The Relationship between Gun Control Laws and Violent Crime

1. Introduction
2. The effectiveness of gun control laws
3. The causes of failure of gun control laws
4. The factors influencing the rate of violent crime
5. Conclusion
6. Appendixes
7. Bibliography

In the current situation, the problem of violent crimes is getting to be extremely important since the consequences of such crimes seem to be absolutely unacceptable for the contemporary democratic and humanistic society. However, regardless numerous efforts of legislators and criminologist their attempts to stop violent crimes turned to be not very successful. In this respect, many specialists within the USA widely discuss the implementation of gun control laws which are supposed to slow down dramatically the growth of violent crimes.
Moreover, legislation concerning gun control has been already implemented throughout different states of the country that has made the question of its effectiveness even more important than ever before because if gun control laws are really effective than it is worthy to implement them nation wide. On the other hand, if these laws produce little or no impact than it is necessary to thoroughly discuss whether they are worthy to implement at all.
At the same time, discussing the problem of gun control laws, legislators and criminologists often forget about the fact that the real cause or causes of violent crimes lie beyond the problem of gun control. Consequently, in order to prevent violent crimes or slow down the growth of rate of such type of crimes, it is necessary to take a deep look at the root of the problem and solve it in complex, i.e. it is necessary to work not only on the problem of gun control laws but also take into consideration other factors that contribute to the growth of violent crimes.
The effectiveness of gun control laws
Speaking about the idea of implementation of gun control laws in the US, it is necessary to point out that the wide research and public discussion of its effectiveness started in 1970s when actually gun control legislation has started to spread in different states of the country. As a result, the situation nationwide turned to be quite contradictive: on the one hand, there were states that readily implemented gun control laws attempting to prevent the growth of violent crimes, while, on the other hand, there were ‘conservative’ states that strongly believed that it is a sacred right of any good American citizen to have a gun.
As a result, the effectiveness of gun control laws turned to be one of the central points in the discussions concerning pro and contra gun control laws. The Table 1 perfectly demonstrates the general trends in gun ownership and violent crimes from early 1970s to early 1990s. These statistical data indicates at the basic trend to the stable growth of private gun ownership. For instance, the number of privately owned firearms within the period from 1973 to 1990 increased by 73%, while the number of privately owned shotguns increased by 110%. In such a way the general rate of private gun ownership increased by 45%. In this respect, it is extremely important to emphasize the fact that in the same period of time the national homicide rate fell by nearly 10% (Kellermann 1992).
In such a way, the analysis of purely statistic data reveals the fact that in the situation of the lack restrictions nationwide with the exception of some states with gun control laws and the general growth of the number of private gun ownership the rate of violent crimes, notably homicide, slowed down in the same period of time.
Naturally, the followers of the idea of implementation of gun control laws believing in their high effectiveness may argue that such a fall of homicide rate, as well as any other violent crime may result exactly due to the implementation of gun control laws in some states. This is why it is necessary to discuss this problem in depth, taking into account the difference between the states that implemented gun control laws and those that did not.
It is not a secret that traditionally the large cities with the dangerously growing rate of violent crimes, such as New York, Chicago or Washington, initiated the implementation of gun control legislation in their states. It seems to be quite natural that large cities attempted to prevent violent crimes restricting gun ownership. However, the results of implementation of gun control laws basically revealed the failure of such policy.
For instance, the City of Chicago’ 1982 gun control ordinance was and still remains one of the most restrictive gun control measures in the whole country. Nonetheless, the effectiveness of this measure is quite doubtful. According to data of the Chicago Police Department, the number of violent crimes, especially murders, in the city ebbs and flows with little respect for gun control laws (Sloan 1988). To put it more precisely, the number of murders in the city started to fall before the passage of the city’s 1982 gun control ordinance mentioned above. However, five years later the number of murders in the city began to grow steadily, regardless all restrictive measures concerning gun control. Moreover, the decade passed and in 1992 the number of murders in the city was back where it had been in 1982 before the implementation of the gun control law.
Furthermore, it should be pointed out that numerous researches dedicated to the problem of relationship between gun control laws and rates of violent crimes reveal the extremely low effectiveness of gun control measures. In fact, as Gary Kleck underlines, many researches supporting the implementation of gun control laws because of their high effectiveness and revealing negative relationship between gun control and violent crimes have some “serious methodological weaknesses, including the failure to control confounding factors, selective use of data, and failure to measure the real impact of gun laws on the rate of gun ownership” (1988:122).
Another researcher, Steve Murray, arrived to the similar conclusion. To put it more precisely he states that “gun control laws have no significant effect on rates of violence beyond what can be attributed to the background social conditions” (1980:106). In order to support such conclusions by statistics and data, it is possible to return to the researches of Kleck who analyzed 19 kinds of gun control measures on six categories of violence and in ninety of the 102 resulting relationships, gun control laws had no significant negative effect on violence (1988).
Thus, it is obvious that the rate of violent crimes does not really decrease due to the implementation of gun control measures and often it seems to be absolutely independent from all restrictions concerning gun control.
The causes of failure of gun control laws
At first glance, the conclusions made by researchers of the relationship between gun control laws and violent crimes seem to be illogical because it is possible to presume that the lower is the rate of gun ownership the less are the possibilities to use gun in commitment of crimes. However, the reality turns to be far more complicated.
In actuality, the gun control measures mainly failed and there are several causes of this failure. First of all, it is necessary to emphasize that, as a rule, gun control measures implemented in some states of the US are focused basically on handguns. Moreover, gun control laws encourage the substitution of other weapons, which may be also quite dangerous if used by a criminal. In fact, such substitution may be even more dangerous like shoulder weapons, or increase the possibility of injury as knives (Kellermann 1992). As a result, the gun control measures fail because they basically affect the choice of weapon but not the weapon in principle.
Another cause of the failure of gun control laws is the fact that most violent crimes with the use of handgun are committed by criminals, who been recidivist for instance, are forbidden by law to possess firearms. Consequently, gun control laws seem to be useless for this category of people because they already face a serious punishment for a potential crime they can commit and some additional punishment for the violation of gun control laws won’t produce any significant affect on such criminals.
Finally, it is necessary to clearly realize that gun control laws fail because ordinary citizens are more likely to be disarmed and deprived of a possibility to protect their property, health, or life with the help of gun. In stark contrast, criminals pay little attention to gun control laws if they decide to commit a crime. Moreover, they turn to be in an advantageous position compared to ordinary citizens because they can bear firearm since they can acquire guns on illegal markets and are not very bothered about gun control restrictions.
The factors influencing the rate of violent crime
Obviously, the low effectiveness of gun control laws and their little impact on violent crimes may be explained by a variety of factors but, nonetheless, it is necessary to realize that the problem of violent crimes cannot be solved uniquely due to the implementation of more effective gun control measures.
In fact, it is necessary to understand that violent crimes have some basic reasons which lie in the root of the problem and gun control laws probably may limit but they will not eliminate violent crimes. In this respect, it is necessary to look at the causes of violent crime in order to find really effective measures of their prevention.
In such a situation, it should be said that as a rule the causes of violent crime are socio-economic problems and socio-cultural peculiarities that force people to commit violent crime and not firearm they can possess legally or illegally. Daniel Polsby and Denise Brennen emphasize that “as long as some people have little or nothing to lose by spending their lives in crime, dispositions to violence will persist – and increasingly strict gun controls will do little if anything to improve matters” (1995:69). Thus, it is possible to estimate that elimination of poverty and hopelessness could potentially be much more effective than gun control measures because often it is poverty and the lack of hope that force people to commit crimes and in such moments gun control restrictions do not make any problems for them on their way to criminal life.
Furthermore, it is necessary to realize that economic factors being extremely important may be dramatically enforced by social and cultural ones. For instance, social environment is extremely important for the formation of an individual and if a person is surrounded by criminals and is not properly educated than the risk of the commitment of a violent crime by this person increases dramatically. This is why it is necessary to pay particular attention to education of young generation and development of proper models of social behavior.
In this respect, the contemporary mass media, which actually often idealize the image of a criminal, may be very helpful. It is not a secret that mass media nowadays often tend to romanticize crimes and life of criminals. Moreover, violence on TV is nowadays a really great problem that contributes significantly to the growth of rates of violent crimes.
Thus, taking into account all above mentioned, it is possible to conclude that the relationship between gun control laws and violent crimes is rather negative. In fact, any restrictive measures concerning gun control do not really influence the rates of violent crime. On the other hand, there is a variety of socio-economic factors that are much more important and which actually are real causes of violent crimes. This is why, as long as these socio-economic roots of violent crimes exist violent crimes will still be a pain in the neck for all citizens who simply want to lead a normal and safe life and not be exposed to the risks of violent crimes.
Table 1
1973 1992
The number of privately owned firearms 122 million 222 million
The number of privately owned handguns 37 million 78 million

(According to Polsby and Brennen)

1. Kellermann, A.L. et al. “Suicide in the Home in Relation to Gun Ownership” New Engl. Journal of Medicine. 1992; 327:467-72.
2. Kellermann, A.L. “Firearm Related Violence: What We Don’t Know Is Killing Us.” American Journal of Public Health, 1994; 84:541-42.
3. Kleck, Gary. The Great American Gun Debate: Essays on Firearms and Violance. San Francisco: Pacific Research Institute for Public Policy, 1997.
4. Lester, David. Gun Control: Issues and Answers. Springfield, Ill: Charles C. Thomas, 1984.
5. Kleck, S. Crime Control Through the Private Use of Armed Force. New York: New Publishers, 1988).
6. Murray, Douglas R. Handgun Control Laws and Firearms Violence. New York: Touchstone, 1975.
7. Newton, George D. and Frank Zimmering, Firearms and Violence in American Life: A Staff Report to the National Commission on the Causes and Prevention of Violence. Washington D.C.: Government Printing Office, 1970.
8. Polsby Daniel D. and Dennis Brennen, “Taking Aim at Gun Control,” Heartland Policy Study, 69, 1995.
9. Roleff, Tamara L. Ed. Gun and Crime. New York: Green Haven Press, 2003.
10. Sloan, J.H. et al. “Handgun Regulations, Crime, Assaults, and Homicide – A Tale of Two Cities.” New Engl. Journal of Medicine. 1988; 319:1256-62.

Our services