Gun ownership in the United States is up. Violent crime is down. Is this a matter of cause and effect?
The question merits pondering on the January 8 anniversary of the Arizona mass shooting which killed six people, severely injured a member of congress, Gabrielle Giffords, and rekindled the seemingly endless on-and-off debate over gun regulations in the United States, the country with the greatest number of firearms in private hands.
Judging from the background checks gun dealers filed to the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), that number jumped by around 1.5 million in December, thanks partly to a spurt of buying around Christmas. For Arizona gun enthusiasts who left firearms out of their Christmas giving, gun shows in Tucson and Phoenix provide another shopping opportunity on the Giffords shooting anniversary.
Advocates of tighter restrictions on firearms have long insisted that more guns equal more violence but a series of FBI statistics released in 2011 makes one wonder about that assumption. Gun sales have risen by twelve percent nationally over the last three years, initially spurred by mistaken fears that President Barack Obama would push for tighter controls. In the same period, violent crime (murder, rape, robbery and aggravated assault) dropped steadily and now stands at a 37-year low.
Does this vindicate the school of thought that holds that armed citizens are the best defense against crime? “The numbers are consistent with what I’ve been saying for a long time,” says John Lott, author of a controversial 1997 study entitles More Guns, Less Crime. “When bans on guns, as in Chicago and Washington DC, were lifted, murders actually declined,” he said in an interview. (Washington recorded 145 murders in 2009 and 132 in 2010).