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Do we need more gun laws?

Welcome to VoteFacts.  A hot topic for debate is tighter gun control through strict federal gun laws.  You should decide for yourself where you land on that subject, but before you make your landing, make sure you have taken the time to focus on facts relating to the subject.  

I have noticed that it is extremely difficult to find truly unbiased factual data on this subject.  Why, for example, is it so difficult to get annual, up-to-date data on state gun laws and how they differ, so we can juxtapose that information with annual up-to-date per capita gun related crime statistics?   It might even be beneficial to compare cities if they differ when it comes to gun laws and gun related crime rates.  Is it just me, or does it seem as though this data should be readily available from places like the Federal Bureau of Investigation, the Department of Justice, the Center for Disease Control, or the U.S. Census Bureau?  Until we have that, however, we have very limited unbiased resources.   So let's look to the best we have.   Here we go:

According to the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI);

"Preliminary figures indicate that, as a whole, law enforcement agencies throughout the nation reported a decrease of 5.4 percent in the number of violent crimes brought to their attention for the first 6 months of 2013 when compared with figures reported for the same time in 2012.  The violent crime category includes murder, forcible rape, robbery, and aggravated assault.  The number of property crimes in the United States from January to June of 2013 decreased 5.4 percent when compared with data for the same time period in 2012. Property crimes include burglary, larceny-theft, and motor vehicle theft. Arson is also a property crime, but data for arson are not included in property crime totals.  Figures for 2013 indicate that arson decreased 15.6 percent when compared to 2012 figures from the same time period."

Well that is good news.  But let's get a bit more specific and move on to gun violence.  For that we can turn to a report by the Bureau of Justice Statistics (BJS) from their media report in May of 2013.

"Firearm-related homicides declined 39 percent and nonfatal firearm crimes declined 69 percent from 1993 to 2011, the Justice Department’s Bureau of Justice Statistics (BJS). 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.

For both fatal and nonfatal firearm victimizations, the majority of the decline occurred during the 10-year period from 1993 to 2002. The number of firearm homicides declined from 1993 to 1999, rose through 2006 and then declined through 2011. Nonfatal firearm violence declined from 1993 through 2004 before fluctuating in the mid- to late 2000s."

Now we can look at a report by the Congressional Research Service (CRS).   Here is what they had to say:

•  In recent years, proponents of gun control legislation have often held that only federal laws can be effective in the United States.  Otherwise, they say, states with few restrictions will continue to be sources of guns that flow illegally into more-restrictive states.  They believe that the Second Amendment to the Constitution, which states that “[a] well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms shall not be infringed,” is being misread in today’s modern society.  They argue that the Second Amendment (1) is now obsolete, with the presence of professional police forces; (2) was intended solely to guard against suppression of state militias by the central government and is therefore restricted in scope by that intent; and (3) does not guarantee a right that is absolute, but rather one that can be limited by reasonable requirements. They ask why in today’s modern society a private citizen needs any firearm that is not designed primarily for hunting or other recognized sporting purposes. 

Proponents of firearms restrictions have advocated policy changes on specific types of firearms or components that they believe are useful primarily for criminal purposes or that pose unusual risks to the public. Fully automatic firearms (i.e., machine guns) and short-barreled rifles and shotguns have been subject to strict regulation since 1934. Fully automatic firearms have been banned from private possession since 1986, except for those legally owned and registered with the Secretary of the Treasury as of May 19, 1986. More recently, “Saturday night specials” (loosely defined as inexpensive, small handguns), “assault weapons,” ammunition-feeding devices with capacities for more than seven rounds, and certain ammunition have been the focus of control efforts.

Opponents of gun control vary in their positions with respect to specific forms of control but generally hold that gun control laws do not accomplish what is intended.  They argue that it is as difficult to keep weapons from being acquired by “high-risk” individuals, even under federal laws and enforcement, as it was to stop the sale and use of liquor during Prohibition.  In their view, a more-stringent federal firearms regulatory system would only create problems for law-abiding citizens, bring mounting frustration and escalation of bans by gun regulators, and possibly threaten citizens’ civil rights or safety.  Some argue that the low violent crime rates of other countries have nothing to do with gun control, maintaining instead that multiple cultural differences are responsible.

Gun control opponents also reject the assumption that the only legitimate purpose of ownership by a private citizen is recreational (i.e., hunting and target-shooting). They insist on the continuing need of people for effective means to defend themselves and their property, and they point to studies that they believe show that gun possession lowers the incidence of crime. They say that the law enforcement and criminal justice system in the United States has not demonstrated the ability to furnish an adequate measure of public safety in all settings. Some opponents further believe that the Second Amendment includes a right to keep arms as a defense against potential government tyranny, pointing to examples in other countries of the use of firearms restrictions to curb dissent and secure illegitimate government power.  The debate has been intense.

To gun control advocates, the opposition is out of touch with the times, misinterprets the Second Amendment, and is lacking in concern for the problems of crime and violence.  To gun control opponents, advocates are naive in their faith in the power of regulation to solve social problems, bent on disarming the American citizen for ideological or social reasons, and moved by irrational hostility toward firearms and gun enthusiasts. 

Crime and mortality statistics are often used in the gun control debate.  According to a recent study, however, none of the existing sources of statistics provide either comprehensive, timely, or accurate data with which to assess definitively whether there is a causal connection between firearms and violence.  For example, existing data do not show whether the number of people shot and killed with semiautomatic assault weapons declined during the 10-year period (1994-2004) that those firearms were banned from further proliferation in the United States. 

The National Institute of Justice (NIJ) reported in a national survey that in 1994, 44 million people, approximately 35% of households, owned 192 million firearms, 65 million of which were handguns.  Seventy-four percent of those individuals were reported to own more than one firearm.  According to the ATF, by the end of 1996 approximately 242 million firearms were available for sale to or were possessed by civilians in the United States.  That total includes roughly 72 million handguns (mostly pistols, revolvers, and derringers), 76 million rifles, and 64 million shotguns. By 2000, the number of firearms had increased to approximately 259 million: 92 million handguns, 92 million rifles, and 75 million shotguns.  By 2007, the number of firearms had increased to approximately 294 million: 106 million handguns, 105 million rifles, and 83 million shotguns.

By 2009, the estimated total number of firearms available to civilians in the United States had increased to approximately 310 million: 114 million handguns, 110 million rifles, and 86 million shotguns.

Per capita, the civilian gun stock has roughly doubled since 1968, from one gun per every two persons to one gun per person.

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As the table above shows, reports submitted by state and local law enforcement agencies to the FBI and published annually in the Uniform Crime Reports indicate that the firearms-related murder and non-negligent manslaughter rate per 100,000 of the population decreased from 6.6 for 1993 to 3.6 for 2000.  The rate held steady at 3.6 for 2001 and fluctuated thereafter between a high of 3.9 for 2006 and 2007, and a low of 3.2 for 2010.  For 2011, it has remained at 3.2. 

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So gun ownership has gone up, but gun related crimes have gone down.  That is certainly good to know, and yet so many voters are unaware of that kind of data, which could be an important component when formulating their opinion.  But, the question for this post is basically your potentially partisan perspective - Should the federal government impose stricter gun laws on all states?   Head over and chime-in.

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CRS Report

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Voting Key

Fact = 100% - 92% True
Mostly Fact = 91% - 75% True
Slightly Fact = 74% - 60% True
Split = 59% - 50% True
Slightly Fiction = 49% - 30% True
Mostly Fiction = 29% - 10% True
Fiction = 9% - 0% True