Yet Another on Gun Laws

This social scientist, Patrick Egan, documents improvement on violence and gun laws …

Which proves that, though perhaps the worst in the civilized world, we’re doing better. Is that good enough?

But as pundits and politicians react, they would do well to keep in mind two fundamental trends about violence and guns in America that are going unmentioned in the reporting on Aurora.

First, we are a less violent nation now than we’ve been in over forty years.  In 2010, violent crime rates hit a low not seen since 1972; murder rates sunk to levels last experienced during the Kennedy Administration.  Our perceptions of our own safety have shifted, as well.  In the early 1980s, almost half of Americans told the General Social Survey (GSS) they were “afraid to walk alone at night” in their own neighborhoods; now only one-third feel this way….

Second, for all the attention given to America’s culture of guns, ownership of firearms is at or near all-time lows.  Since 1973, the GSS has been asking Americans whether they keep a gun in their home.  In the 1970s, about half of the nation said yes; today only about one-third do.  Driving the decline: a dramatic drop in ownership of pistols and shotguns, the very weapons most likely to be used in violent crimes.

About Scot McKnight

Scot McKnight is a recognized authority on the New Testament, early Christianity, and the historical Jesus. McKnight, author of more than fifty books, is the Professor of New Testament at Northern Seminary in Lombard, IL.

  • http://www.kypackrat.com/ Kentucky Packrat

    Patrick Egan misses two minor points. First, gun possession laws are clearly easing, especially instances of must-issue concealed carry permits. While I will not mirror John Lott’s claim that the drop in violence is caused by the lessing of restrictions on gun ownership, the “Wild West” myth that easing gun possession laws will cause blood to pour on the streets is dead.

    Second, Gallop says that 47% of households have a gun in the house or property ( http://www.gallup.com/poll/150353/self-reported-gun-ownership-highest-1993.aspx ). The GSS question is probably poorly written or suffers from a selection bias (probably towards women responders).

    To our great shame, Christians are to blame for the drop in crime, but not in a positive way. Both Lott and the Freakonomics guys have effectively blamed the drop in crime to the rise of contraceptive abortion. We have allowed the future criminals to be murdered by their mothers before being born.

    There is no room to brag here.

  • ao

    Kentucky Packrat (#1),

    You should consider dropping your second point. You provided no basis for your critique of the GSS. Why wouldn’t you blame Gallup instead for having a biased sample? Can you provide any evidence other than the fact that you prefer Gallup’s higher number? Can you compare the question wordings for us? Can you tell us how each survey sampled women? By all means, let’s have a critical discussion about these survey results. But what you’ve offered isn’t anything close to a critique of the survey. You’re just shooting in the dark (pun intended).

  • http://www.kypackrat.com/ Kentucky Packrat

    ao, you’re asking for a person on the Internet to back statements up with facts? Goodness gracious, are you new here? ;)

    The GSS itself admits weakness (read http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2610545/ ): Their findings, however, that married men reported a rate of 49% household firearm ownership compared with 36% reported by married women suggested that women were either unaware of their spouse’s firearm ownership or were reluctant to report it. These results led the authors to believe that more complete survey responses would come from individuals who personally owned a firearm rather than the household responses. The men’s percentages and women’s percentages are the same (within margin of error) for Gallop and GSS, so clearly either GSS under sampled men or Gallop oversampled when they calculated total households. I will admit to a personal bias my way…. :)

    The GSS has not changed questions in 25 years; a laudable goal for comparability between years, but it has serious weaknesses as a targeted survey. The GSS asks if there are guns in the house, Gallup asked if there are guns owned in the house, property, or in possession. If I store a gun in the car primarily & concealed carry the rest of the time, the GSS is going to measure me as a non-gun-owner when Gallop measures me as a gun owner.

    Second, the number of households per capita and the number of households headed by women per capita are both significantly higher now than even 10 years ago. This increase in the number of households can also be why “fewer households” does not necessarily “fewer people” owning guns.

    Back to the original point: we are becoming a more peaceful nation with MORE guns available. The 2010 NICS numbers are around 14 million checks. While some of these are non-sales checks, especially with concealed carry permits, 18 states also allow said CCW holders to buy guns without additional NICS checks (since you can’t keep the CCW if you would fail the NICS). Everyone I know with a CCW permit has used it to expedite a gun purchase(*), so the concept that the real number of civilian gun sells are above 14 million is easy for me to believe.

    If you want to mix up correlation with causation, more guns make society safer. ;) [No, I'm not going to pretend that I can prove that assertion.]

    (*) Repeat after me: the plural of anecdote is not data.


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