An AP-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research poll asked Americans to size up how well the government is protecting a variety of rights and freedoms. Interestingly, the poll revealed that Americans believe there has been a dramatic decline in the protections of the Bill of Rights, especially with regard to the Second Amendment. The results were not confined to specific demographics. Instead, the “impression of a declining track record on guns rights turned up everywhere: among Republicans and Democrats, men and women, young and old, city dwellers and those in small towns. ”
Survey findings demonstrate that overall, just 44% of Americans think the federal government is doing a good job of safeguarding the right to keep and bear arms, down from 57% two years earlier. Unsurprisingly, Republicans and independents were far more likely than Democrats to give the government poor marks for protecting gun rights. Among Republicans, the percentage who believe that the government is doing a good job protecting the right to bear arms fell to 36%, down from 51%. However, even among Democrats, the percentage dropped to 56% from 64%. The biggest decline was among independents at just 25% down from 52%.
Of note from the survey, “Americans of all stripes spoke with sorrow about the latest deaths” – but simply reasoned that tighter laws would not have prevented the tragedies. Some believe tighter gun control laws could make things worse. This is corroborated by government-reported crime statistics, criminologist research and studies of lawful gun use for defensive purposes. Academic research and data in three major areas confirms what the polls reflect, that additional gun control is unnecessary and even counter-productive.
U.S. Homicide, Violent Crime and Gun Murder Is Declining
Murder is near an all-time low in the U.S. Violent crime, including homicides and even gun murder have been steadily declining. Homicides in the U.S. peaked in the early 1990′s when homicides in 1990 to 1994 ranged from 21,000-24,000 annually. In 1993 there were a total of 24,530 homicides (p.137). A majority – 17,075 – of these were Firearms-related (69.6%). The homicide rate was 9.5 per 100,000 people. But homicides dropped homicides dropped to 12,664 in 2011. Again, two-thirds (67.7%) of homicides are Firearm-related, at 8,583. The homicide rate has dropped to 4.7 from 9.5 per 100,000 people. The FBI shows violent crime rates are also drastically declining, dropping from 747.1 in 1993 to 386.3 in 2011. The violent crime rate is now 50.7% of what it was 20 years ago. The homicide rate has declined by 48.7% in that same time period. Firearm homicides have declined by 50.2%. The BJS report “Homicide Trends in the United States” states, “In recent years, all regions have experienced a decline in homicide rates”(p.144, emphasis added) and “Trends in gun homicides follow patterns similar to those for all homicides” (p. 145). Additional gun control isn’t necessary because murder – even gun murder – is already in decline and reaching record lows.
Lawful Defensive Gun Use
Academic research of lawful gun use for defensive purposes shows that defensive use far outpaces criminal use of firearms. A major reported reason for gun ownership is self-defense. Criminology researchers have found lawful defensive gun use is widespread. Studies with low estimates still show there is more lawful defensive use than there is criminal use. One study in the Journal of Criminal Law and Criminology, found annual defensive gun use (DGU) occurs between 256,000-373,000 times per year. Defensive gun use is the lawful use of a firearm to protect oneself in a threatening situation. A Department of Justice study conducted by Philip J. Cook and Jens Ludwig found 1.5 million “genuine” instances of DGU. The seminal Journal of Criminal Law and Criminology study by Gary Kleck and Marc Gertz, found 2.5 million annual instances of DGU.
Most recently, a 2013 study “Priorities for Research to Reduce the Threat of Firearm-Related Violence” from the Institute of Medicine and National Research Council for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention states “Defensive uses of guns by crime victims is a common occurrence, although the exact number remains disputed. Almost all national survey estimates indicate that defensive gun uses by victims are at least as common as offensive uses by criminals, with estimates of annual uses ranging from about 500,000 to more than 3 million per year, in the context of about 300,000 violent crimes involving firearms.”
Criminal use of firearms is reported by the FBI and Bureau of Justice Statistics. FBI Uniform Crime Reports show that approximately 9,000 homicides (lethal violent crime) per year that involve firearms. There were a total of 1.2 million non-lethal violent crimes in 2011, but just 10% of “nonfatal violent crime from 1993 to 2011” involved a firearm, according to the Bureau of Justice Statistics, making the total of non-lethal violent crimes with guns approximately 120,000 in 2011. Combined with lethal violent crime (homicides), there are just under 130,000 annual criminal uses of guns. Compared to criminal use of guns – both lethal and non-lethal, defensive gun use is far more pervasive.
Criminologist Research Supports Widespread Gun Ownership
Research in the U.S. indicates substantial evidence that widespread gun possession decreases crime, according to criminologists Don Kates and Gary Mauser. Their 2007 published study in Harvard Journal of Law and Public Policy “Would Banning Firearms Reduce Murder and Suicide?” found gun restrictions have a negative correlation to crime, meaning “where firearms are most dense, violent crime rates are lowest, and where guns are least dense, violent crime rates are highest” (p.653). They examine cross-nationally among 36 nations including many developed European nations as well as the United States, as well as examining within the United States, state-to-state, county-by-county, and over historical time periods. They state: “Whether viewed as a cause or coincidental, the long term macrocosmic evidence is that gun ownership spread widely throughout societies consistently correlate with stable or declining murder rates” (p.673).
Professors Kates and Mauser go as far as to say this is an axiom to criminologists, the culmination of virtually every study since at least the 1890s, that average, law-abiding citizens virtually do not murder. Adult murderers have adult criminal records 90% of the time, and usually have multiple contacts with the justice system. In other words, average people don’t suddenly become homicidal simply because they have a gun. Laws intended to prevent crime by keeping all citizen from having guns are useless because crime is committed by criminals with history of doing so. They state: “there is no reason for law prohibiting gun possession by ordinary, law-abiding responsible adults, because such people virtually never murder… disarming them becomes not just unproductive, but counter-productive” (p. 670 emphasis added).
Academic research confirms what Americans already believe, that the ‘benefits’ of gun control pale in comparison to the Constitutional rights infringed. Though media reports of shootings are often sensational, homicide and gun murders are nearing an all time low. In addition, criminologists show that widespread gun possession correlates with reduced crime and murder rates, and that guns are most commonly used for lawful defensive purposes. Elected representatives in Congress would do well to listen to the voice of the people, a voice in this case that is backed by a large body of academic research and the government’s own reported crime statistics. Congress needs to abandon bad policy and act to protect law-abiding citizens’ right to keep and bear arms.
By Matt MacBradaigh. Matt is a Christian, Husband, Father, Patriot, and Conservative from the Pacific Northwest. Matt writes about the Second Amendment, Gun Control, Gun Rights, and Gun Policy issues and is published on The Bell Towers, The Brenner Brief, PolicyMic. TavernKeepers, and Vocativ.
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