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Shot in the Dark? The Relationship Between Guns and Crime

Sunday's New York Times examined the relationship between gun laws and crime. The survey of research (cited in the Supreme Court opinions regarding Washington DC's ban on handguns) pondered the question: Do guns kill people, or do gun control laws kill people?

Here are some of the findings I found to be the most interesting:

  • A before-and-after study found that although Baltimore did not have a similar law, its crime rate mimicked Washington’s.
  • Reduction in suicides and gun accidents are cited by proponents of the DC law as positive effects that go unnoticed or underestimated.

To see how the US compares to Europe,


  • In Europe, seven nations with the most guns per capita had 1.2 murders annually for every 100,000 people. In the nine nations with the fewest guns the rate was 4.4. The US rate is 5.7.
  • Legal scholars have found that denying guns to people who might use them in self-defense tends to increase crime rates. Also evidence suggests that the possibility that a victim has a gun can deter criminals.
  • Background checks at the state level have been paired with lower homicide rates.

The mixed bag of research brought the US justices to diverging conclusions — the dissent felt it gave legislatures an opening to assess community needs with ban laws, while the majority insisted the constitution already answered the debate, and overturned DC's overreaching ban. How does the conflicting evidence regarding the usefulness of gun laws leave you feeling? Do you think gun laws are the cause or effect of crime?


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