Ever since the gun industry realized back in the 1990s that hunting was becoming a relic of the past, we have been inundated with the message that guns are necessary because they protect us from crime. The ‘research’ which allegedly showed this to be the case was published in 1995 by Gary Kleck, who used telephone interviews with 213 respondents to argue that people walking around with guns were preventing two to three million crimes from being committed every year.
Kleck has recently admitted that even though his estimate of defensive gun use (DGU) may be too high, nobody else has come up with better numbers, so we might as well accept his numbers anyway. In fact, David Hemenway and Sara Solnick have come up with better numbers because their research was based on 90,000 interviews, and what they found was that DGUs accounted for less than 1% of all victims protecting themselves from crimes, on the order of perhaps 70,000 instances every year. But Hemenway, like Obama, is from Harvard, so we know what he’s saying can’t be true.
The good news for the gun industry is that coincident with the idea that more guns equals less crime, beginning in the mid-90s, violent crime rates began to fall. And they fell so dramatically that the national crime rate today is roughly half of what it was back in 1994. Meanwhile, over the same twenty years, the size of the civilian gun arsenal has increased by somewhere around 50 percent. And leave it to another pro-gun mouthpiece posing as a scholar – John Lott – to ‘prove’ that as gun ownership and concealed-carry go up, crime rates go down.
Everything else being equal, whenever I substitute a salad for a banana split at the dinner table, my weight goes down. But that’s because there is a proven connection between the number of calories I ingest each day and what then happens when I step on a scale. There has never been any such connection ever demonstrated between crime rates and the legal ownership of guns. But that doesn’t stop the gun industry from pretending otherwise, even if they have to misstate the data they use to support their case.
My father used to say that figures don’t lie but liars sure can figure, and here’s the latest example of that adage direct from the NRA. According to the FBI, violent crime in 2014 dropped another 0.9%. This included a 1% decrease in murder and a 6% decline in robbery, the two of four violent crime categories in which guns are “more likely to be used.” Assault increased 1.3%, but guns are less likely to be used in assaults, according to the NRA. And not only are murders down, but the percentage of murders committed with guns also fell by 1.6%.
Actually, not only did aggravated assault go up, but so did the percentage of assaults committed with guns. And the real reason that murder went down is because trauma centers are increasingly adept at saving the lives of gun-shot victims who previously would have ended up dead. If the percentage of aggravated assault and the percentage of aggravated assaults with guns both go up, which they did, then the way in which trauma teams deal with gunshots is a much more compelling way to explain why gun murders go down.
The NRA and the NSSF can celebrate the alleged link between decreases in crime decline and increases in gun ownership all they like, but the real truth is that 95% of the drop in violent crime occurred between 1994 and 2003. Since that time there has been a slight continuing downward trend, but it is also over the past decade that gun sales have soared. Which means there may not be any necessary connection between gun ownership and protection from crime. But why let facts get in the way of a story that continues to sell?