Following the theater shooting in Aurora, Colorado the predictable calls for gun control have surfaced once again. These emotional reactions are understandable in the face of evil, horrific events like this one. However, some objectivity on this subject is needed, so the following information may help establish some needed context. Some of the data in the following categories is not very recent, but is the most recent data that is available.
According to the Website justfacts.com, in 2009 the population of the United States was 307 million, and there were approximately 300 million firearms owned by civilians.
Nearly 45 percent of households, about 53 million, possessed a firearm, and one in three adults, nearly 80 million, owned a firearm. Among gun owners 67 percent said they owned a firearm for protection against crime, 66 percent for target shooting, and 41 percent for hunting.
U.S. Department of Justice data reveals that roughly 5,340,000 violent crimes (assaults, robberies, sexual assaults, rapes, and murders) were committed in the United States during 2008, and that about 436,000 or 8 percent were committed by offenders visibly armed with a gun.
A paper published in the Journal of Criminal Law and Criminology discussed a 1993 nationwide survey of nearly 5,000 households that showed that over a five-year period “at least 3.5 percent of households had members who had used a gun ‘for self-protection or for the protection of property at home, work, or elsewhere,’" and that totaled more than one million incidents per year.
The Website for the Bureau of Justice Standards (BJS) at the U.S. Department of Justice contains the following relevant points:
- As of 2008, data showed that firearm-related crime had plummeted since 1993.
- The 1997 Survey of State Prison Inmates, showed that among those possessing a gun, the source of the gun was from a flea market or gun show less than 2 percent of the time; a retail store or pawnshop about 12 percent of the time; and from family, friends, a street buy, or an illegal source about 80 percent of the time.
- Two sources, an article in the journal Society and in the Journal of Criminal Law and Criminology reported in 1993 and 1995 respectively that gun-related violence is most common in poor urban areas and in conjunction with gang violence, often involving juveniles or young adults.
So, firearm-related crimes were substantially down in 2008; earlier surveys showed prison inmates admitted getting guns primarily from family, friends, a street buy or an illegal source; and only 8 percent of crimes were committed by criminals who definitely had a gun. Couple that with the fact that some cities with high rates of gun crimes – Chicago, Washington, DC, New York and Detroit, to name four – have some of the strongest gun control laws. Those data argue against, not for, more stringent gun control laws.
Colorado’s Democrat Governor John Hickenlooper acknowledged that stricter gun control laws would not have prevented the carnage in Aurora during an interview on CNN’s “State of the Union”: “This person, if there were no assault weapons available, if there were no this or no that, this guy’s going to find something, right? He’s going to know how to create a bomb. Who knows where his mind would have gone. Clearly a very intelligent individual however twisted.”
Gov. Hickenlooper understands what so many people do not understand: that what is at the root of horrific events like this one, and the Columbine High School shooting, the 9-11 terrorist attacks, the Virginia Tech shooting, the Fort Hood shooting, and every other such incident, is what is in the mind and heart of the perpetrators.
Someone offered the idea that if at least one person with a concealed-carry permit had been allowed to carry a firearm into that theater, the killer might have been stopped. Unfortunately, it is against the law for anyone to carry a concealed weapon in Aurora, so the only one with a weapon in that theater was the perpetrator. All of the gun owners there that morning were law abiding citizens, except the shooter. Odd, isn’t it: murderers and other criminals do not obey laws. And even though police were nearby for crowd and traffic control for the midnight movie, they didn’t stop this miscreant.
Some will counter that if some movie-goers were armed their efforts to stop the murderer would have produced even more carnage. We’ll never know for sure, but it’s hard to imagine that more than 70 people would have been injured or killed. However, it is possible that if the murderer knew that people in that theater were armed, he might not have gone there.
Most ideas for new gun laws are simplistic and won’t work, and they won’t work because they focus on the wrong thing. It isn’t guns that kill people; it is the people misusing the guns.
Fortunately, the sentiment to pass more gun control laws is not strong, although the United Nations Arms Trade Treaty and proposed amendments to the Cybersecurity Act still represent back-door efforts to subvert the constitutional protections contained in the Second Amendment.