The catch — and it’s a double-edged sword, to pile on some more metaphors — is that despite an overall lower-than-average murder rate, there are still many neighborhoods in NYC one would be unwise to set foot in. Especially after dark.
While the murder rate overall in NYC is low, in certain neighborhoods it is terribly high. I recently took a precinct-by-precinct look at murder rates in NYC for 2014. The results were fascinating.
About a third of population of the city live in precincts where the murder rate is higher than the city average of 4.0 per 100,000. Some of them are slightly higher, some a lot more so. The 73rd precinct, for example, has a murder rate of 20 per 100,000, five times that of the city as a whole and four times the national average.
But, when you factor out the precincts that have murder rates higher than the national average (representing 36% of the population,) you’ll find the rest of New York City has a murder rate of 1.5 per 100,000. Those are European-level numbers in most of New York City.
How does this relate to gun control? NYC has the strictest gun control in the nation. You need a permit to buy a long gun, and anything semi-auto that can hold more than five rounds is verboten. Handguns? Very hard. Carry permit? Better make a large donation to a city council candidate and hope he or she wins.
Yet despite these controls, there are still precincts — plenty of them in fact — with murder rates far above the national average. This instantly invalidates any of the attempts that have been made to link gun control to lower homicide rates. Studies like a recent one by David Hemenway which only looked at state-level data. And, of course, only examined “gun deaths.” And, of course of course, lumped gun accidents, gun murders and gun suicides together.
What the data actually tells us is what we’ve always known; that murder is a local problem, concentrated in exceedingly dangerous neighborhoods, often in heavily gun-controlled cities. And while NYC’s below-average precinct murder rate is nice, if you journey north two counties to Putnam County, where gun laws are much looser, they had a murder rate over the last three years of precisely zero.
The second thing we can learn from NYC comes by examining the city’s past. When I first began to visit the city in the early 1980s, it was a dangerous place. I’m in the film industry, and the facilities I often had to visit were near Times Square. Walking through Times Square at night to drop off film was simply terrifying. The city was a hellhole with a murder rate which peaked in the 1990s at 14.5 per 100,000. That’s more than three times higher than is today.
Then, in 1994 Rudy Giuliani was elected mayor, mainly on an anti-crime platform. Crime fell, radically (it also fell nationwide, though it fell by a larger degree in NYC). By the time he left office, the 1994 murder rate of 13.2 per 100,000 had fallen to 4.7 per 100,000.
Now, did Giuliani (no friend of the Second Amendment) enact strict new gun controls on law-abiding citizens during his tenure? No. He didn’t have to. It already existed. Giuliani got the crime rate down not by practicing gun control, but by practicing criminal control. He employed the “broken windows” theory, whereby anyone caught committing a crime, whether it be jumping a turnstile or selling pot, was to be arrested.
Well, what do you know? A lot of those guys committing minor offenses like jumping turnstiles turned out to be wanted felons who were then taken off the streets. The crime rate plummeted. Stephen Dubner and Steven Levitt, the authors of Freakonomics, will tell you that the drop in crime was the result of abortion, widely legalized in the mid to late 70s, limiting the number of criminal types coming of age in the 90s. While this theory is in dispute, it’s still is another method of criminal control, not gun control.
So what can New York City teach us about gun control? A simple and valuable lesson; there is no connection between gun control and public safety. None at all. And New York City, the most heavily gun-controlled city in America, proves it.