In the wake of the December 16 murder of 26 people ??? 20 of them children ??? at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn., President Obama has vowed to renew his fight for increased gun control.
In previous columns, we showed that dramatically increasing legal gun ownership in the United States in recent years has coincided with a falling murder rate, and an even more so with a falling murder rate by firearms. Far from supporting the assumption that gun ownership by law-abiding citizens causes murders, these figures suggest that it may actually reduce murders. If so, restricting the Second Amendment rights of the citizenry might result in more innocent deaths. Given the statistics, we concluded that the burden of proof must be on proponents of gun control to show otherwise.
Many commentators have suggested that the United States could reduce its murder rate even further by copying the United Kingdom, whose murder rate is one-fourth that of the United States. Americans can cut their murder rate to British levels, we are told, by enacting a handgun ban similar to the U.K.???s 1997 law, which virtually banned privately owned handguns.
Even before the U.K.???s ban went into effect, the British enjoyed a much lower murder rate than Americans. In fact, in 1997, the murder rate in the U.K. looked even better relative to the U.S. than today. While the American murder rate is about four times that of the U.K. today, back then it was about 5.8 times that of the U.K. Since the British banned handguns, the U.S. has actually begun to close the gap.
Before the U.K. handgun ban, the U.S. had about 5.6 more murders per 100,000 population than the U.K.; since the ban, this gap has narrowed to about 3.5 more murders per 100,000 population ??? a decline of about two murders per 100,000 population, or more than a third.
The gap has been closing because, in the years since the British ban went into effect, the U.S. murder rate has declined much more than the U.K. murder rate. Since 1997, the murder rate in the U.K. has declined from 1.18 to 1.15 murders per 100,000 population ??? a fall of just 0.03 murders per 100,000 population, or about 2.5 percent. In the U.S. during the same period, the murder rate dropped from 6.8 to 4.7 ??? a fall of more than two murders per 100,000 population, or nearly 30 percent.
If the U.S. copies the British handgun ban and as a result sees the decline in its murder rate slow to British levels, many thousands more innocents will die.
Moreover, if the American experience tracks that of the British, we can expect to see the murder rate actually rise in the years immediately following enactment of a handgun ban. In the U.K., during the six years after enactment, the murder rate rose to 1.79 ??? an increase of 0.61 murders per 100,000 population, or more than 50 percent. During the same period, the U.S. saw its murder rate fall to 5.69 ??? a drop of more than one murder per 100,000 population, or about 16 percent.
An increase in the U.S. murder rate equivalent to what the British experienced during this period would mean more than 6,000 additional victims killed.
Murder rates have declined nearly 30 percent in the U.S. since 1997. As we have seen, this substantial improvement has coincided with a dramatic increase in gun ownership. Unless the proponents of gun control can show evidence that the murder rate would have dropped even more without this increase in gun ownership, Americans should exercise caution with regard to proposals to gut the Second Amendment.