It's honestly a strange time for politicians to push ever-tighter restrictions on gun controls. Even if you're the sort of person who thinks that everybody's personal liberty should be restricted if somebody, somewhere, misbehaves, a report released today by the Bureau of Justice Statistics makes it apparent that crimes committed with firearms continue their steady, two-decade decline. In terms of specific policy, the recent focus on restricting "assault weapons" makes no sense in an environment in which the preferred weapon for committing those diminishing crimes is the handgun. And the recent obsession with extending background checks on people making legal gun purchases is a true head-scratcher, since most criminals don't buy their guns legally, with fewer than one percent acquiring their weapons at much-demonized gun shows.
Some important highlights from Firearm Violence, 1993-2011:
- Firearm-related homicides declined 39%, from 18,253 in 1993 to 11,101 in 2011
- Nonfatal firearm crimes declined 69%, from 1.5 million victimizations in 1993 to 467,300 victimizations in 2011
- From 1993 to 2011, about 70% to 80% of firearm homicides and 90% of nonfatal firearm victimizations were committed with a handgun
- In 2004, among state prison inmates who possessed a gun at the time of offense, less than 2% bought their firearm at a flea market or gun show and 40% obtained their firearm from an illegal source
For those specifically, and understandably, concerned about Newtown-style mass killings, there may be some comfort in knowing, "The number of homicides at schools declined over time, from an average of 29 per year in the 1990s (school year 1992-93 to 1999-00) to an average of 20 per year in the 2000s (school year 2000-01 to 2009-10).
For people interested in the defensive use of firearms, the report notes, "In 2007-11, about 1% of nonfatal violent crime victims used a firearm in self defense." In raw numbers, that's 235,700 incidents of armed self-defense. As we know, though, laws around the country can sometimes make it risky to defend yourself with a gun, potentially creating the risk of arrest and prosecution, so people may well be less likely to report such incidents than they are to report victimizations.
The report says that 40 percent of prison inmates obtained their guns illegally, but that's not the whole story. A vanishingly tiny percentage of prison inmates armed themselves at those gun shows that, we're told by politicians, are bazaars of lethal armament for criminals. Another 0.6 percent stocked up at flea markets. Aside from the explicitly illegal sources for 40 percent of guns are another 37.4 percent of acquisitions from "family or friend." Would anybody care to venture a guess as to how amenable to regulation the families and friends of violent criminals are likely to be?
And "military-style semiautomatic or fully automatic" firearms, of the sort targeted by Sen. Feinstein at the federal level, and by new laws in Colorado, Connecticut and New York, make up a whopping 3.2 percent of the weapons possessed by federal inmates, and 2 percent of the weapons possessed by state inmates, at the time of their offense.
This is not to say that there's nothing troubling to be found in the report. Murders and violent crimes are inherently troubling. It would be great to see them entirely disappear. It's also disturbing to see how much more at risk African-Americans are for homicide than are other ethnic groups. But the rate has gratifyingly dropped for everybody. Even if you believe that individual rights are subject to restriction to address abuses by some (and that such restrictions would actually have an effect), it's hard to see a pressing need for tough new laws to address a diminishing problem of crime committed with firearms. And that push for restrictions becomes preposterous when it's targeted at non-issues, like the use of "assault weapons" in crimes or the nonexistent flow of firearms to criminals from gun shows.
Don't miss Reason TV's Gun Fiction vs. Gun Facts: What Gun Control Supporters Don't Know: