Myth: Gun control laws won't reduce the gun homicide rate.

Fact: The murder rate almost always falls after the enforcement of gun control laws.


There are numerous examples of gun control laws that have reduced the murder rate -- both domestically and internationally.


Contrary to what the gun lobby would have you believe, there is abundant evidence that enforcing gun control laws reduces the gun homicide rate.

One of the most remarkable examples was a 1992-93 Kansas City experiment by the National Institute of Justice. There, police officers in a large section of the inner city agreed to work overtime to remove illegal guns from the streets. During these overtime shifts, they were given no other responsibilities but to search for and confiscate illegal weapons. This heightened enforcement (of existing gun laws) lasted 29 weeks. The study compared the crime rate during this period to the prior 29 weeks; it also compared the "target area" with a "comparison area" which experienced no changes in its normal police duties. The population of the target area was almost entirely nonwhite and had a crime rate 20 times the national average.

The results were dramatic. Seizures of illegal guns in the target area climbed 65 percent above normal, while they actually declined somewhat in the comparison area. Meanwhile, gun crimes declined 49 percent in the target area. Drive-by shootings fell from 7 to 1 in the time periods compared. The rates for other types of crime did not change, but -- most significantly -- there appeared to be no spillover of crime from the target area into surrounding areas. (For more details of this study, see Appendix A below.)

There are other examples of stricter gun control passing into law, their success depending on how fully they were enforced:

An interstate comparison of the United States is also quite revealing. All states, some localities, and the federal government have laws concerning weapons, including their sale, possession, manufacturing, importation and use. Examples include bans on machine guns, carrying concealed weapons or sales to felons. Violations of these laws are called "weapons offenses," and they make up about 2 percent of all arrests nationwide. They do not include crimes like armed robbery, armed assault, etc.

It turns out there is a quite strong correlation between the murder rate and the weapons offense arrest rate.

State murder rates (per 100,000 population) and weapons offense arrest
rates (per 100,000 population), 1993. (t = tie) (6)

                         Weapons          Weapons
                Murder   Offense  Murder  Offense
State           Rate     Rate     Rank    Rank 
Louisiana       20.3     142      1       4
Mississippi     13.5     135      2       8
New York        13.3     102      3      20
California      13.1     135      4       9
Maryland        12.7     104      5      19
Texas           11.9     139      6       7
Alabama         11.6      67      7      34
Georgia         11.4     149      8       3
Illinois        11.4      75      9      30(t)
North Carolina  11.3     132     10      10
Missouri        11.3     199     11       1
Nevada          10.4     141     12       5
South Carolina  10.3      77     13      29
Arkansas        10.2     126     14      13
Tennessee       10.2     131     15      11
Michigan         9.8     107     16      16(t)
Alaska           9.0     107     17      16(t)
Florida          8.9      68     18      33
Arizona          8.6     114     19      15
Oklahoma         8.4      91     20      24
Virginia         8.3     129     21      12
New Mexico       8.0      71     22      32
Indiana          7.5      59     23      38
West Virginia    6.9      77     24      28
Pennsylvania     6.8      49     25      40
Kentucky         6.6     106     26      18
Kansas           6.4      94     27      22(t)
Connecticut      6.3     116     28      14
Ohio             6.0      97     29      21
Colorado         5.8     140     30       6
New Jersey       5.3      94     31      22(t)
Washington       5.2      75     32      30(t)
Delaware         5.0      30     33      44(t)
Oregon           4.6      81     34      26
Wisconsin        4.4     165     35       2
Massachusetts    3.9      35     36      42
Nebraska         3.9      78     37      27
Rhode Island     3.9      60     38      36(t)
Hawaii           3.8      60     39      36(t)
Vermont          3.6       1     40      50
Wyoming          3.4      31     41      43
Minnesota        3.4      61     42      35
South Dakota     3.4      41     43      41
Utah             3.1      85     44      25
Montana          3.0      12     45      49
Idaho            2.9      52     46      39
Iowa             2.3      30     47      44(t)
New Hampshire    2.0      16     48      48 
North Dakota     1.7      25     49      46
Maine            1.6      23     50      47
Correlation              .67            .71
to crime (7)

The correlation between crime and weapons offense arrests is .67 for the raw statistics and .71 for the state rankings. These are both quite strong and highly significant correlations.

Of course, there is an obvious criticism to the above chart. It could simply prove that murderers have a penchant for handling their weapons illegally -- something we already knew.

However, this chart also shows that there is value to gun control laws, since the behavior and weaponry they regulate are correlated with higher murder rates. It also suggests that enforcing these laws more strictly would reduce the murder rate.

To see why, consider drunk driving laws. It doesn't matter whether drunk driving is legal or not - it is the behavior itself which is correlated with higher traffic fatalities. At first the U.S. did not regulate drunk drivers, and the result was a tragically high fatality rate. But eventually the nation passed DUI laws, and each time it has strengthened them, traffic fatalities have fallen. If we were to compare the states' statistics on DUI arrests and traffic fatalities, we would expect to find the states with the most DUI's experiencing the most fatalities. This would call for stricter passage and enforcement of DUI laws.

(As an aside, it would be illogical for a drunk driving lobby to argue that they have the right to drive drunk as long as they don't hurt anyone. We would surely think it strange for them to argue that police should crack down only on the drunk drivers who cause accidents, and that "law-abiding" drunk drivers should not be "persecuted" with DUI convictions.)

Of course, the opposite argument is also possible: more arrests could be a symptom of greater commitment to law enforcement. In that case, the higher fatality rate is occurring in spite of, not because of, greater law enforcement efforts.

To disprove this reverse causal arrow, a few preliminary observations are necessary. First, law enforcement can be divided into two categories: effective and antagonistic. Banning free speech would be an example of antagonistic law enforcement; the more a state tried to enforce it, the more people would rebel against it. That's only to a certain point, however; when Gestapo-like enforcement becomes too brutal, people eventually comply. Compare this to effective law enforcement -- for example, writing tickets for speeders. If the speed limit is 50, but everyone is driving 70, the police face a massive crackdown job. They are going to have to work overtime writing tickets until finally a reputation is established, and drivers learn to slow down. But once everyone is driving 50 again, then law enforcement can be reduced; only a fraction of the police are necessary to catch the occasional speeder. Notice that in the compliance phase of antagonistic enforcement, lots of police are necessary; in the compliance phase of effective enforcement, few police are necessary.

What defines the difference between effective and antagonistic law enforcement? It ultimately boils down to people's attitudes towards a specific law. People believe that free speech is a cherished right, but they do not believe the same thing about the ability to drive 70 miles an hour. Indeed, most people can see the need for lower speed limits, especially in crowded cities.

Now, a gun advocate may claim that gun control laws are antagonistic, and the reason why more weapons arrests are tied to higher murder rates is because we are still in the rebellious stage, not the police state/compliance stage. However, murder is not free speech; people do not have a right to commit murder, much less be antagonized by its unlawfulness. Furthermore, murder does not fit the definition of an antagonistic law; almost everyone sees the need to curtail it, and therefore agrees with it.

That, gun control advocates claim, would make gun control laws effective law enforcement. And the experiences of Kansas City, Washington D.C. and Europe show that gun control laws do not result in rebellion, but lower murder rates. Most of the nation, however, is still in the pre-crackdown phase, much like the stage where most drivers are breaking the speed limit or driving drunk. The states with the most egregious violators are making the most arrests, but no states are seriously cracking down on weapons offenses.

It is more reasonable to conclude that enforcing gun control laws will reduce behavior that is tied to higher murder rates.

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1. Jeffrey Roth, "Firearms and Violence," National Institute of Justice Research in Brief, February 1994.

2. Ibid.

3. Ibid.

4. Ibid.

5. U.S. Federal Bureau of Investigation, Uniform Crime Reports, 1993, 1994.

6. U.S. Federal Bureau of Investigation, Crime in the United States, 1993.

7. Spearman correlation of ranks:

p (chance that r=0 coincidentally) = 1.0627e-08 (very small)
ts (t statistics) = 6.8957
df (degrees of freedom n-2) = 48
r (correlation) = 0.70544

Pearson correlation of murder rate/weapon offense rate:

p = 8.7832e-08
ts = 6.2978
df = 48
r = 0.67264



Gun crime has been increasing rapidly throughout the Nation, especially in inner-city areas. To learn whether vigorous enforcement of existing gun laws could reduce gun crime, the National Institute of Justice (NIJ) sponsored an evaluation of the Kansas City, Missouri, Police Department's "Weed and Seed" program. The evaluation found that the program's success in getting more guns off the street in one violent Kansas City neighborhood reduced gun crimes there by almost 50 percent during a 6-month period. The data indicate that more than two gun crimes were prevented for every gun seized.

Study design

For 29 weeks, from July 7, 1992, to January 27, 1993, police patrols were increased in gun crime "hot spots" in a target area. The researchers identified the hot spot locations by computer analysis of all gun crimes in the target area, patrol beat 144 in the Central Patrol District. An 80-block neighborhood normally covered by one patrol car, the target area had a homicide rate 20 times higher than the national average. The population was almost entirely nonwhite, with more than two-thirds of all residences being owner-occupied, single-family, detached homes.

In the target area, assigned officers focused exclusively on gun detection through proactive, directed patrol and were not required to answer calls for service. The extra patrol was handled by four officers who worked 6 hours of overtime each night (from 7 p.m. to 1 a.m.) for 176 nights, with only two officers working an additional 24 nights, for a total of 4,512 officer-hours and 2,256 patrol car-hours.

Guns were found by officers on the directed patrols during frisks and searches and following arrests on other charges. To ensure the protection of civil liberties, every search had to conform to legal guidelines for adequate articulable suspicion and every arrest for carrying concealed weapons had to be approved by a supervisory detective.

To gather information, an onsite University of Maryland evaluator accompanied the officers on 300 hours of directed patrol in the target area. Property room data on guns seized, as well as computerized crime reports, calls for service data, and arrest records, were analyzed over two time periods: the 29 weeks before the program began in 1992 and the 29 weeks while the program was active.

Data for the same time period were also collected for a comparison area (patrol beat 242 in the Metro Patrol District), which had about the same volume of violent crime and drive-by shootings as the target area. In the comparison area no changes were made in the number or duties of patrol officers.

Increased enforcement

During the program period, officers working overtime on the directed patrols reported spending 3.27 car-hours of the 12 car-hours per night (or 27 percent of their time) actually patrolling the target area, for a total of 1,218 officer-hours of potential gun detection. The officers thus spent about 70 percent of their time processing arrests and performing other patrol-related duties.

Despite the limited amount of time the officers actually spent on patrol in the target area, the volume of activity was significant. The officers on directed patrol issued 1,090 traffic citations and made 948 car checks, 532 pedestrian checks, 170 State or Federal arrests, and 446 city arrests, for an average of one intervention every 40 minutes per patrol car.

Guns seized

In the target area, 65 percent more guns were seized in the second half of 1992 than in the first half; gun seizures increased from 46 in the first 6 months of 1992 to 76 in the last 6 months. In the comparison area, however, gun seizures decreased slightly in the second half of 1992. Related findings include: Impact on gun crimes

Data from the first and second halves of 1992 show that gun crimes declined significantly in the target area--83 fewer gun crimes were committed, a 49 percent decline--while they increased slightly in the comparison area. Related findings include: Conclusion

This study shows that a police department can successfully implement a program to increase seizures of illegally carried guns in high gun-crime areas. Police officers can be very productive when given the opportunity to focus on gun detection in identified crime hot spots without being obligated to answer calls for service. In addition, gun seizures do not appear to require large tactical operations; in the Kansas City high-crime target area, the officers worked in two-officer patrol units and no gun attacks on officers were reported during the directed patrols. Directed patrols were also shown to be, on average, about three times more cost-effective in getting guns off the street than routine police activity.

The researchers note that much remains to be learned about gun detection and seizure by police through evaluations of similar programs. But before such studies are completed, many cities will have to make decisions about how to respond to rising gun crime. A citywide version of this program was implemented (without overtime) in Indianapolis, Indiana in October 1994. Whether a citywide program can replicate the results that the Kansas City experiment achieved in a small area is the next important question to be answered.

Results from the evaluation, supported in part by NIJ grant 91-DD-CX-K056, are reported in an NIJ Research in Brief, The Kansas City Gun Experiment, by University of Maryland Criminology Professor Lawrence W. Sherman, who directed the study in collaboration with Dennis P. Rogan and James W. Shaw.

The Research in Brief can be obtained from the National Criminal Justice Reference Service (NCJRS), Box 6000, Rockville, MD 20850, 800-851-3420. Ask for NCJ 150855.



In 1976, the Washington D.C. Firearms Control Regulations Act became law. The murder rate dropped substantially within the city for the next 12 years, even though the national murder rate stayed the same over this period. In 1987, a crack epidemic overtook Washington D.C., and the murder rate soared as a result of these drug-related crimes, turning Washington D.C. into "the Murder Capital of the United States."

In an attempt to discredit the 12-year success of gun control in Washington D.C., gun control advocates have raised a number of statistical objections. The following chart can be found in Ken Barnes' THE LONG LIST OF "GUN-CONTROL" MYTHS, the Official Pro-Gun FAQ for talk.politics.guns. However, the statistics they cite do not even prove their point, and in fact can be used by gun control advocates.

Rates for Murder/Non-negligent Manslaughter and Homicide (per 100,000
population) for Washington D.C. and the U.S. (n.a. = not available.)

         D.C.         D.C.          U.S.
Year     MNNM         Homicide      MNNM
1957     10.2           8.9          4.7
1958      9.8           n.a.         4.7
1959      9.7           9.9          4.8
1960     10.6          11.5          5.1
1961     11.4          11.5          4.8
1962     11.7          12.7          4.6
1963     12.0          11.1          4.6
1964     16.5 <upturn  14.7  upturn> 4.9
1965     18.6          15.3          5.1
1966     17.8          16.8          5.6
1967     22.5          22.0          6.1
1968     25.1          20.2          6.9
1969     37.7 <plateau 31.9          7.2
1970     29.2          26.4          7.8
1971     36.3          34.7          8.5
1972     32.6          33.5          8.9
1973     36.4          35.3          9.3
1974     38.3 <high    38.0    high> 9.7
1975     33.0          34.0          9.6
1976 LAW 26.9 <low     28.9     low> 8.7
1977     28.0          27.3          8.8
1978     28.2          25.6          8.9
1979     27.4          28.1          9.7
1980     31.5          27.6   high> 10.2
1981     35.1 <high    35.1          9.8
1982     30.7          33.8          9.0
1983     29.4          26.2          8.2
1984     28.1          26.8          7.9
1985     23.5 <low     23.3     low> 7.9
1986     31.0          28.1          8.5
1987     36.2          33.8          8.2
1988     59.5 <upturn  49.7  upturn> 8.3
1989     71.9          59.6          8.5
1990     77.9          66.5          9.3
1991     80.6 <high    69.7    high> 9.6
1992     75.2           n.a.         9.2
1993     78.6           n.a.         9.4
1994     70.0           n.a.         8.8

Critics of the D.C. law make a big deal over the fact that the Murder/Non-negligent Manslaughter rate was already falling in 1975, a year before the law went into effect. However, even the most casual glance at the chart reveals that the murder rate is volatile, changing significantly from year to year. A far more accurate way to compare the pre-law and post-law murder rates is to average them over a period of years.

After climbing in the 60s, the murder rate plateaued at a high level from 1969 to 1975. This was followed by a period of reduced murder rates after the law went into effect, from 1976 to 1987. Here are the averages from those two periods:

Average rates of Murder/Non-negligent Manslaughter and Homicide (per
100,000) for Washington D.C. and the U.S.

                D.C.   D.C.      U.S.
                MNNM   Homicide  MNNM
1969 to 1975:   34.8     33.4     8.7
1976 to 1987:   29.7     28.7     8.8

So we see a five-point drop in the murder rate for Washington D.C. after the law went into effect, compared to an insignificant increase for the rest of the nation. This case study remains an excellent example of how gun control laws contribute to lower murder rates.


Uniform Crime Reports for the United States, 19xx-1994, Federal Bureau of Investigation, U.S. Dept. of Justice, SuDoc# J 1.14/7:9xx

Vital Statistics of the United States, 19xx-1991, Vol. II - Mortality Part B, National Center for Health Statistics, U.S. Public Health Service, SuDoc# HE 20.6210:9xx/v.2/pt.B

Statistical Abstract of the United States 19xx-1994, Bureau of the Census, U.S. Dept. of Commerce, SuDoc# C 3.134:9xx

Population estimates are for D.C. only, excluding non-D.C. Metropolitan Statistical Area, using census figures for years ending in zero.

Homicides include total homicides (including justifiable homicides and homicides due to "legal intervention" by the police).

Rates for Murder/Non-negligent Manslaughter and Homicide (per 100,000) are population-adjusted figures (annual rates per 100,000 population).

* U.S. Murder/Non-negligent Manslaughter rates reflect the population-adjusted MNNM figures for the entire United States (annual rates per 100,000 population), excluding the population and MNNM of the District of Columbia Formula:
(US)MNNM/100K = ((usMNNM - dcMNNM) / (usPop - dcPop)) * 100,000

n.a. = not available



In 1978, Canada passed C-51, a law which banned non-grandfathered automatic weapons, required the registration of other firearms, and generally tightened restrictions on their transportation and use. This was accompanied by a substantial drop in the firearm homicide rate:

Canadian homicide rate (per 100,000)

                  By      By other
Year    Overall   guns    methods
1974     2.68     1.4     1.3
1975     3.09     1.4     1.7
1976     2.91     1.2     1.7
1977     3.06     1.2     1.8
1978     2.81     1.1     1.7  < C-51 passed
1979     2.66     0.9     1.8
1980     2.47     0.9     1.6
1981     2.66     0.8     1.8
1982     2.72     1.0     1.7
1983     2.75     0.9     1.8
1984     2.67     0.9     1.7
1985     2.80     0.8     1.9
1986     2.24     0.7     1.5
1987     2.51     0.8     1.7 

74-78    2.91     1.3     1.6
79-87    2.61     0.9     1.7

Source: Stats Canada 88.

This chart shows that the drop in firearm homicides was not cancelled out by an equal rise in homicides using other methods. Murderers did not simply switch over to other types of weapons. In fact, t-tests show that the average drop in firearm homicides is significant (p=0.00003), whereas the slight increase for other methods is not (p=0.39).

Of course, this chart alone does not tell us if gun control was the cause of this reduction in gun homicides. But it does present a significant challenge to those who would like to argue that gun control laws increase the murder rate, or cause murderers to choose alternate weapons.

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