Despite increases in gun sales, gun crimes continued to decrease in the United States for the fourth straight year in 2010, according to the FBI.
The FBI recently released its Crime in The United States statistics for 2010. Overall, murders in the U.S. have decreased steadily since 2006, dropping from 15,087 to 12,996. Firearms murders — which made up 67 percent of all murders in the U.S. in 2010 — have followed this trend, decreasing by 14 percent.
At the same time that firearms murders were dropping, gun sales were surging. In 2009, FBI background checks for guns increased by 30 percent over the previous year, while firearms sales in large retail outlets increased by almost 40 percent. The number of applications for concealed carry permits jumped across the country as well.
“There was a huge spike,” NRA spokesperson Rachel Parsons said. “It’s probably mellowed out and gone back to normal now.”
There is no national registry of guns, but based on sales-tracking and other figures, the National Rifle Association estimates there are 80 to 90 million gun owners in the U.S.
Naturally, there is dispute over the significance of the surge in gun sales. The Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence, for instance, says gun ownership in America is actually declining.
“While there are more people with concealed carry permits and there has been an increase in gun sales, the research indicates overwhelmingly that the same people are simply buying more guns and that there has been a sharp decline in the percentage of Americans who own guns,” Brady Campaign spokesperson Caroline Brewer said. “So while there may be more guns, they are in the hands of a smaller percentage of Americans.”
Pro-Second Amendment advocacy groups have used the decrease in gun crime, and crime in general, as a counter to gun control advocates’ claims that more firearms lead to more gun violence. They also point to the statistics as evidence of the ineffectiveness of gun control laws.
The top three states for gun murders in 2010 were, in order, California, Texas and New York. While Texas has lax gun control laws, California and New York are among the strictest gun-control states in the country.
“California is in a category of its own as far as gun control laws there,” Parsons said. “New York is a little bit better, but they still have discretionary concealed carry laws.”
According to FBI data, California had the most gun murders last year —- 1,257, which is 69 percent of all murders in 2010.
Nevertheless, California gun murders are still down by 8 percent from the previous year.
Broken down by firearms murder rate per 100,000 people, the District of Columbia is number one, with 16 firearms murders per 100,000 people in the District.
D.C. also topped the list of firearm robberies per 100,000 people with 255.98.
Yet D.C. arguably has the tightest gun laws in the country. Although an outright ban on handguns was struck down by the Supreme Court in 2008, legislators ensured the new regulations for obtaining a registered handgun would be anything but easy.
Like California, the number of firearms murders in D.C. — 99 in 2010 — dropped by 12 percent from the previous year.
However, the Brady Campaign argues cities with high rates of gun crime, yet strict gun laws, suffer from being next to states with more lax gun control.
“You’ve got states with weaker laws right at the border and have populations that are constantly coming in and out,” Brewer said. “Chicago is right next to Indiana, which has almost no gun laws.”
Likewise, Washington, D.C. is sandwiched between Maryland and Virginia.
The Brady Campaign also points to the Brady Law, which was enacted in 1993 and requires background checks for firearms purchases, as a reducer of gun crime.
Assigning causes to increases or decreases in the national crime rate is a notorious fool’s errand because of the amount of variables at play, but what the numbers don’t suggest is any clear correlation between gun crime, gun ownership and gun-control laws.
It bears noting that the FBI’s data, based on reports from local law enforcement, is far from comprehensive. There are no numbers for Florida on firearm murders, and the data for Illinois is “incomplete.”
The FBI also warns against using the data to rank areas against each other, noting that rankings “are merely a quick choice made by the data user; they provide no insight into the many variables that mold the crime in a particular town, city, county, state, region or other jurisdiction.”
“Consequently, these rankings lead to simplistic and/or incomplete analyses that often create misleading perceptions adversely affecting cities and counties, along with their residents,” the FBI continued.