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By Jon Miltimore

A couple of months ago, The Atlantic published an article written by staff writer David A. Graham that explores the surge of violence the United States experienced in 2020.

Overall the article, which analyzes findings from the FBI’s “Uniform Crime Report,” is quite good. It effectively breaks down what we know and—more importantly—what we don’t know about the latest crime trends in America, which in 2020 saw a record surge in the murder rate amid a broader rise of violence.

On one particular point, however, Graham is simply wrong.

Graham notes that sales of firearms jumped in 2020, as did police confiscation of illegal guns, and he attempts to tie this to the surge in violence.

“You can ask law-abiding people or you can ask people who do not abide by the law, ‘Why are you armed with a firearm?’ ‘I need to protect myself,’” Richard Rosenfeld, a criminologist at the University of Missouri at St. Louis, tells Graham.

Precisely what Rosenfeld meant by this statement is unclear, but Graham’s next sentence is clear.

That creates a vicious cycle: More people carrying guns tends to result in more shootings, which in turn heightens the desire to carry a weapon for protection,” Graham writes. “When crime is decreasing, this dynamic helps it continue to fall, but once it begins to rise, the feedback loop turns ugly.

Whether this claim is Graham’s or Rosenfield’s is unclear. No link or citation is offered to support the assertion. What we do know is the claim that “more people carrying guns tends to result in more shootings” is simply untrue.

As economist Mark Perry pointed out several years ago, the US saw gun violence steadily decrease over multiple decades as gun ownership surged.

“According to data retrieved from the Centers for Disease Control, there were 7 firearm-related homicides for every 100,000 Americans in 1993 (see light blue line in chart),” Perry wrote. “By 2013…the gun homicide rate had fallen by nearly 50% to only 3.6 homicides per 100,000 population. ”

This decline, Perry points out, occurred as the number of privately owned firearms in America surged from about 185 million in 1993 to 357 million in 2013.

And in case you’re wondering, non-fatal shootings followed a similar decline as fatal shootings, as Vox reported at the time. This is part of a larger decline in gun violence that saw “a 39 percent decline in gun homicides between 1993 and 2011 and a staggering 69 percent decline in non-fatal firearms crimes.”

Why Did Violence Fall?

Mr. Graham, who has also reported for Newsweek and The Wall Street Journal, is no doubt a fine writer and reporter. (Many of his points in the article on the FBI’s recent crime report are insightful.) But he’s simply wrong that more people possessing guns “tends to result in more shootings.” The data simply do not support this claim. During this “staggering” decades-long trend of falling firearms crimes, gun ownership steadily increased the entire time.

None of this is to say that gun ownership caused the decline in gun violence. It very well may have, but that’s a more difficult question to answer. For instance, Max Ehrenfreund, a Harvard scientist, has posited that the decline in gun violence may have stemmed from a decline in alcoholism, more police working the streets, the bullish economy of the Reagan years, and even less lead exposure.

open carry holster gun

Ehrenfreund says researchers don’t really know for certain why the decline in violence happened, but he said one thing is clear: “America has become a much less violent place.”

The decline in gun violence was no doubt linked to many factors, but it’s certainly possible the rise of gun ownership was one of them.

As Lawrence Reed has pointed out, compelling research shows guns prevent some 2.5 million crimes a year in America—6,849 every day—nearly a half million of which are of a life-threatening nature. And it’s not exactly hard to see why. After all, 60 percent of convicted felons told researchers that they avoided committing such crimes when they suspected the target was armed.

If you’re suspicious of these statistics, it’s worth noting that the Centers for Disease Control, in a report commissioned by President Obama following the 2012 Sandy Hook Massacre, estimated that crimes prevented by guns may be even higher: up to 3 million annually (8,200 per day).

Again, we don’t know for certain. These are estimates. What we do know is that guns aren’t just used to commit crimes; they are also used to stop and deter crimes.

Seen and Unseen

In his famous essay That Which is Seen, and That Which is Not Seen, the great economist Frédéric Bastiat noted there is a pervasive tendency for people to focus on the visible effects of a given policy or action and miss the unseen consequences.

Gun control proponents often make this mistake. They focus on crimes committed with guns (the seen)—some of which are truly the things of nightmares—but ignore all the unseen, all of the crimes prevented by firearms.

Some may not be prepared to accept the idea that guns prevent thousands of crimes in America every single day. That’s ok.

But The Atlantic should correct its claim that “more people carrying guns tends to result in more shootings.” It’s pure fiction.

Jonathan Miltimore is the Managing Editor of FEE.org. His writing/reporting has been the subject of articles in TIME magazine, The Wall Street Journal, CNN, Forbes, Fox News, and the Star Tribune.

Bylines: Newsweek, The Washington Times, MSN.com, The Washington Examiner, The Daily Caller, The Federalist, the Epoch Times. 

This article was originally published on FEE.org. Read the original article.

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  1. Those liberal rags either never heard the old saying, “an armed society is a polite society” or they refuse to believe it! Keep creating those gun free zones, you might well call em “free fire zones”!!

    • They may or may not have heard (or understood) Heinlein’s quote but it is the rest of that phrase that scares them:

      “Manners are good when you may have to back up your actions with your life.”

      They are spoiled, egotistical, narcissistic, self important little fascists who want to control everyone else’s lives and they instinctively understand that if those people are armed their efforts at totalitarian control may get them shot.

  2. More People Carrying Guns Tends to Result in More Shootings

    That entire frame-of-mind is not helpful.

    First, as possession of something increases, frequency of use and misuse will increase as well pretty much every time. No surprise in that regard.

    Second, people using firearms with increasing frequency against other people is totally fine as long as it is in righteous self-defense.

    Finally, such statements are ultimately intended to argue that firearms “cause more harm than good” or “cause too much harm” and society should therefore ban them. And that is totally and completely irrelevant when it comes to inalienable rights. No matter how many arsonists use feminine hygiene products* to set occupied buildings on fire, that does not justify banning those products. Similarly, no matter how many criminals use firearms to attack innocent victims, that does not justify banning firearms.

    * While the U.S. Constitution does not declare an inalienable right for women to use hygiene products of their choice, it is nevertheless an inalienable right for women to use the hygiene products of their choice.

  3. Well, as long as the root cause of our society’s decay continues to be ignored or mocked (the deliberate removal of all reference to God and this country’s Judeo-Christian foundational origins), and the moral collapse that has logically ensued, we will continue on this path toward chaos and malaise. The question of “guns yes or no” will grow louder within the cacophony of the Left’s march toward tyranny.

    Does the author (David Graham) genuinely wish for peace? The removal of guns won’t do a thing. We need a deep restoration of faith…in our Creator, in our communities, and in our representative leadership. All three have been systematically attacked, and some among us attempt to academically posit at to how this all happened.

    Fools they are, and fools they remain.

    “Professing to be wise, they became fools…”
    – Romans 1:22

    • Yes, I Haz A Question, you have nailed it. This movement away from God is responsible for all of the ills of society, not just gun violence. We can see the results of a Godless society all around us.

  4. One of the signs sneaky democRats are deep in it, over their heads and trying to climb out…They point fingers at anything, anybody and everything but themselves.

  5. Good thing we all have a bearish economy, increased drug use and fewer police working the streets to look forward to. Another oft cited claim to reduced violence is Roe v. Wade. Apparently it’s not racist when leftists claim that killing 20 million black babies reduced national crime as a argument for abortion availability.

  6. “More people carrying guns tends to result in more shootings” and as a result more criminals assume room temperature sooner. = GOOD OUTCOME

    • neiowa,

      While I certainly do not want to see anyone succumb to an untimely demise, I am having a hard time getting upset about ruthless, violent, and vicious criminals killing each other.

      I wish every bleeding-heart Progressive would watch the nanny-camera video of the vicious and violent criminal pummeling a young New Jersey mom in front of her 3 year-old toddler and ultimately throwing her near lifeless body into the basement stairwell–all for no particular reason. Note that said scumbag exacted a horrific toll on that woman using nothing more than his arms, fists, and feet–he did not use firearms, knives, nor clubs in his attack. After watching that video, I would hope that all bleeding-heart Progressives would be content with a similar violent criminal ending the life of that violent criminal, and so on.

  7. Harvard Injury Control Research Center

    1. Where there are more guns there is more homicide (literature review)

    Our review of the academic literature found that a broad array of evidence indicates that gun availability is a risk factor for homicide, both in the United States and across high-income countries. Case-control studies, ecological time-series and cross-sectional studies indicate that in homes, cities, states and regions in the U.S., where there are more guns, both men and women are at a higher risk for homicide, particularly firearm homicide.

    Hepburn, Lisa; Hemenway, David. Firearm availability and homicide: A review of the literature. Aggression and Violent Behavior: A Review Journal. 2004; 9:417-40.

    2. Across high-income nations, more guns = more homicide

    We analyzed the relationship between homicide and gun availability using data from 26 developed countries from the early 1990s. We found that across developed countries, where guns are more available, there are more homicides. These results often hold even when the United States is excluded.

    Hemenway, David; Miller, Matthew. Firearm availability and homicide rates across 26 high income countries. Journal of Trauma. 2000; 49:985-88.

    3. Across states, more guns = more homicide

    Using a validated proxy for firearm ownership, we analyzed the relationship between firearm availability and homicide across 50 states over a ten-year period (1988-1997).

    After controlling for poverty and urbanization, for every age group, people in states with many guns have elevated rates of homicide, particularly firearm homicide.

    Miller, Matthew; Azrael, Deborah; Hemenway, David. Household firearm ownership levels and homicide rates across U.S. regions and states, 1988-1997. American Journal of Public Health. 2002; 92:1988-1993.


    • 4. Across states, more guns = more homicide (2)

      Using survey data on rates of household gun ownership, we examined the association between gun availability and homicide across states, 2001-2003. We found that states with higher levels of household gun ownership had higher rates of firearm homicide and overall homicide. This relationship held for both genders and all age groups, after accounting for rates of aggravated assault, robbery, unemployment, urbanization, alcohol consumption, and resource deprivation (e.g., poverty). There was no association between gun prevalence and non-firearm homicide.

      Miller, Matthew; Azrael, Deborah; Hemenway, David. State-level homicide victimization rates in the U.S. in relation to survey measures of household firearm ownership, 2001-2003. Social Science and Medicine. 2007; 64:656-64.

      5. A summary of the evidence on guns and violent death

      This book chapter summarizes the scientific literature on the relationship between gun prevalence (levels of household gun ownership) and suicide, homicide and unintentional firearm death and concludes that where there are higher levels of gun ownership, there are more gun suicides and more total suicides, more gun homicides and more total homicides, and more accidental gun deaths.

      This is the first chapter in the book and provides and up-to-date and readable summary of the literature on the relationship between guns and death. It also adds to the literature by using the National Violent Death Reporting System data to show where (home or away) the shootings occurred. Suicides for all age groups and homicides for children and aging adults most often occurred in their own home.

      Miller M, Azrael D, Hemenway D. Firearms and violence death in the United States. In: Webster DW, Vernick JS, eds. Reducing Gun Violence in America. Baltimore MD: Johns Hopkins University Press, 2013.

      • 6. More guns = more homicides of police

        This article examines homicide rates of Law Enforcement Officers (LEOs) from 1996 to 2010. Differences in rates of homicides of LEOs across states are best explained not by differences in crime, but by differences in household gun ownership. In high gun states, LEOs are 3 times more likely to be murdered than LEOs working in low-gun states.

        This article was cited by President Obama in a speech to a police association. This article will hopefully bring police further into the camp of those pushing for sensible gun laws.

        Swedler DI, Simmons MM, Dominici F, Hemenway D. Firearm prevalence and homicides of law enforcement officers in the United States. American Journal of Public Health. 2015; 105:2042-48.

        • You fail to note that David Hemenway has been called out numerous times for his selective use of data that eliminates data that contradicts his conclusions, and that he is financially supported by Mr. Bloomberg. In other words, he is a paid shill. The same is true for studies coming out of the Bloomberg School of Public Health at Johns Hopkins University which was the beneficiary of a $1 Billion endowment, hence the name of the school. Never forget what Mr. Twain so famously said: “There are liars, damn liars, and statisticians.”

        • Not only in the United States but in high income countries too.
          That’s what the studies found.
          So Dacian, wise man, what’s the solution?

        • possum. the solution dacian the nazi is trying for is to disarm us. That way he can rape, murder and loot to his hearts content.

          It’s his Final Solution.

        • to Mark
          quote—————You fail to note that David Hemenway has been called out numerous times for his selective use of data that eliminates data that contradicts his conclusions———quote

          You are hanging out on extreme right wing web sites that know less about Hemenway than they know about rocket science.

    • dacian, Your “study” by Harvard failed miserably to establish a DIRECT correlation between LEGAL firearms purchases and crimes with a weapon involved. Now why is that? Could it be because 99.999% of crimes committed with a firearm are by criminals who are illegally possessing a firearm?
      IN other words, this “study” is nonsense and unsupported by direct evidence or facts.

      • Get ready for it – Duncian will be back any minute to call you a liar and a Nazi. Those are the only responses he has when presented with inconvenient facts that contradict his Leftist worldview.

      • To Walter Jed Clamplett of the Beverley Hillbillies.

        Its only nonsense to people like you who are not products of higher education. It was valid. Obviously you read none of it and if you did you understood none of it. As usual you made a complete fool of yourself.

        • Dacian, the Dunce. Not one of those so called “studies” has shown any facts, figures or how they come up with their “conclusions”. Again, totally invalid and bogus as a three dollar bill. But then so is your claim to be an firearms expert. You still haven’t answered my question of the firing sequence of a bullet.
          As usual, you are spreading unfounded propaganda.

  8. “Overall the article…is quite good.” That is, until the author is “wrong” because he remembers his job and pushes the narrative. So the article isn’t good. Stop giving these propagandists credit just because the article isn’t 100% wrong.

    “…he attempts to tie [increased gun ownership] to the surge in violence.”

    Of course he did. Same stuff, different day. I’ve seen plenty of these. They also blame Covid. They aren’t going to suddenly become honest and blame themselves. It wasn’t just the Democrats that pushed the 2020 Summer of Violence. It was the media right there with them, promoting it and lying about the damage that it caused. Why would anyone with a brain ever believe another word from them? They’re the problem.

  9. In peaceful gun free Australia my postcode which covers 6 suburbs of western Sydney has 15,000 registered firearms. But crimes of all types are so low they are considered statistically irrelevant. According to the Graham’s and the grinning idiot’s assertions it should be like the Wild West and Mogadishu every day.

    • I find it quite troublesome anyone can know the “6 suburbs of western Sydney [have] 15,000 registered firearms.” Can Australians use a firearm in self-defense, or are they charged for such action?

      • There was a link on a news website where you put in a postcode and it told you how many guns in that postcode. Out of curiosity I entered my postcode and it gave that number.

        As to the source I can’t definitively say, but a good guess is a copy of the “accidentally leaked” firearms registry database that the police had on their internally unsecured intranet. Reportedly protected by MS Office level security which most IT people could break in less than 5 minutes.

    • It’s the same here (minus registration) and we’ll never see that info in the mainstream media. I could probably count the number of counties in the US that drive nearly all the annual firearm related homicides in the US, without having to take both shoes off. And I don’t have polydactyly.

  10. I must agree,
    The more people that drive cars the more car wrecks there will be.
    The more airplanes that fly the more airplanes will crash.
    The more boats that float the more boats that will sink.
    The more tennis rackets sold the more people will get tennis elbow.
    The more people that drink booze the more drunks there will be.
    The more laws you make the more laws will be broken.

  11. Ok, lets see a breakdown on who is murdering who in the 10 highest crime cities and a breakdown on where those murders take place. You can bet the majority of those murders are in gang controled areas and most of those both killing and their victims are involved in criminal activity.
    Of course, saying anything like that is of course racist, etc.
    Strange how the actual numbers of guns in private hands have doubled, but the number of firearms related crimes have reduced per 100, 000 persons by about half.

    To paraphrase Heinlein, Manners improve when people understand they may have to back up their words with their lives. An armed society is a polite society.
    Which scares those who would be tyrants and authoritarians who know they will not be able to rule over armed citizens.
    Never forget, those who beat their swords into plowshares will be plowing for those who didn’t.

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