Firearm Related Crime Down, While Firearm Ownership at Record High

The FBI recently released the Uniform Crime Report (UCR) for 2011 and there are quite a few note-worthy statistics. From 2010 to 2011, there was a 3.8% decrease in violent crime overall. According to the FBI, that is also a 15.4% reduction from 2007 and a 15.5% decrease from 2002.  (Click on graph below.)

http://www.fbi.gov/about-us/cjis/ucr/crime-in-the-u.s/2011/crime-in-the-u.s.-2011/violent-crime/violent-crime
Violent Crime Offense Figure courtesy of FBI.gov

 

Also of note is the fact that gun crimes have dropped dramatically from the peak in 1993. Since that time, homicides with a firearm have dropped 39% and non-fatal firearm crimes have dropped 69%. A recent Pew Research Center report also shows a decrease in other violent crimes committed with firearms (assault, robbery and sex crimes), down 75% from 1993 to 2011. Violent, non-fatal crime (both with and without a firearm) is down 72% across the same two decades. When looking at the year-to-year decline, it is interesting to see that the rapid downward trend leveled off in roughly 2001, and then took another drastic plunge in 2007-2008 (approximately the same time that firearms hit a previous sales record around the time of the 2008 Presidential election).

This would seem to be a story worthy of the front page across the country, but the same Pew report shows some disturbing statistics. While all of this media attention has been focused on firearm-related violence, the FBI UCR has been conveniently ignored. Nearly 56% of Americans polled by the Pew Research Center think that gun crime is higher than it was 20 years ago, 26% said it stayed the same, while only 12% correctly believe that gun crime has decreased in the last 20 years.  What is ironic is that the states with the strictest gun control have higher rates of crime.  For example, California was named the state with the strongest gun control laws in 2011 by the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence.  That very same year, California also had the highest number of gun murders in the US — 1,220, or 3.25 murders per 100,000 people.  In contrast, Texas had a rate that was significantly lower — 699, or 2.91 per 100,000 people.  The state that the Brady Campaign determined to have the least amount of gun control, Utah, had 26 gun murders and a firearms murder rate of 0.97 per 100,000 people.

Private Firearms Sales at All-Time High

There are many theories regarding the cause of this consistent drop in violent crimes, both with and without firearms, and nearly every agency and advocacy group has weighed in. But one thing that is not up for debate is the fact that there are more privately held firearms in the US now than in recent history. According to FBI figures, 2012 saw more than 16.8 million background checks (only including January through October), the highest annual number since the FBI started reporting the data in 1998, with 16.4 million background checks in 2011, an increase of 14.2% over 2010. November of 2012 had over 2 million checks, and December of 2012 saw more than 2.7 million checks. While the official 2012 background check numbers have not been released by the FBI, based on the 2012 year-to-date numbers and the data from November and December, 2012 has more than 19 million background checks run for private party firearm purchases.

While background checks do not exactly equal firearms sold, due to some people being denied and others purchasing multiple firearms on one background check, most agencies accept the background check data as fairly accurate to the amount of firearms sold. There are some numbers that come from the manufacturers, showing how many firearms were produced for private markets. Ruger alone manufactured and sold over 1.1 million firearms in 2012. During the first four years of President Obama’s term, over 67 million firearms were sold to private parties in the US, more than the seven previous years combined.

So what does this all mean?

Another often overlooked statistic shows that while the US leads the world in both total firearms and firearm ownership (roughly 90 firearms per 100 people), many other western nations have significantly higher non-firearm violent crime rates. A previous victimization survey of industrialized nations shows that the US ranks as average for a country with our population.

While no one can conclusively point to a single cause for the continual decline in violent and firearm-related crimes for the last two decades, many groups have offered hypotheses. Some seem outlandish (the reduction of lead in automotive fuel leading to decreased aggression), while others (increased mandatory sentencing or the reduction in demand for crack cocaine) sound more plausible. Many pro-gun groups make the very compelling argument that the increase in firearms ownership is directly responsible for the decrease in violent crime in the US. Forty-nine states have laws allowing concealed carry, and 21 states currently have variations on the “Stand Your Ground” law. The demand for home defense and concealed carry weapons firearms is still outstripping supply. While the ‘experts’ from various agencies and organizations argue about what is causing crime numbers to drop, it appears that a large number of Americans agree with NRA Executive Vice President, Wayne LaPierre; “The best way to stop a bad guy with a gun, is a good guy with a gun.”

 

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