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Gun control laws are laws that control the possession and use of firearms. These laws are different in different countries.
Private ownership of guns
Private ownership of guns and their relationship to domestic violence casualties is a significant variable used for political leverage in the policy debate. While many shootings occurring in the course of a mutual argument of passion, others occur where a partner or family member of a "romantic" or familial relationship, who is an ongoing victim of domestic physical abuse or sexual abuse, uses the force of a firearm in self-defense action against a perpetrator who also happens to be known to or related to the victim. As a corollary, in such policy advertising campaigns, the comparison of "domestic" gun casualties is usually not accompanied by murder and assault prosecution numbers stemming from the shootings occurring in that context. In many of the latter cases, the victim firing in self-defense is frequently a woman or youth victim of a more physically powerful abuser. In those situations gun rights advocates argue that the firearm arguably becomes an equalizer against the lethal and disabling force frequently exercised by the abusers.
In 2002 in the U.S., 1,202 women were killed by their intimate partners, accounting for 30 percent of the 4006 women murdered that year. A total of 700 women were killed by intimate partners using guns. The same year, 175 men were killed by intimate partners.
Many gun control opponents point to statistics in advertising campaigns purporting that "approximately 9 or so children are killed by people discharging firearms every day across the US," and argue that this statistic is seldom accompanied by a differentiation of those children killed by individuals from unintentional discharges and stray bullets, and of those "children," under the age of majority—which is 18-21 in the U.S.—who are killed while acting as aggressors in street gang related mutual combat or while committing crimes, many of which are seen as arising from the War on Drugs. There is further controversy regarding courts, trials, and the resulting sentences of these mostly "young men" as adults despite them not having reached the age of consent. A significant number of gun related deaths occur through suicide.
According to statistics available from the Centers of Disease Control and Prevention, of nearly 31,000 firearm-related deaths in 2005, suicides account for 55 percent of deaths in the United States whereas homicides account for 40 percent of deaths, accidents account for three percent, and the remaining two percent were legal killings. Public Health researchers state that the likelihood of someone dying from suicide or homicide is less in homes where guns are present.
Gun ownership and gun violence
Several studies have examined the correlations between rates of gun ownership and gun-related as well as overall homicide and suicide rates within various jurisdictions around the world. Martin Killias, in a study covering 21 countries, found that there were substantial correlations between gun ownership and gun-related suicide and homicide rates. There was also a substantial though lesser correlation between gun ownership and total homicide rates. It also reported a strong correlation between gun-related homicide of women and gun-related assaults against women; however, this was not the case for similar crimes against men. This study indicates correlation, but no causality. That is to say it could mean that the easier access to guns lead to more violence, or it could mean that larger amounts of violence lead to a higher level of gun ownership for self defense, or any other independent cause.
A study by Rich et al. on suicide rates in Toronto and Ontario and psychiatric patients from San Diego reached the conclusion that increased gun restrictions, while reducing suicide-by-gun, resulted in no net decline in suicides, because of substitution of another method — namely leaping. Killias argues against the theory of complete substitution, citing a number of studies that have indicated, in his view "rather convincingly", that suicidal candidates far from always turn to another means of suicide if their preferred means is not at hand.
In an extensive series of studies of large, nationally representative samples of crime incidents, criminologist Gary Kleck found that crime victims who defend themselves with guns are less likely to be injured or lose property than victims who either did not resist, or resisted without guns. This was so, even though the victims using guns typically faced more dangerous circumstances than other victims. The findings applied to both robberies and assaults. Other research on rape indicated that although victims rarely resisted with guns, those using other weapons were less likely to be raped, and no more likely to suffer other injuries besides rape itself, than victims who did not resist, or resisted without weapons. There is no evidence that victim use of a gun for self-protection provokes offenders into attacking the defending victim or results in the offender taking the gun away and using it against the victim.
Kleck has also shown, in his own national survey, and in other surveys with smaller sample sizes, that the numbers of defensive uses of guns by crime victims each year are probably substantially larger than the largest estimates of the number of crimes committed of offenders using guns. Thus, defensive gun use by victims is both effective and, relative to criminal uses, frequent. In a largely approving review of Kleck's book Point Blank (1991) in the journal Political Psychology, Joseph F. Sheley argues that Kleck sidesteps the larger political problem of the role of gun culture in contributing to the spread and effect of violence in the United States.
The economist John Lott, in his book More Guns, Less Crime, states that laws which make it easier for law-abiding citizens to get a permit to carry a gun in public places, cause reductions in crime. Lott's results suggest that allowing law-abiding citizens to carry concealed firearms deters crime because potential criminals do not know who may or may not be carrying a firearm. Lott's data came from the FBI's crime statistics from all 3,054 US counties.
Critics, mostly gun-control advocates, have asserted that Lott's county-based crime data were largely meaningless because they did not reflect actual rates of crime in all the counties that Lott studied, but rather the number of crimes occurring in whatever local jurisdictions (towns and cities) that happened to report their crime statistics to state authorities. Thus, some of the supposed crime drops that Lott attributed to the new carry laws could merely have been the result of fewer local police forces reporting crime statistics. Lott answered their assertions by publishing his study and noting that this fact was taken into account by using the same police agencies that reported their statistics both before and after the new concealed carry laws took effect.
The efficacy of gun control legislation at reducing the availability of guns has been challenged by, among others, the testimony of criminals that they do not obey gun control laws, and by the lack of evidence of any efficacy of such laws in reducing violent crime. The most thorough analysis of the impact of gun control laws, by Kleck, covered 18 major types of gun control and every major type of violent crime or violence (including suicide), and found that gun laws generally had no significant effect on violent crime rates or suicide rates. In his paper, Understanding Why Crime Fell in the 1990s: Four Factors that Explain the Decline and Six that Do not, University of Chicago economist Steven Levitt argues that available data indicate that neither stricter gun control laws nor more liberal concealed carry laws have had any significant effect on the decline in crime in the 1990s. While the debate remains hotly disputed, it is therefore not surprising that a comprehensive review of published studies of gun control, released in November 2004 by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, was unable to determine any reliable statistically significant effect resulting from such laws, although the authors suggest that further study may provide more conclusive information.
Thirty-nine U.S. states have passed "shall issue" concealed carry legislation of one form or another. In these states, law-abiding citizens (usually after giving evidence of completing a training course) may carry handguns on their person for self-protection. Other states and some cities such as New York may issue permits. Only Illinois, Wisconsin and the District of Columbia have explicit legislation forbidding personal carry. Vermont and Alaska do not require permits to carry concealed weapons, although Alaska retains a shall issue permit process for reciprocity purposes with other states.
Supporters of gun-rights consider self-defense to be a fundamental and inalienable human right and believe that firearms are an important tool in the exercise of this right. They consider the prohibition of an effective means of self defense to be unethical. For instance, in Thomas Jefferson’s "Commonplace Book," a quote from Cesare Beccaria reads, "laws that forbid the carrying of arms ... disarm only those who are neither inclined nor determined to commit crimes ... Such laws make things worse for the assaulted and better for the assailants; they serve rather to encourage than to prevent homicides, for an unarmed man may be attacked with greater confidence than an armed man."
Gun control advocates argue that the strongest evidence linking availability of guns to injury and mortality rates comes in studies of domestic violence, most often referring to the series of studies by Arthur Kellermann. In response to public suggestions by some advocates of firearms for home defense, that homeowners were at high risk of injury from home invasions and would be wise to acquire a firearm for purposes of protection, Kellermann investigated the circumstances surrounding all in-home homicides in three cities of about half a million population each over five years, and found that the risk of a homicide was in fact slightly higher in homes where a handgun was present, rather than lower. From the details of the homicides he concluded that the risk of a crime of passion or other domestic dispute ending in a fatal injury was much higher when a gun was readily available (essentially all the increased risk being in homes where a handgun was kept loaded and unlocked), compared to a lower rate of fatality in domestic violence not involving a firearm. This increase in mortality, he postulated, was large enough to overwhelm any protective effect the presence of a gun might have by deterring or defending against burglaries or home invasions, which occurred much less frequently. The increased risk averaged over all homes containing guns was similar in size to that correlated with an individual with a criminal record living in the home, but substantially less than that associated with demographic factors known to be risks for violence, such as renting a home versus ownership, or living alone versus with others.
Critics of Kellermann's work and its use by advocates of gun control point out that since it deliberately ignores crimes of violence occurring outside the home (Kellermann states at the outset that the characteristics of such homicides are much more complex and ambiguous, and would be virtually impossible to classify rigorously enough), it is more directly a study of domestic violence than of gun ownership. Kellermann does in fact include in the conclusion of his 1993 paper several paragraphs referring to the need for further study of domestic violence and its causes and prevention. Researchers John Lott, Gary Kleck and many others dispute Kellermann's work.
Kleck showed that no more than a handful of the homicides that Kellermann studied were committed with guns belonging to the victim or members of his or her household, and thus it was implausible that victim household gun ownership contributed to their homicide. Instead, the association that Kellermann found between gun ownership and victimization merely reflected the widely accepted notion that people who live in more dangerous circumstances are more likely to be murdered, but also were more likely to have acquired guns for self-protection prior to their death Kleck and others argue that guns being used to protect property, save lives, and deter crime without killing the criminal accounts for the large majority of defensive gun uses.
Gun Safety and Gun Laws
The importance of gun safety education has a mitigating effect on the occurrence of accidental discharges involving children. So much importance is not placed upon the vicarious liability case law assigning strict liability to the gun owner for firearms casualties occurring when a careless gun owner loses proper custody and control of a firearm.
- New Jersey adopted what sponsors described as "the most stringent gun law" in the nation in 1966; two years later the murder rate was up 46% and the reported robbery rate had nearly doubled.
- In 1968, Hawaii imposed a series of increasingly harsh measures and its murder rate tripled from a low of 2.4 per 100,000 in 1968 to 7.2 by 1977.
- In 1976, Washington, D.C., enacted one of the most restrictive gun control laws in the nation. Since then, the city's murder rate has risen 134% while the national murder rate has dropped 2%.
- Over 50% of American households own guns, despite government statistics from 1994 showing the number is approximately 35%, because guns not listed on any government roll were not counted during the gathering of data.
- Evanston, Illinois, a Chicago suburb of 75,000 residents, became the largest town to ban handgun ownership in September 1982 but experienced no decline in violent crime. It has subsequently ended its ban as a result of the District of Columbia v. Heller Supreme Court case, upon a federal lawsuit by the National Rifle Association being filed the day after Heller was entered.
- Among the 15 states with the highest homicide rates, 10 have restrictive or very restrictive gun laws.
- Twenty percent of U.S. homicides occur in four cities with just 6% of the population—New York, Chicago, Detroit, and Washington, D.C.—and each has or, in the cases of Detroit (until 2001) and D.C. (2008) had, a requirement for a licence on private handguns or an effective outright ban (in the case of Chicago).
- In England, Wales and Scotland, the private ownership of most handguns was banned in 1997 following a gun massacre at a school in Dunblane and an earlier gun massacre in Hungerford in which the combined deaths was 35 and injured 30. Gun ownership and gun crime was already at a low level, which made these slaughters particularly concerning. Only an estimated 57,000 people —0.1% of the population owned such weapons prior to the ban. In the UK, only 8 per cent of all criminal homicides are committed with a firearm of any kind. In 2005/6 the number of such deaths in England and Wales (population 53.3 million) was just 50, a reduction of 36 per cent on the year before and lower than at any time since 1998/9. The lowest rate of gun crime was in 2004/4 whilst the highest was in 1994.[How to reference and link to summary or text] There was, however, a noticeable temporary increase in gun crime in the years immediately after the ban, though this has since fallen back. The reason for the increase has not been investigated thoroughly but it is thought that 3 factors may have raised the number of guns in circulation. These are, the reduction in gun crime in Northern Ireland (which led to guns coming from there to the criminal black market in England); guns (official issue or confiscated) acquired by military personnel in Iraq and Afghanistan; and guns coming from Eastern Europe after the fall of the iron curtain.[How to reference and link to summary or text] Firearm injuries in England and Wales also noticeably increased in this time. In 2005-06, of 5,001 such injuries, 3,474 (69%) were defined as "slight," and a further 965 (19%) involved the "firearm" being used as a blunt instrument. Twenty-four percent of injuries were caused with air guns, and 32% with "imitation firearms" (including airsoft guns). Since 1998, the number of fatal shootings has varied between 49 and 97, and was 50 in 2005. In Scotland the picture has been more varied with no pattern of rise or fall appearing.[How to reference and link to summary or text]
- Violent crime accelerated in Jamaica after handguns were heavily restricted and a special Gun Court established. However, a high proportion of the illegal guns in Jamaica can be attributed to guns smuggled in from the United states, where they are more freely available.
The Federal Bureau of Investigation's annual Uniform Crime Report ranking of cities over 40,000 in population by violent crime rates (per 100,000 population) finds that the ten cities with the highest violent crime rates for 2003 include three cities in the very strict state of New Jersey, one in the fairly restrictive state of Massachusetts.
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- Firearm-related deaths in the United States and 35 other high- and upper-middle income countries, EG Krug, KE Powell and LL Dahlberg, 1998.
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- Killias, van Kesteren, and Rindlisbacher, "Guns, violent crime, and suicide in 21 countries"Canadian Journal of Criminology, October 2001, http://rechten.uvt.nl/icvs/pdffiles/Guns_Killias_vanKesteren.pdf.
- Rich, et al.: "Guns and suicide: possible effects of some specific legislation" Am J Psychiatry 1990; 147:342-346.
- Kleck "Crime control through the use of armed force." Social Problems Feb. 1988; Kleck and DeLone "Victim resistance and offender weapon effects in robbery" Journal of Quantitative Criminology March 1993; Tark and Kleck "Resisting Crime" Criminology November 2004.
- Kleck and Sayles "Rape and Resistance" Social Problems May 1990.
- Kleck, Chapter 7 in Armed, by Kleck and Don B. Kates, Jr.
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- Review, Political Psychology 17:2 (Jun., 1996), pp. 375-377.
- Lott, John R.Jr., More Guns, Less Crime-- Understanding Crime and Gun Control Laws(1998), The University of Chicago Press, Chicago Illinois, pp. 50-122, ISBN 0-226-49363-6.
- Kleck and Patterson, Journal of Quantitative criminology September 1993.
- Understanding Why Crime Fell in the 1990s: Four Factors that Explain the Decline and Six that Do Not, Steven D. Levitt, Journal of Economic Perspectives, Vol. 18 No. 1, 2004].
- Story,Joseph, A Familiar Exposition of the Constitution of the United States(1986) Regnery Gateway, Chicago, Illinois, pp. 319-320, ISBN 0-89526-796-9.
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- Faria MA Jr. The perversion of science and medicine (Part III): Public Health and Gun Control Research and (Part IV): The Battle Continues. Medical Sentinel 1997;2(3):81-82 and 83-86.
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- Kleck, Homicide Studies, February 2001.
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- Lott, John JR. More Guns, Less Crime: Understanding Crime and Gun Control Laws. Chicago, IL, University of Chicago Press, 1998.
- Kleck G. Targeting Guns-- Firearms and Their Control. New York, NY, Aldine De Gruyter, 1997.
- Reynolds, Morgan O.; Caruth, W. W., III (1992), Myths About Gun Control, National Center for Policy Analysis, ISBN 0-943802-99-7, http://www.ncpa.org/pdfs/st176.pdf .
- pdf at ncjrs.gov.
- Lott, John JR. More Guns, Less Crime: Understanding Crime and Gun Control Laws. Chicago, IL, University of Chicago Press, 1998, pp. 50-96, 135-138.
- Reynolds, Morgan O. and Caruth, III, W.W. (1992). NCPA Policy Report No. 176: Myths About Gun Control, National Center for Policy Analysis. "20 percent of U.S. homicides occur in four cities with just 6% of the population – New York, Chicago, Detroit, and Washington, D.C., and each has a virtual prohibition on private handguns"
- paragraph 58.
- Home Office statistical bulletin on Homicide and firearms offences in 2005/6.
- Blair wants gun crime age reduced, BBC News, February 18, 2007.
- Homicides, Firearm Offences and Intimate Violence 2005/2006 Supplementary Volume 1 to Crime in England and Wales 2005/2006).
- Kopel, David B. The Samurai, the Mountie, and the Cowboy--Should America Adopt the Gun Controls of Other Democracies? (1992), Prometheus Books, New York, pp. 257-277, ISBN 0-87975-756-6.
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