The NRA and its academic acolytes like John Lott have been tirelessly promoting the idea that guns protect us from crime, which is another way of saying that everyone should carry a gun, which is another way of saying that we should all buy more guns. And the proof that more guns equals less crime comes in the form of a report from the Bureau of Justice Statistics, which shows that over the past twenty years, violent crime, particularly gun crimes, have fallen by more than 50 percent. Since it’s over the same two decades that every state has adopted some form of concealed-carry law, the gun lobby argues that the reason we are a much safer country is because everyone’s walking around with a gun. Now if we could get rid of those unhealthy gun-free zones, right?
Another, much more troublesome report was issued in January with data and conclusions that the NRA chooses to ignore. The report was based on a study of 6,300 patients admitted to a Level 1 trauma center in Newark suffering from gunshot wounds between 2000 and 2011, a time when, according to the FBI-UCR data, overall violent crime in Newark dropped by 22%. Actually, the murder rate during that period increased by nearly 60%, but since we’re only talking about less than 60 dead bodies lying around, we’ll leave that one alone.
Getting back to the gunshot wounds, the physicians who conducted the research found that the number of patients didn’t significantly change, notwithstanding the alleged drop in gun violence everywhere else, and the severity of the wounds substantially increased. Despite the fact that Level 1 trauma centers utilize the most advanced life-saving skills imaginable, the mortality rate from gunshot wounds climbed from 9% to 14%, the number of spinal cord and brain injuries nearly doubled, and the incidence of multiple bullet wounds increased from 10% to nearly 25%.
The gun lobby could (and will) ignore these numbers were it not for the fact that the national picture for the trend gunshot wounds is roughly the same as what happened in Newark. According to the CDC, the rate of intentional gun injuries per 100,000 was 17.25 in 2000 and 17.83 in 2011, holding steady nationally just like the researchers in the case of Newark’s University Hospital found over the same eleven years. That being the case, how does one reconcile those numbers with the BJS report that the NRA uses to bolster its claim of such a dramatic decrease in the criminal use of guns? The BJS report shows a decline in the gun homicide rate from 7 per 100,000 to less than 4 from 1993 to 2011, and a decline in nonfatal gun victimizations from above 7 per 1,000 persons to less than 2. So who’s right?
They’re both correct except that virtually the entire decline in gun violence occurred between 1993 and 2002, while since the latter date the gun violence rate, including both fatalities and injuries, has stabilized or slightly increased. This stabilization of the number of admissions for gun violence is exactly what was reported by the medical team at University Hospital in Newark, even while the severity and cost of injuries continues to climb.
Meanwhile, for all the talk about good guys with guns protecting us from bad guys with guns, the “decrease” in gun violence ended in 2002, while the number of states that now issue CCW has roughly doubled since 2002. The NRA’s notion that we are a much safer country now that residents of every state can apply for CCW falls flat on its face, even when we look at the data that the NRA uses to prove its own case.