues to decline. Further drill downs of the data show that on average the crime rates in all categories are on the decline in the United States. If the ban were effective on reducing violent crime, the expectation would be that crime rates would increase when the ban is lifted or it expires. Crime rates continuing to decline after the lifting of the ban suggests that factors other than the ban are affecting the crime rates (FBI, 2010).
So, if the 1994 Assault Weapons ban did not affect the crime rates, did it have any effect on other factors? The simple answer is yes. Koper and Roth (2002) conducted a study to determine what effect the ban had. Their findings showed that the primary effect was the price on the weapons that were banned. During the time leading to the ban, manufacturers began to produce record numbers of the proposed banned weapons to meet an increased demand for the weapons. This sudden increase of weapons produced before the ban created a surplus of weapons at the time of the ban. This surplus initially kept prices at the normal levels, but as they sold out, prices increased. The act of banning the weapons unintentionally increased the public interest in them (this same effect can be seen today in the public demand for the Armalite Rifle design AR-15 style rifle as the ban debate is heating up again). The second effect that Koper and Roth found is that the bans will affect the weapon used in the commission of the crime. As the ban drives up the cost of a specific weapon, the average criminal will look to a lower cost alternative to use. Because of this, it is a fallacy to compare the gun murder rates from countries such as Great Britain that have banned guns to the United States. The murder rate is a much more accurate comparison. As gun murder rates have dropped to extremely low levels in Great Britain, they are now dealing with the issue of knives being used. The United Kingdom government has gone on to ban certain types of knives from being carried to combat this issue (Gov.UK, 2012). According to Koper and Roth, as these knives begin to get harder to obtain, the criminal will begin to look for a different weapon to use.
In 2006, John Moorhouse and Brent Wanner conducted a study to determine how crime rates responded to gun control laws. During the course of the study, they found that crime rates are not affected by the gun control laws, but the desire for more gun control laws by victims of violent crimes increases after the crime is committed. The outcry of some victims is to control the weapon used by the criminal in an effort to prevent future crimes of the same nature. Moorhouse and Wanner also found that the crime rate itself is not affected by the ban in place but the weapon used is sometimes affected.
As is the case with most items, as the free market price of banned fire arms increases, the price on the black market also increases. This increase in price on both the free market and the black market causes the banned weapon to become less attractive to the criminal. Therefore, the criminal will tend to look for an alternative to the banned weapon. This is evidenced by the gun control laws not having an effect on the overall crime rates (Moorhouse & Wanner, 2006).
Gun control proponents have argued that these studies which show gun control does not reduce the overall crime rate are flawed studies. Mark Guis (2009) researched the topic and found that Moorhouse and Wanner (2006) used a formula that was flawed in determining restrictive bans do not reduce crime. The Kwon et al. (1997) used a variable of 1 for gun ownership and 0 for non gun ownership making it a yes no variable. Guis believed that this variable was inaccurate and should have been a much higher number for gun ownership. In the Guis formula, he takes parts of the Moorhouse and Wanner formula along with parts from other formulas to make a new formula then substitutes his variables where he has determined they need to be. However, Guis does not state why he feels his variable for gun ownership is more accurate. He simply states, “The authors used a simple binary dummy to capture the effect of myriad complex laws regarding guns. Clearly, more well-defined gun control variables should have been used to capture the true effects of gun control laws on firearm-related deaths” (Guis, 2009). Guis does not explain why he believes it is clear that the Kwon et al. formula is flawed nor does he explain why his number is more accurate. Another fallacy that Guis makes is to not use parts of formulas that the original study used without explaining why they are not relevant to the study. The result leaves the reader feeling as if Guis simply manipulated the data to display what he wished it to display.
A common tactic that is used to promote gun control in the United States is to cite other countries crime numbers. The error in this argument is that numbers of a country that has a population the fraction the size of the United States will be lower. The crime rate itself must be analyzed. People with different backgrounds may choose different methods to carry out their criminal actions. In an effort to determine if the nations with stricter gun control laws have lower violent crime and lower suicide rates, Don Kates and Gary Mauser (2007) performed an in depth analysis of the violent crime rates and suicide rates of European countries. The findings were surprising. The nations with the lowest amount of gun control laws and the highest rates of gun ownership on average have lower rates of murder and other violent crimes. The opposite is true for the nations with the strictest gun control laws and lowest rates of gun ownership. On the subject of suicide, simply limiting access to one instrument to commit suicide simply drove people to another instrument. Laws limiting access to firearms did not affect the suicide rate (Kates & Mauser, 2007).
With crime rates falling during the period after the expiration of the 1994 Assault Weapons Ban and evidence showing that banning a particular weapon, making it more difficult to get, or too expensive to justify the purchase only effects which weapon is used in the commission of the crime, a ban on a particular weapon or weapons in general will not reduce the violent crime rate. It is important to remember to look at all factors when looking at the reduction of crime after a ban is implemented. The whole crime rate category must be looked at not a limited view of the crime with just one tool being used. If the instances of robbery by gunpoint drop after a fire arms ban, but the instances of robbery by knife point increase by the same amount, then the ban did not affect the crime rate then people are not any safer than they were before the ban. Efforts toward enacting these bans become efforts in futility as what they intend to solve remain an issue in society. Instead of deciding to ban a weapon as a response to a tragedy, the leaders of our country would better serve the people of the United States by conducting a study into the causes in society which create the situations that lead to violent crime and addressing those root causes, whether it be mental health, violent movies and games, lack of access to proper education, or whatever other root factor. Addressing the causes of the crimes will produce better long term results in reducing violent crimes. Both sides of the gun control debate would be best served by taking the politics out of the issue and together researching the causes behind the crime and addressing them effectively.
FBI. (2010). Expanded Homicide Data. Retrieved from http://www.fbi.gov/about-us/cjis/ucr/crime-in-the-u.s/2010/crime-in-the-u.s.-2010/offenses-known-to-law-enforcement/expanded/expandhomicidemain
FBI. (2010). Violent Crime. Retrieved from http://www.fbi.gov/about-us/cjis/ucr/crime-in-the-u.s/2010/crime-in-the-u.s.-2010/violent-crime
Gius, M. (2009). The effect of Gun Ownership Rates on Homicide Rates: A State-Level Analysis. Applied Economics Letters, 16(16-18), 1687-1690.
Gov.UK. (December 17, 2012). Knives: the laws on buying and carrying. Retrieved from http://https://www.gov.uk/find-out-if-i-can-buy-or-carry-a-knife
Kates, D. B., & Mauser, G. (January 1, 2007). WOULD BANNING FIREARMS REDUCE MURDER AND SUICIDE?. Retrieved from http://www.law.harvard.edu/students/orgs/jlpp/Vol30_No2_KatesMauseronline.pdf
Koper, C. S., & Roth, J. A. (2002). The Impact of the 1994 Federal assault Weapons Ban on Gun Markets: An Assessment of Short-Term Primary and Secondary Market Effects. Journal Of Quantitative Criminology, 18(3), 239-266.
Kwon, I.-W., Scott, B., Safranski, S. and Bae, M. (1997)The effectiveness of gun control laws: multivariatestatistical analysis, American Journal of Economics andSociology, 56, 41–50.
Moorhouse, J. C., & Wanner, B. (2006). Does Gun Control Reduce Crime or Does Crime Increase Gun Control? Cato Journal, 26(1), 103-124