In the wake of December's horrific mass shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut, Vice President Joe Biden is chairing a panel of experts that will make gun-control recommendations to President Barack Obama by the end of the month. The president has said that enacting new restrictions on guns will be one of his highest priorities.
No one wants to ever again see anything like the senseless slaughter of 26 people – including 20 children—at a school. But as legislators turn toward creating new gun laws, here are five facts they need to know.
1. Violent crime – including violent crime using guns – has dropped massively over the past 20 years.
The violent crime rate – which includes murder, rape, and beatings—is half of what it was in the early 1990s. And the violent crime rate involving the use of weapons has also declined at a similar pace.
2. Mass shootings have not increased in recent years.
Despite terrifying events like Sandy Hook or last summer's theater shooting in Aurora, Colorado, mass shootings are not becoming more frequent. "There is no pattern, there is no increase," says criminologist James Allen Fox of Northeastern University, who studies the issue. Other data shows that mass killings peaked in 1929.
3. Schools are getting safer.
Across the board, schools are less dangerous than they used be. Over the past 20 years, the rate of theft per 1,000 students dropped from 101 to 18. For violent crime, the victimization rate per 1,000 students dropped from 53 to 14.
4. There Are More Guns in Circulation Than Ever Before.
Over the past 20 years, virtually every state in the country has liberalized gunownership rules and many states have expanded concealed carry laws that allow more people to carry weapons in more places. There around 300 million guns in the United States and at least one gun in about 45 percent of all households. Yet the rate of gun-related crime continues to drop.
5. "Assault Weapons Bans" Are Generally Ineffective.
While many people are calling for reinstating the federal ban on assault weapons – an arbitrary category of guns that has no clear definition – research shows it would have no effect on crime and violence. "Should it be renewed," concludes a definitive study, "the ban's effects on gun violence are likely to be small at best and perhaps too small for reliable measurement."
The Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting is as horrifing a crime as can be imagined. It rips at the country's heart and the call to action is strong and righteous. But as Joe Biden and his panel of experts consider changes to gun laws and school-safety policies, they need to lead with their heads and not just their hearts.
Over the past dozen years, too many policies – the Patriot Act, the war in Iraq, the TARP bailouts – have been ruled by emotion and ideology.
Passing sweeping new restrictions on Second Amendment rights won't heal the pain and loss we all feel but just may create many more problems in our future.
Written by Nick Gillespie. Produced by Amanda C. Winkler. Additional camera work by Joshua Swain.
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