More Guns, Less Crime

The District of Columbia’s murder rate plummeted by an astounding 25 percent last year, much faster than for the US as a whole or for similarly sized cities. If you had asked Chicago’s Mayor Daley, that wasn’t supposed to happen. The Supreme Court’s 2008 decision to strike down DC’s handgun ban and gunlock requirements should have lead to a surge in murders, with Wild West shootouts. The Supreme Court might keep Daley’s predictions in mind today as they hear the oral arguments on Tuesday in the Chicago handgun ban case.


Everyone in DC now knows that murder rates rose after the handgun ban and fell after they were removed. Unfortunately, Chicago never learned that lesson. The forthcoming third edition of More Guns, Less Crime shows that in the 17 years after its ban on new handguns went into effect, there are only two years where Chicago’s murder rate was as low as it was in 1982. Chicago’s murder rate fell relative to other largest 50 largest cities prior to the ban and rose relative to them afterwards. For example, Chicago’s murder rate went from equalling the average for those other cities in 1982, to exceeding their average murder rate by 32 percent in 1992 and by 68 percent in 2002. There is no year after the ban that Chicago’s murder rate fared as well relative to other cities as it did in 1982.

Similar comparisons exist for the top ten largest cities, the US as a whole, or the counties that boarder Chicago. The accompanying figure shows how Chicago’s murder rates changed relative to the rates in the adjacent counties. In the five years before the ban, Chicago’s murder rate fell by 28 percent relative to those counties. (County level crime data only goes back to 1977.) in the five years after the ban, Chicago’s murder rate doubled relative to those other counties.

It shouldn’t be to surprising that Chicago’s murder rates rose after the ban. Every time gun bans have been tried murder rates have risen. In the United States, gun ban proponents have blamed this failure on easy access to guns in nearby states. But the experience in other countries, even island nations that have gone so far as banning handguns and where borders are easy to monitor, should give gun control supporters such as Mayor Daley and some of the members of the Supreme Court some pause. Whether one looks at Ireland, Jamaica or England and Wales the experience has been the same. Not only didn’t murder rates decline as promised, but the rates actually increased.

The results also confirmed recent research showing that gunlocks increase crime by making it more difficult for citizens to use guns to protect themselves from criminals. In DC’s case, the drop in violent crime is probably more attributable to eliminating the law that guns be locked and unloaded. Relatively few handguns were licensed to the rifles and shotguns that now could be stored loaded and unlocked.

There is a certain irony that so many Chicago politicians understand the protection that handguns provide. Chicago Tribune columnist John Kass wrote in 2008 that there are two types of people who are allowed to have handguns in Chicago: “The criminals. And the politicians.” Mayor Daley has round the clock armed bodyguards. Members of the city council get to become deputized police officers.

We all want to take guns away from criminals, but all too frequently gun control laws disarm law-abiding citizens not criminals. Police are extremely important in protecting citizens, indeed probably the single most important factor. But, as the police know all too well, they almost always arrive on the crime scene after the crime has been committed. If the government can’t protect its citizens, the last thing that it should do is make the crime situation even worse.

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