Far better it is to dare mighty things, to win glorious triumphs, even though checkered by failure, than to take rank with those poor spirits who neither enjoy much nor suffer much, because they live in the gray twilight that knows neither victory nor defeat.

Theodore Roosevelt, The Strenuous Life

By , on December 22, 2012

Current Events, Firearms, Opinion


The massacre in Newtown, Connecticut has brought out the gun control extremists, people like Dianne Feinstein, who is either very naive or believes the citizens of the United States are extremely gullible. With all the renewed demands for a new ban on semiautomatic firearms and high capacity magazines, I thought it wise to check some statistics. I compared homicide data in the United States with the same information from Canada. I chose Canada because its gun laws are very restrictive and its homicide rate is similar to those found in the western European countries, where severe restrictions on ownership and carrying of firearms are common.

The United States has a homicide rate of 4.8, which is 4.8 deaths per hundred thousand population. Roughly two-thirds of those deaths are with firearms, mostly handguns. Long guns (rifles and shotguns) accounted for only a few percent of homicides. No reliable statistics are available for homicides by what were called assault weapons, but some analysts use homicides with rifles as a proxy for homicide by assault weapons, and conclude that homicides with assault weapons do not exceed 2 or 3%. Approximately half of all homicides are by black Americans. The homicide rate has declined for several decades, even after the 1994 to 2004 assault weapons ban expired. Homicide rates are very high in some American cities, such as Detroit, New Orleans, Newark, and Washington, D.C. Homicide rates are generally lower in places where carrying guns concealed is not highly regulated, although this is not a perfect correlation. Washington, D.C. is very restrictive on concealed weapons and has a high murder rate; New York City is also very restrictive but follows national norms on homicides.

Canada has a homicide rate of 1.6, with one-third caused by firearms.

Recall that half of homicides are committed by black Americans, who comprise a little more than 13% of the U.S. population. Normalizing for that disparate contribution and assuming that this group should contribute to homicides at a rate no greater than other Americans, I calculate a homicide rate equal to: (4.8/2) + (0.13)(2.4) = 2.7

Adjusting for the disparate affect of black homicides in the United States, and subtracting all firearm related homicides in both the United States and Canada at the Canadian rate of one third (assuming U.S. laws became equally restrictive, and that there was no substitution of weapons for those murders), you get a homicide rate of 1.1 for Canada and 1 .8 for the United States. You can draw conclusions about differences between Americans and Canadians from the statistics:

The American homicide rate would likely be greater than that in Canada even if Americans had the same laws concerning firearms as Canadians. The American homicide rate would be at least 50% greater than Canada’s, suggesting Americans are considerably more violent than Canadians.

The assault weapons ban and its expiration did not seem to affect the steady decline in homicides in the United States and appears to be more aimed at banning weapons in a method most likely to garner legislative support. The ban is not a safety measure; it is a first step in what will be a continuing effort to limit gun ownership in the United States.

Decreasing homicides in the U.S. through restricting firearms rights will require such extensive regulation as to leave the 2d Amendment a useless relic, like the rights in the constitution enjoyed by the citizens of the defunct Soviet Union.

The way to reduce violence in the United States is to do the hard work needed to, well, reduce violence. I am not a sociologist, but that probably means better education systems, more recreational opportunities for youth, better dispute resolution training and systems, better functioning police and courts, better laws (such as making sure the laws on the books are important to safety and are actually applied), better urban and suburban design, more public recreational spaces in urban areas, and more job opportunities for all groups in our society.



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