Firearms regulations can work, but we must leave their design to professional criminologists, not legislators, and certainly not high school teachers. According to the 2009 FBI Uniform Crime Report, Massachusetts had a homicide rate of 2.6 per 100,000 people, while Vermont had a rate of 1.1. It’s worth noting here that in Vermont, has the most relaxed firearms regulations in the country (an adult does not even need a permit to carry a concealed firearm), while Massachusetts has one of the most restrictive sets of firearms regulations in the United States, with New Jersey (3.7), California (5.3) and Maryland (7.7) right with us as the most restrictive. This data seems counterintuitive if one believes in the efficacy of tighter firearms regulation, as opposed to low income urban areas, lower education levels, unemployment and gang violence.
According to the National Institute of Justice, for despite the fact that firearm ownership is at historic highs (skyrocketing with women), the percentage of violent crimes involving firearms is down to an historic low, reaching 7% in 2008, the last year reported in that study. Similarly, the Department of Justice’s National Victimization Survey states that the homicide rate in America’s schools is down by more than 75% since the 1990s, despite what, via increased media reporting, seems like a dramatic increase. We hear about the high profile cases involving middle or upper income white victims because that’s our media bias. After all, this is precisely why I’ve been asked to write this article, and not because some young black girl in Boston was killed accidentally during a drive by shooting.
Having said that, smart, effective firearms regulations do save lives, and the statistics bear that out. One need look no further than Public Medline to see that suicide rates, for example, are significantly lower in states that have extensive background checks. It’s intuitive that mentally ill people should be denied access to firearms, and would likely have prevented the recent killings in Arizona. Similarly, in Florida they saw a double digit reduction in the unintentional firearm-related death rate among children, after mandatory firearm locks were enacted. So where is the firearm problem? According to the National Institute of Justice, we’re really talking about illegal handgun violence (not legal firearms owners), because over the last 30 years, more people have been killed by knives than by all long guns (rifles and shotguns combined). That’s an area of focus.
I’m convinced our disease is not guns, it’s a combination of poverty, ignorance, unemployment and a lack of empathy for our neighbors. Right now, the law of the land, according to recent Supreme Court decisions, is that firearm ownership is a constitutional right. We need to modernize our laws, but the level of intolerance on both sides of the political isle have stifled any meaningful attempts at firearms regulation.