Think How High the Homicide Rate Would Have Been If We Hadn't Banned Guns


This week the District of Columbia filed a petition asking the U.S. Supreme Court to uphold D.C.'s gun ban. The district's lawyers argue that the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit, which overturned the ban last March, was wrong to conclude that the Second Amendment protects an individual right to own firearms. But even if the appeals court were right about that, they say, D.C.'s restrictions on gun possession should still be upheld as reasonable public safety measures:

It is eminently reasonable to permit private ownership of other types of weapons, including shotguns and rifles, but ban the easily concealed and uniquely dangerous modern handgun….Whatever right the Second Amendment guarantees, it does not require the District to stand by while its citizens die.

There are two problems with this argument. First, D.C. not only bans handgun ownership by anyone who isn't a current or former law enforcement officer; it also requires that long guns be kept locked or unloaded and disassembled, which makes using them against home invaders impractical. The law effectively prohibits armed self-defense, which is hard to reconcile with "the right to keep and bear arms."

Second, there is no reason to believe that D.C.'s gun ban has reduced violent crime. While it disarms law-abiding citizens, criminals have little difficulty obtaining guns, to judge by the city's consistently high homicide rate. As University of Maryland economist John Lott notes in a Washington Times op-ed piece, D.C.'s homicide and violent crime rates, which were falling in the years before the gun ban, climbed after it took effect:

In the five years before Washington's ban in 1976, the murder rate fell from 37 to 27 per 100,000. In the five years after it went into effect, the murder rate rose back up to 35. But there is one fact that seems particularly hard to ignore. D.C.'s murder rate fluctuated after 1976 but has only once fallen below what it was in 1976 (that happened years later, in 1985). Does D.C. really want to argue that the gun ban reduced the murder rate?

Similarly for violent crime, from 1977 to 2003, there were only two years when D.C.'s violent crime rate fell below the rate in 1976.

Lott notes that other jurisdictions, including Chicago, England, Ireland, and Jamaica, also have seen violent crime rise after adopting strict gun control. He does not explicitly argue (as you might expect from the author of More Guns, Less Crime) that disarming law-abiding residents encourages crime, but he does show that D.C. will have a hard time constructing even a prima facie case in support of its gun laws' effectiveness.