Thursday, November 22, 2007

Handgun claim by DC officials highly dubious.

The Los Angeles Times has a story about the case headed for the Supreme Court dealing with the draconian handgun laws in Washington, D.C. The District has some of the strictest antigun laws in the nation and, in a related matter, some of the worst crime in the country.

The Times reports “District of Columbia officials say their ban on easily concealed handguns dates back to 1858. And they argue handguns are involved in most violent crime...”

Interesting. Obviously that 1858 ban is what was responsible for saving the life of President Lincoln. Without it he might have been assassinated. Or perhaps I misremember.

I do wonder, however, if reporters feel any compulsion to check facts or not? It appears to me that as long as some official states something is true the reporter feels his job is done provided he attributes the claim to source, regardless of the accuracy. In this story the issue is the claim that handguns are involved in “most violent crime.”

According to the Department of Justice’s Crime Victimization Survey there were 4,718,330 violent crimes in the United States. The weapon of choice is over 67% of them was no weapon at all. In two-thirds of violent crimes no weapon is involved. So what percentage of violent crimes do involved a handgun, the weapon in question in the D.C. ban? A surprisingly low 7.8%.

Not only are handguns NOT used in the majority of all violent crimes they are not used in the majority of cases in any single type of violent crime. Based on the crime victimization survey here are some interesting facts. (Homicide is categorized differently.)

In rape cases only about 2% involve a handgun and 3% involve any gun. In other words an armed woman has about a 33 to 1 chance of being better armed than her assailant. Even in an aggravated assault an armed victim has a 3 to 1 chance of being better armed than his attacker.

The one exception to this trend is homicide. Here about half of the crimes involve handguns. And approximately 17% involved another type of firearm. But approximately one third of all homicides involve weapons other than a firearm. So how would adding these homicides to the total number of violent crimes change the statistics? Hardly at all. There were 16,692 murders in 2005 (the latest data available). Add those in with all other violent crimes and the total number of violent crimes in the United States increase to 4,735,022. There were approximately 53,000 other violent crimes commited with a firearm of some type (not just handguns). Adding in homicides committed with all firearms brings that number to 69,700. That means that under 15% of all violent crimes, including homicide, involve a firearm of some type -- less if you look at handguns alone.

If you are armed and victimized in a violent attack of all kinds, the chances are about 7 to 1 that you will be better armed than your assailant.

The most charitable interpretation I can give to this report is that D.C. officials meant that most violent crimes in the District are conducted with a handgun -- although I have heavy doubts about that as well. But if we grant them this possible reprieve their case for banning handguns is even weaker. In most the country handguns are not banned and guns are used against victims in less than 10% of all cases of violent crimes. This "reprieve" would mean that in D.C., where handguns are banned, the number of guns used against innocent people is more than five times as prevalent. That would imply the handgun ban may have actually increased the prevalence of armed attacks which is precisely the opposite of the case they are wishing to make. Either way the claims of the D.C. officials are in trouble.

Note: the chart showing the number of violent crimes associated with handguns is taken directly from the Department of Justice.

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