The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

DOJ: Gun violence down, semi-automatics a minor issue

If they needed more facts as to why the anti-gun crusade is misplaced, Second Amendment defenders got a whole batch, from the Obama Justice Department.

The Post reports:

Gun violence has dropped dramatically nationwide over the past two decades, but nearly three-quarters of all homicides are still committed with a firearm, the Justice Department said in a report released Tuesday.
The report, by the department’s Bureau of Justice Statistics, painted an encouraging picture of long-term trends at a time of divisive political debate over guns and legislation to regulate them. Firearms-related homicides declined 39 percent between 1993 and 2011, the report said, while nonfatal firearms crimes fell 69 percent during that period. . . . Less than 1 percent of state prison inmates who possessed a gun when they committed their offense obtained the firearm at a gun show, the report said.

Even the percent of homicides involving a gun has dropped from 1993 (71.2 percent) to 69.6 percent, and school violence has been declining without anti-gun laws. (“Homicides at schools declined from an average of 29 per year in the 1990s to an average of 20 per year in the 2000s.”) Total homicides at school dropped by half during the period of the study.

This is wonderful news for the country, and rotten data for anti-gun advocates trying to revive the Newtown, Conn., anti-gun legislative package.

As for the type of weapon used, it does not appear that “military style” weapons are the problem. According to the Justice Department report:

In 2004, an estimated 16% of state prison inmates and 18% of federal inmates reported that they used, carried, or possessed a firearm when they committed the crime for which they were serving a prison sentence
This represented a slight change from 1997, where an estimated 18% of state prison inmates and 16% of federal inmates reported having a firearm when they committed the crime for their current sentence. During the offense that brought them to prison, 13% of state inmates and 16% of federal inmates carried a handgun. In addition, about 1% had a rifle and another 2% had a shotgun. Of inmates armed with a firearm during the offense, about 7% of state inmates and 8% of federal inmates were armed with either a single shot firearm or a conventional semiautomatic, and 2% of state inmates and 3% of federal inmates were armed with a military-style semiautomatic or fully automatic firearm

What problem are the anti-gun advocates trying to solve? If it was Newtown, then we know none of the provisions in the recent anti-gun bill would have prevented the tragedy. If it was gun crime in general, that is already in steep decline and the so-called gun show loophole doesn’t matter. If it is concern about use of “military-style semiautomatic or fully automatic fire arms” (the latter are already illegal) it doesn’t seem to be a significant issue.

We have once again seen the triumph of good intentions over smart legislation. What we know works is good policing and incarcerating violent criminals. We have a mental-health problem that extends beyond gun violence, but which leaves too many adults on the streets untreated. If anything, the latter should be an area for further legislative action.

Simply re-running the same “we gotta do something” legislative effort may be emotionally satisfying for liberals or politically inviting for proponents, but it isn’t solving much of anything.