In the January 16th, 2013 edition of The Bates Student Curtis Rheingold wrote an opinion piece for The Forum entitled “Wanted: effective U.S. gun control policy.” His opinions are based on information presented by two websites, the Harvard Injury Control Research Center (HICRC) www.hsph.harvard.edu/hicrc/firearms-research and www.gunpolicy.org. Following up on the data he presents I see that both websites are dedicated to reducing gun violence by reducing the number of firearms (“gun control”), and that both base the numbers they present on public health studies. In order to obtain a second (and perhaps) more impartial opinion I looked up data collected by the FBI.
One of the most striking things about the FBI’s data is that there has been a dramatic decrease in murder, homicide, and most “violent crime” during each of the last five years (2007 – 2011, the only years they report). For example, the total number of murders by firearms (handguns, rifles, shotguns, etc.) has decreased each year, from 10,129 in 2007 to 8583 in 2011 – a drop of around 15%. (http://www.fbi.gov/about-us/cjis/ucr/crime-in-the-u.s/2011/crime-in-the-u.s.-2011/tables/expanded-homicide-data-table-8). This decrease has occurred even though no new gun legislation has been passed during this time.
As academics we spend a lot of time gathering information so we can have informed perspectives and make informed decisions. It’s frustrating that figures gathered by researchers in the public health field differ so much from the figures gathered by the FBI. More generally, from what I have seen, people who favor gun control can always find statistics to support their point of view and vice versa.
Above and beyond the statistics, there are other important reasons to own firearms, for example, self-defense and the defense of others. Regarding self-protection, most of us live in places which have an excellent police force and the idea of having to defend ourselves against violence is far from our everyday reality. Yet, with the worsening economic situation, apparently it is not as far as we think. In a recent article (January 14th, 2013) about San Bernadino CA. (http://www.nytimes.com/2013/01/15/us/crime-rises-in-san-bernardino-after-bankruptcy.html?_r=0) the NYT reports that because of its severe financial difficulties, the city has reduced its police force by 25% since 2009, and that “Those who remain call in sick more often.” At the same time, because the state of California no longer has enough money, “nearly 4000 criminals who would have once been sent to state prison” have been released into the custody of San Bernadino County. The San Bernadino Chief of Police says that emergency response times are up and nonemergency calls often get no response.
When asked by “worried residents” how they can protect themselves, the city attorney said “Lock your doors and load your guns.” If you read his biography (http://sbdpolitics.com/tag/james-f-penman/), you’ll see that Mr. Penman is not a “gun-nut,” but rather is giving the only practical solution he currently has to offer. Do you have another?
– Mark Semon