We may soon see a resumption of the gun debate that followed Sandy Hook because rumors continue to float around that another attempt will be made to widen background checks or enact some other form of additional gun controls. To that end the Violence Policy Center just published a study about what they believe to be a causal link between gun ownership, lax firearms laws and gun homicides.
I have seen studies that tie our relatively high gun-homicide rate to per capita gun ownership on the one hand and little or no gun regulation at the state level on the other. But this is the first study which combines both sets of data and uses them to explain very high versus very low gun homicide rates throughout the USA. And what the VPC report shows is that states with low per capita gun ownership and strong laws have low rates of gun homicides, whereas states with high per capita gun ownership and lax laws have gun homicide rates that are 6 times higher than the states with strong gun-control laws.
Based on the evidence, Josh Sugarmann, who runs the VPC, says that “Gun violence is preventable, and states can pass effective laws that will dramatically reduce gun death and injury.” Which may be a logical deduction from the evidence gathered and published by the VPC, but it flies in the face of reality when we talk about gun-control regulations in localities or states.
The truth is that states with “lax” gun laws simply reflect the fact that most of the residents in those locations own guns and don’t particularly want to see more controls. The most recent surveys put national gun ownership at less than 40% of all households, but the figures in the VPC report for gun ownership in Western and Southern states are, if anything, too low to be true.
Back in 1981, a local roustabout and bully named Ken McElroy was shot to death by “persons unknown” as he sat in his truck on the main street of Skidmore, MO. One of the reasons that local police, state police and the FBI could never pin the murder on anyone (he was actually shot by at least two people in full view of most of the townspeople) was because the calibers of the bullets recovered from McElroy’s body could have come from countless rifles owned by residents of the town. The daylight murder, vigilante-style in Skidmore was unusual; the existence of so many weapons in a rural, Midwestern community was and still is the norm.
Whenever the talk turns to gun homicides, we point the finger at large, inner-city ghettos like Chicago, New Orleans or Washington, D.C. And while it’s true that more than 60% of the victims and perpetrators of gun homicides are minority youths ages 16-34, it’s a mistake to believe that the elevated level of gun homicides in the United States is just a function of big-city, ghetto life. Last year the same Violence Policy Center found that the most dangerous city in America was, of all places, Omaha, Nebraska which, in 2010 had an African-American gun homicide rate of 34 per 100,000 although the statewide rate put Nebraska down near the bottom of the national list. In Springfield, MA, a city with only 150 residents, the 2013 gun homicide rate was 12, while overall the Massachusetts rate was less than 4.
It’s all very well and good to say that gun violence will go down if we pass more laws, as if getting people to stop using guns to shoot themselves or others is such a simple fix. There’s really no way that one shoe fits all when it comes to strengthening laws against the misuse of guns, I don’t care whether the shoe is crafted at the state level or at Washington, DC.