Justice Dept. report could shake up gun debate

How much of a gun-violence problem do we have in this nation? Not nearly as much as we did 20 years ago, according to a new report from the U.S. Justice Department’s Bureau of Justice Statistics that might shake up the nation’s gun-policy debate.

The report released Tuesday shows firearm-related homicides declined 39 percent and nonfatal firearm crimes declined 69 percent from 1993 to 2011. In raw numbers, firearm-related homicides dropped from 18,253 homicides in 1993 to 11,101 in 2011, and nonfatal firearm crimes dropped from 1.5 million victimizations in 1993 to 467,300 in 2011.

Most of that decline, for both fatal and nonfatal incidents, occurred during the 10-year period from 1993 to 2002, the report says. The report says nothing of cause or correlation, so I’ll provide a few ideas here and you pick your own poison:

    — The federal ban on assault weapons and large-capacity magazines was in effect from 1994 to 2004.
    — The crime wave sparked by the national crack epidemic started to recede in the early ’90s.
    — The U.S. economy saw its longest period of peacetime economic expansion from 1991 through 2001.

Be cautious about seizing on the assault weapons ban as a causative factor: The report found that handguns accounted for the vast majority of gun crimes from 1994 through 2011. For example, handguns accounted for 82.7 percent of homicides by firearm in 1994, declining to 72.9 percent in 2011.

The report also notes that in 2007 through 2011, about one percent of victims in all nonfatal violent crimes reported using a firearm to defend themselves during the incident. A small number of property crime victims also used a firearm in self-defense—about 0.1 percent.

The largest number of nonfatal firearm violence occurred in or around the victim’s home (42 percent) or in an open area, on the street, or while on public transportation (23 percent). Less than 1 percent of all nonfatal firearm violence occurred in schools.

From 1993 to 2010, males, blacks and persons ages 18 to 24 were most likely to be victims of firearm-related homicide.

And in 2004 – the most recent year of data available – less than 2 percent of state prison inmates who possessed a gun at the time of their offense said they bought it at a flea market or gun show. About 10 percent of state prison inmates said they bought their guns from a retail store or pawnshop; 37 percent said they got it from family or friends; and 40 percent said they got it from an illegal source.

Josh Richman

Josh Richman covers state and national politics for the Bay Area News Group. A New York City native, he earned a bachelor’s degree in journalism from the University of Missouri and reported for the Express-Times of Easton, Pa. for five years before coming to the Oakland Tribune and ANG Newspapers in 1997. He is a frequent guest on KQED Channel 9’s “This Week in Northern California;” a proud father; an Eagle Scout; a somewhat skilled player of low-stakes poker; a rather good cook; a firm believer in the use of semicolons; and an unabashed political junkie who will never, EVER seek elected office.

  • MichaelB

    Facts and evidence do not deter/influence gun control advocates.

    Has anyone ever heard of or seen a gun control group/activist that has not come back wanting more restrictions later on regardless if what they want gets passed?

    The author of this article previously demanded a safety/training class for gun owners after it was revealed that about 800 people were killed in gun accidents out of a population of about 300,000,000 in a nation with widespread firearms ownership. Talk about a solution in search of a problem – this is it.

    You can’t have an intelligent debate with someone who thinks the “gun lobby” has “blood on their hands” or is somehow “responsible” for what thugs do on our streets. Or claims “if it saves just one life, it’s worth it” and there are “just too many guns”. There will always be a “justification” to them for more regulations/bans.

    The Washington DC gun bans were ineffective yet city officials defended them as “reasonable” before the Supreme Court. When the Senate recently took up the issue of reinstating the “assault weapons” ban it was revealed it was not effective when in place. Dianne Feinstein (the self proclaimed “expert” on firearms issues because of what Dan White did in 1978) and most of her party voted to reinstate it anyway.

    If you want to “shake up” the nation’s gun policy debate the liberals/progressives will have to be voted out of office. And to illustrate that “mainstream media” outlets are not going to provide unbiased and accurate coverage on this issue.

  • Bruce R. Peterson, Lafayette

    Thank you Josh Richman. You have proven my point. Bad dudes use stolen guns. All of the gun control ideas are pretty much useless. Like the plastic bag ban on carry out plastic bags, devised by the City of bad ideas, that I live in.