If I had a nickel for every time the NRA reminds us that gun violence is down while gun ownership is up, I wouldn’t have to work for a living. Not that writing is such hard work, mind you, but my previous comment still stands. And the latest ‘more guns = less crimes’ was just posted by the NRA, which linked to a comment by Charles Cooke in National Review, who compares current crime data to the numbers from 1993 and concludes that “national rates of gun violence are strikingly lower now than during their peak in the mid-1990s,” although he admits that the rate has “declined less dramatically since 2000.” The source cited by Cooke shows that 94% of the decline from 1993 occurred by 2000 and he refers to a 6% drop over the last 14 years as “less dramatic?”
This celebration of the drop in gun homicides coincident with the increase in gun sales has been spun again and again by the NRA and its helpmate, the NSSF. And while nobody has ever been able to determine whether there’s any causal relationship between gun purchases and crime rates, the coincidence of the latter going down while the former continues to go up is a major argument in the pro-gun playbook for promoting gun rights.
There’s only one little problem, however. We won’t know for sure until early next year, but preliminary data appears to indicate that the two-decade drop in gun homicides has come to an end. The best numbers I can find do not come from the FBI, but from the CDC. And the reason why CDC numbers are more reliable is they are based on comprehensive state public health data which is based on coroner’s reports, whereas FBI numbers are based on local law enforcement agency data which is notoriously incomplete and, in fact, is not required to be reported at all.
The CDC data clearly indicates that the raw number of gun homicides stopped dropping by 2000, and the gun homicide rate has dropped minimally since 2000 as well. In 1993 gun homicides and rates were 18,253 and 6.75; in 1999 they were 10,828 and 3.83; in 2013 they were 11,208 and 3.55. Cooke’s statement that post-2000 gun violence has declined “less dramatically” is, to be polite, not consistent with the facts. And further, it should be noted that gun homicides stopped dropping exactly at the time when gun sales started rising; i.e., since 2009. Annual gun sales, as estimated by NICS background checks, have nearly doubled under Obama; gun homicides have remained stable or moved slightly up. So much for the nonsense about how guns and/or concealed weapons permits protect us from violent crime.
The news may get worse for 2015. The best real-time data I can find is captured by the Gun Violence Archive, which tracks gun violence through a combination of agency and media reports. This methodology has severe limitations, if only because media reports on gun violence by definition are woefully incomplete, and agency reporting is never done on a real-time basis. Which means that the 8,616 gun deaths counted by GVA so far this year must be an understatement, but it would still work out to nearly 13,000 gun deaths this year. And this increase is borne out by data from specific cities like Chicago, whose gun homicide rate is up over last year, ditto New York, ditto Milwaukee, St. Louis and Detroit.
It will be interesting to watch pro-gun zealots spin the news about how guns protect us from crime when gun sales continue to soar but so does violent crime. Who knows? Maybe they’ll decide that all those armed citizens walking around need to spend more time outside their homes making sure the streets are safe. Or maybe everyone should carry both a Glock and Bushmaster in plain sight. There’s really no limit to the fantasies you can concoct when the entire argument about how guns protect us from crime is based on facts that don’t exist. No limit at all.