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Stopping Power — Why 70 Million Americans Own Guns
A Book by J. Neil Schulman
An Overview of the Statistical Case

In June, 1993, I responded to a message in the Gun Rights “echo” on the Fidonet personal computer network. The following is a slightly edited version of the stimulus and my response.

[Note for this edition: There has been some controversy regarding the accuracy of Interpol figures on homicide which throw into doubt figures given for Scotland below. See “Rebuttal to ‘Stopping Power': Letters in Reply”.

I nevertheless stand by my conclusion that gun control laws are ineffective at stopping violent individuals, as the recent gun massacre of schoolchildren at Dunblane, Scotland indicates. See my article “A Rude Awakening.”
– JNS, 1996]

From : NEIL SCHULMAN

To : CHRISSY M Date: 06/04/93 11:04a

Subject : Weapon permits

Conf : 003 – GUN RIGHTS

NEIL> Guns don’t encourage more murders. That is fallacious
NEIL> reasoning.

NEIL> Guns in the hands of bad people are used to do bad
NEIL> things.

NEIL> Guns in the hands of good people are used for the good
NEIL> purpose of stopping bad people from doing bad things.

NEIL> Pacifism is based on the premise that if good people
NEIL> surrender to bad people, good will prevail. Wrong. Dead
NEIL> wrong. If good people do not conquer bad people when
NEIL> bad people use violence to do bad things, then innocent
NEIL> people suffer.

CHRIS> Geeeeee, Am I getting slammed or what?? I

CHRIS> realize this. But in *MY* opinion, I don’t think it
CHRIS> should be MANDATORY to have a gun in our homes. It
CHRIS> should be that person’s decision. And you hafta admit,
CHRIS> that guns DO in fact increase the crime rate. A small
CHRIS> percentage, but it does.

CHRIS> Chris.

No, Chris, I do not admit that guns increase the crime rate. Your opinion is not in accordance with known facts.

Switzerland and Israel have two of the most heavily armed civilian populations on Earth. Both have an extremely low rate of violent crime and homicide – some of the lowest anywhere.

According to The Jewish Week for Dec. 11-17, 1992, the Israeli homicide rate for 1992 was 1.96 per 100,000 persons. One in ten Israeli civilians carries a firearm.

In Switzerland, every male between 20 and 50 is required to keep a fully-automatic assault rifle in his home, and the Swiss regularly carry these full-auto rifles to ranges on public transportation and on bicycles for practice. There are 4 million weapons in private hands including 220,000 pistols in a nation of 6.5 million people, which gives Switzerland about 3,400 pistols/100,000 Swiss citizens; and there are 4 million weapons in private hands, for a ratio slightly less than the ratio in the United States (61,500/100,000 in Switzerland compared to 83,300/100,000 in the US). I don’t have the overall Swiss homicide rate handy, but they had 91 handgun murders in 1990 – for a population of 6.8 million, this works out to a Swiss handgun-related homicide rate of .00014%.

Let’s look at the British now. Great Britain has had almost a complete gun ban in effect for most of this century. This is reflected in their extremely low gun homicide rate: Great Britain had 22 handgun homicides in 1990. But that figure tells only part of the story. Here are the British overall homicide rates:


Homicides in Great Britain, 1987-1988

(Source: Interpol)

    England & Wales:               1987                     1988

    Population                  49,923,500               50,424,900
    Homicides:                     981                      992
    Homicide Rate:               2 per 100K               1.97 per 100K

    Scotland

    Population:                  5,112,129                5,094,001
    Homicides:                     508                      510*
    Homicide Rate:              9.9 per 100K            10.0 per 100K
    *excludes Pan Am 103 bombing

    Northern Ireland

    Population:                  1,500,000                1,575,200
    Homicides:                     401                      563
    Homicide Rate:             26.7 per 100K            35.7 per 100K

Evidently, British gun control doesn’t seem to work at keeping down the overall homicide rate either in Scotland or Northern Ireland.


Comparing British And American Homicide Rates

(Source: FBI Unified Crime Reports)

For comparison, the United States Homicide Rate in 1987: 8.3 per 100K (compare to 9.9 for Scotland, 26.7 for Northern Ireland); and in 1988: 8.4 per 100K (compare to 10.0 per 100K in Scotland and 35.7 per 100K in Northern Ireland).

Which refutes the claim that British-style gun control produces a national homicide rate which is lower than the United States.

Now, let’s compare these homicide rates with the U.S.



    U.S. cities (1990):               U.S. states (1990):

    Washington D.C........78 per 100K        New York.....14.5 per 100K
    Miami.................39 per 100K        Florida......10.7 per 100K
    Houston...............35 per 100K        Pennsylvania..6.7 per 100K
    New York City.........31 per 100K        Montana.......4.9 per 100K
    Los Angeles...........28 per 100K        Minnesota.....2.7 per 100K
    Denver................14 per 100K        Vermont.......2.3 per 100K
    Phoenix...............13 per 100K        South Dakota..2.0 per 100K
    Seattle...............10 per 100K        New Hampshire.1.9 per 100K
    El Paso................7 per 100K        Iowa..........1.7 per 100K
    Colorado Springs.......3 per 100K        North Dakota. .08 per 100K

Several things become immediately obvious. First, Northern Ireland as a whole has a 1987-1988 murder rate less than half of Washington D.C., less than Miami or Houston, and about equivalent to New York City. Washington, D.C. and New York have extremely strict gun laws; Houston and Miami less so. Gun control doesn’t seem to be a factor. Also, the rural areas of the United States have a homicide rate low enough to make our national homicide rate lower than Scotland’s, and much lower than Northern Ireland’s.

Second, there are areas of the United States with a lower homicide rate than England’s, and these areas have little or no gun control.

Third, Colorado Springs, Colorado, with one of the lowest homicide rates of any major U.S. city has virtually no gun control laws; yet its homicide rate is only slightly higher than England’s, which has a virtual gun ban.

Fourth, laws – not just gun control laws, but all laws – are not a controlling element in the homicide rate, period. Houston and El Paso both are subject to the same Texas laws; yet Houston has five times as many murders per 100,000 residents as El Paso. Denver, Colorado has 4.7 times as many murders per 100,000 residents as Colorado Springs, which has the same laws.

Perhaps looking at the United States homicide rate for this century will also be useful:


Murder Statistics from Statistical Abstract of the United States,

U.S. Department of Commerce

The murder rate from 1870 to 1905 was slightly under/over 1 per 100,000. Except for New York City’s Sullivan Law and Reconstruction-era laws against blacks carrying guns without permission, U.S. has virtually no gun laws.

1900: 1.2
1901: 1.2 Sept. 6: President McKinley shot; dies 9/14.
1902: 1.2 Theodore Roosevelt elected president.
1903: 1.1
1904: 1.3 Upward trend in homicide rate begins.
1905: 2.1
1906: 3.9 T. Roosevelt reelected.
1907: 4.9
1908: 4.8
1909: 4.2 William H. Taft assumes presidency.
1910: 4.6
1911: 5.5
1912: 5.4
1913: 6.1 Woodrow Wilson assumes presidency.
1914: 6.2 World War I begins in Europe.
1915: 5.9
1916: 6.3
1917: 6.9 April 6: US enters World War I
1918: 6.5 WWI ends; troops return; influenza epidemic.
1919: 7.2
1920: 6.8 Prohibition starts.
1921: 8.1 Harding presidency begins.
1922: 8.0
1923: 7.8 Harding dies; Coolidge becomes president.
1924: 8.1
1925: 8.3
1926: 8.4
1927: 8.4
1928: 8.6 Herbert Hoover elected president.
1929: 8.4 Oct. 29: Stock market crash
1930: 8.8 Beginning of Great Depression
1931: 9.2
1932: 9.0 FDR elected first time
1933: 9.7 Prohibition repealed.
1934: 9.5 National Firearms Act restricts machine guns
1935: 8.3
1936: 8.0
1937: 7.6
1938: 6.8
1939: 6.4 World War II begins in Europe
1940: 6.3
1941: 6.0 December 8: US enters WW II
1942: 5.9
1943: 5.1
1944: 5.0
1945: 5.7 WW2 ends; troops return home, many w/ weapons.
1946: 6.4 Beginning of baby boom.
1947: 6.1
1948: 5.9
1949: 5.4
1950: 5.3 June 25: Korean War begins.
1951: 4.9
1952: 5.2
1953: 4.8 July: Korean Armistice; troops return home.
1954: 4.8
1955: 4.5
1956: 4.6
1957: 4.5
1958: 4.5
1959: 4.6
1960: 4.7
1961: 4.7
1962: 4.8 October: Cuban missile crisis
1963: 4.9 Nov. 22: JFK assassinated; LBJ takes office.
1964: 5.1 Gulf of Tonkin resolution; LBJ elected.
1965: 5.5
1966: 5.9 Vietnam War escalates; anti-war demonstrations
1967: 6.8
1968: 7.3 Nixon wins; King & RFK murd’d; 1968 GCA passed
1969: 7.7 Jan. 20: Nixon takes office.
1970: 8.3
1971: 8.6
1972: 9.0 Nixon reelected
1973: 9.4 Watergate scandal; US troops pull out of Vietnam.
1974: 9.8 Nixon resigns; Ford assumes presidency.
1975: 9.6 April: fall of Saigon to Communists
1976: 8.8
1977: 8.8 Jan. 20: Carter takes office
1978: 9.0
1979: 9.7
1980: 10.2 Reagan elected. Dec. 8: John Lennon murdered.
1981: 9.8 Reagan takes office Jan 20; shot by Hinckley 3/20
1982: 9.1
1983: 8.3
1984: 7.9 Reagan re-elected
1985: 7.9
1986: 8.6 McClure-Volkmer Gun Act passes, easing gun laws.
1987: 8.3
1988: 8.4 Bush elected
1989: 8.7 Jan. 20: Bush takes office
1990: 9.4
1991: 9.8
1992: 9.3 Apr 29: widespread riots. Nov: Clinton elected.

Analysis: It’s hard to draw specific conclusions on the causes of the increases and decreases in homicide. It’s tempting to blame an increase on the passage of Prohibition or World War I, except the upward homicide trend begins in 1904, before either event. The repeal of Prohibition in 1933, however, does seem to begin a gradual lowering in homicide rates (one can’t attribute it to the 1934 National Firearms Act because that law focuses only on machine-guns, a minor part of the body count), until the period beginning in 1963-64 with the JFK assassination and the escalation of the Vietnam War, when rates start sharply upward again. There is a short spurt in homicides at the end of World War II which is not repeated at the end of the Korean War. The period from 1949 to 1963 is fairly low on domestic homicide. Nor, judging from the Great Depression, can poverty be used to explain increasing homicide rates: after a brief peak in 1931, the U.S. homicide rates falls by about a third over the Depression decade.

The most severe federal gun control passed is the 1968 Gun Control Act, which outlaws buying guns through the mail or transferring them interstate without a federal dealers’ license. The law has no observable effect on increasing homicide rates. Nor does the easing of some 1968 restrictions by the McClure-Volkmer Firearms Owners Protection Act in 1986, while outlawing ownership of new full-auto weapons, seem to produce any observable impact on the national homicide rate.

One set of comparisons are not included in the time-series homicide rate chart and probably should have been. The increase in domestic homicides seems to compare closely with the increase in immigration.

Also, if you were to statistically isolate the inner-city black population in the United States, the rest of the homicide rate drops down to that of the low-end-homicide-rate states. Black criminals murdering other blacks is the largest single statistical homicide grouping in this country, and throws all the other statistics out of whack.

As with regional comparisons of gun control, time-series observations do not seem to offer any reason to believe that increasing restrictions on firearms have any positive effect on reducing homicide rates.

All in all, I’d say anyone who is trying to make a case for or against gun control by linking availability of firearms with homicide rates is going to find it impossible to do so with any credibility.

Now let’s get to the other side of the equation: gun defenses. When a pharmaceutical company markets a drug, they must check to see whether or not it is (1) safe; and (2) effective. Let’s apply the same tests to firearms in the hands of the civilian population to see whether guns are safe and effective means for private citizens to defend themselves against crime.

Let’s look at safety first.

First, what about gun accidents? Let’s begin by comparing gun-related accidental deaths with accidental deaths from other causes.


Source: National Center for Health Statistics
(1991, latest official estimates)

Motor Vehicle* 47,575
Falls 12,151
Poisoning (solid, liquid, gas)* 6,524
Fires and Flames* 4,716
Drowning (incl. water transport drownings) 4,716
Suffocation (mechanical, ingestion)* 4,491
Surgical/Medical misadventures* 2,850
Other Transportation (excl. drownings)* 2,160
Natural/Environmental factors* 1,816
Firearms 1,489
(includes estimated 500 handgun and 200 hunting accidents)
*1989, latest official figures

In other words, firearms-related accidents are a comparatively small cause of death as compared to most other accidental causes.

And just to put this in context, accidental death from firearms is down 40% from ten years ago, and down 80% from fifty years ago.

Now that we’ve established that firearms accidents aren’t a major problem, let’s look at the overall safety of an armed citizenry.

Vermont in the only state in the union to allow any citizen to own or carry a gun, concealed or unconcealed, without any sort of license or permit. What is the homicide rate in Vermont? It’s 2.3 per 100,000 – one of the lowest in the nation.

Now let’s go to a state with a high homicide rate: Florida, with a homicide rate of 10.7 per 100,000. Florida licenses the carrying of concealed firearms to any U.S. resident who isn’t disqualified by reason of being a convicted criminal, or a drug addict, or a mental patient. You have to pass a fingerprint background check and show some sort of proof that you’re competent to carry a gun: any 8-hour NRA basic firearms handling & safety course will do.

Here are the statistics on Florida’s concealed-carry-weapons program:


Florida CCW Licensing Statistics

Florida CCW Licensing Statistics

We see here that among the 119,234 persons Florida has licensed to carry a concealed firearm, there have been only 16 cases where a licensee has subsequently used a firearm in violation of Florida law – and most of those are simply carrying into prohibited places such as a bar or airport.

We have established the safety of civilian carry of firearms beyond a doubt. Now let’s look at effectiveness of civilian carry of firearms in fighting crime.

Gary Kleck, professor of criminology at Florida State University at Tallahassee, has examined data from 8 separate studies, and has concluded with a 95% certainty interval (assuming one defense per survey respondent in the last five years – a highly conservative assumption) civilians in the United States use firearms over a million times a year in defense against crime. My own analysis of data compiled in a study by the Los Angeles Times leads me to believe that Kleck’s analysis is in fact an underestimate. [Note for this edition: I was right. The figure is now updated to 2.45 million defenses. See Q & A on Gun Defenses. – JNS, 1996] My own figures show that for every time a criminal uses a gun to commit a violent crime, there are two uses of a firearm by a private citizen to stop, prevent, or deter a crime.

Additionally, let’s look at some comparisons between police use of firearms and civilian use:


Comparisons between Civilian and Police Use of Firearms

(Source: Civil Rights Attorney Don Kates, St. Louis University School of Law, in Restricting Handguns: The Liberal Skeptics Speak Out, Firearms and Violence, and “Gun Control and the Subway Class.” The first two are books; the last is an article in the January 10, 1985 Wall Street Journal.)

Percentage of privately owned handguns used in crime: 0.4%

Number of times a year private handguns successfully used in defense: 645,000
[ Note for this edition: Now estimated at 1.9 million defenses yearly – JNS, 1996]

Percentage of times armed police have succeeded in wounding or driving off criminals: 68%

Percentage of times armed private citizens have succeeded in wounding or driving off criminals: 83%

Percentage persons who are innocent of a crime shot by armed police: 11%

Percentage of persons who are innocent of a crime shot by armed private citizens: 2%

Now, let’s look a Florida’s crime rate. We already know that Florida concealed-carry-weapons licensees aren’t a problem. But is there any other change in the Florida crime statistics since they instituted their new carry law?

Not a dramatic or conclusive one, but the crime trend in Florida is reversing. Note the following:


Crime in the United States, the FBI’s Uniform Crime Report.
Murder and Non-Negligent Manslaughter

Florida



    ____________________________________________________________

    Year   Total     % Change    Rate/100,000    % Change

    1990      1,379       -1.9         10.7            -3.6
    1989      1,405       -.8          11.1            -2.6
    1988      1,416       +3.3         11.4             --
    1987      1,371        --          11.4            -2.6
    1986      1,371       +5.8         11.7            +2.6
    1985      1,296                    11.4


Which shows that homicide, the most serious of the offenses, has been in a downward trend in Florida during the period when the number of private persons legally carrying firearms is increasing.

Handgun Control, Inc., responded by charging that the homicide figures weren’t telling, because rape and assault were still rising.

Well, they aren’t anymore. The trend has started to reverse.


Verbatim Statistics on Violent Crime in Florida,

1991 Annual State Report:



    Murder................DOWN .................8.0%
    w/Handguns.................. DOWN .................3.9%
    w/firearms...................DOWN ................15.4%
    w/knives.....................DOWN .................5.2%
    w/hands/fists/feet...........DOWN ................14.1%
    Other........................DOWN ................17.9%

    Robbery.............. DOWN .................1.7% w/Handgun......................UP .................0.6% w/firearms...................DOWN ................10.3% w/knives.....................DOWN .................6.6% w/hands/fists/feet...........DOWN .................0.6% Other........................DOWN .................4.6%

    Aggravated Assault....DOWN .................1.7% w/handgun....................DOWN .................5.9% w/firearms...................DOWN .................9.4% w/knives.....................DOWN .................3.4% w/hands/fists/feet.............UP .................5.5% Other..........................UP .................1.3%

    Burglary..............DOWN .................3.8% w/forced entry...............DOWN .................2.0% no forced entry..............DOWN .................9.5% Attempted entry..............DOWN .................5.3%

    Purse Snatching.......DOWN .................7.3%


Now lets look at some Non-Violent Crimes from the same 1991 Annual Report:


    Larceny.................UP .................3.1%
    Pocket Picking.................UP .................1.0%
    Shoplifting....................UP .................4.8%
    Theft from Coin Machines.......UP ................11.4%
    Motor Vehicle Theft............UP .................1.5%

    Drugs: Sale Overall.....UP ................11.0% Cocaine sale...................UP ................11.3% Marijuana sale.................UP ................34.3%

    Fraud...................UP .................0.7% Credit Card/ATM................UP ................16.2% Impersonation..................UP .................9.0% Welfare........................UP ................45.5% Wire (telephone fraud).........UP ................87.5%


Crooks in Florida do seem to be avoiding occasions where they might run into an armed citizen. I would say that while it is not conclusive, there is as much statistical weight at this point to the proposition that increasing the number of firearms being carried by the civilian population inhibits violent crime, as there is to the statistical linkage between cigarette smoking and heart disease or emphysema.

It is indisputable that the Florida concealed-carry firearms law has not turned Florida into the Gunshine State, as HCI and CBS News predicted in 1986.

It is indisputable that making CCW-licenses available to anyone who wants one and can pass an ordinary background check showing no criminal or psychological disqualification does not endanger the public.

And it is getting statistically strong that increasing the ability of the civilian population to carry firearms reverses rising crime trends as well.

What can we conclude from all this?

1) Restricting firearms does not reduce the homicide rate. Look at Scotland and Washington D.C.

2) Proliferating firearms does not increase the homicide rate. Look at Switzerland, Israel, New Hampshire, and Vermont, and the concealed-carry-weapons licensees in Florida.

3) Civilians carrying firearms are more safe and effective at deterring crime than are professional police.

My bottom line is my tagline:

Gun Control = Victim Disarmament & Increases Violent Crime!

Neil

#

Next in Stopping Power — Why 70 Million Americans Own Guns is It’s Time to Take a Second Look at Murder

Stopping Power — Why 70 Million Americans Own Guns is
Copyright © 1994, 1999 J. Neil Schulman &
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