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3.0.b "Gun registration reduced homicides in Washington, D.C."


This article is from the talk.politics.guns Official Pro-Gun FAQ, by Ken Barnes (kebarnes@cc.memphis.edu) with numerous contributions by others.

3.0.b "Gun registration reduced homicides in Washington, D.C."

see_Uniform Crime Reports for the United States, 19xx-1994,"
Federal Bureau of Investigation, U.S. Dept. of Justice,
SuDoc# J 1.14/7:9xx

"Vital Statistics of the United States, 19xx-1991, Vol. II -
Mortality Part B, National Center for Health Statistics,
U.S. Public Health Service, SuDoc# HE 20.6210:9xx/v.2/pt.B

"Statistical Abstract of the United States 19xx-1994,
Bureau of the Census, U.S. Dept. of Commerce, SuDoc# C 3.134:9xx

Loftin, Colin; McDowall, David; Wiersema, Brian; and Cottey,
Talbert J., "Effects of Restrictive Licensing of Handguns on
Homicide and Suicide in the District of Columbia," New England
J. Medicine, v.325, n.23, pp.1615-1620 (1991)

Washington Post, March 22, 1996, p.A1

In summary: In September 1976, the District of Columbia, home to the
federal government of the United States, enacted a highly restrictive
"gun control" law which in effect "froze" the number of legally owned
handguns in the District by stopping the issuance of new handgun
licenses. In addition, new strenuous registration requirements were
placed on the ownership of rifles and shotguns, and the law further
required that all firearms be kept either under lock and key, or kept
unloaded and disassembled when not being used for recreational purposes.
Violations of the law were to be punished by ten days in jail and a
$300 fine, and this penalty was later increased to a_year_in jail,
and a"$1,000_fine. D.C. thus became a test case for the effectiveness
of highly restrictive "gun control" laws at the local level.
A 1991 article in the anti-gun New England Journal of Medicine
attempted to show that the registration law in D.C. reduced the average
(arithmetic mean) number of gun-related homicides per month following
the implementation of the law. As with other "gun control" studies
published in the New England Journal of Medicine (see 1.1), and as
with a recent study of the effects of concealed carry reform laws
(see 3.8.a) by researchers from the University of Maryland (to which
the authors of the Loftin study were affiliated), this paper has
serious flaws in its methodology. (For the sordid statistical details,
please see Appendix IV.)
The most curious aspect of the Loftin study is the particular
span of years which the researchers chose to examine. The study
period covers the years 1968-1987, which can best be described as
a "plateau" period, before which murder/non-negligent manslaughter
(MNNM) rates (as measured by the FBI's Uniform Crime Reports data)
were much lower than during the period of study, and after which
the MNNM rates in the District ballooned to record levels! (Ironically,
in 1991, the very year Loftin, et al. published their work, the MNNM
rate for Washington, D.C. had reached its all-time high.)
As a result, Loftin, et al. begin calculating their averages in
1968, which (coincidentally) is the year before a large jump in the
number of MNNM recorded by the FBI's UCR (195 to 287), and they end
their study in 1987, just before another jump in MNNM numbers (another
coincidence). In 1988, the MNNM number shot up to 369, from 225 in
1987. Data from years which would contradict the conclusions of the
study are excluded from consideration (see below, and Appendix IV).
The problems with the data used in the Loftin study don't end there,
however. The study counts homicides, not MNNM as does the UCR data,
and so does not distinguish between justifiable self-defense homicides,
so-called "legal intervention" by the police, and unlawful homicides
such as murder and manslaughter. The researchers consider only the
absolute numbers of homicides, rather than homicide rates adjusted for
changes in the size of the population. The use of average homicides
per month as the measurement produces some very "noisy" data, and makes
understanding the longer term trends more difficult (see also 3.8.a).
The population of D.C. declined during the study period (1971-1983),
declining from its peak in 1964, while the population of the suburbs
which Loftin, et. al. used for controls was increasing during the study
period. In 1994, D.C. had only 71% of the population it had in 1964,
yet it had a MNNM rate 423% of the rate in 1964, which was prior to
the enactment of "gun control" laws at the Federal and local levels!
Despite declines in population in D.C., the MNNM rate has skyrocketed,
putting to rest the notion that crowding necessarily results in greater
murder rates. If that were true, the more-crowded D.C. of the 1960s
would have had a high murder rate, while during the relatively less
populated 1990s, the rate would have been expected to fall.
The "prompt decline" in average monthly gun-related homicides which
is the central claim made by Loftin, et al. in their study was very
prompt indeed, since the homicide rate was already trending downward.
The law only became effective at the end of September 1976, after which
handgun owners had 60 days to register their guns, placing the effect
of any of the law's criminal sanctions into late November 1976. The
researchers note that there was a restraining order which went into
effect at the beginning of December which prevented enforcement of the
law for a 49-day period, ending in mid-February 1977. Curiously,
however, the rate of MNNM was already declining in 1976, and for most
of that year, the law wasn't in effect at all! Prompt action indeed,
for a "gun control" law to begin reducing MNNM prior to it even being
in force...
Even using the same source and similar methods as the Loftin study,
it can be found that for the period 1964 to 1991 (adding four years
to each end of the study period) the average annual homicide rate
(using numbers from the National Center for Health Statistics, rather
than the FBI's UCR) was 27.1 per 100,000 population prior to the law
('64-'76), and 37.4 per 100,000 population after the law was in force.
Considering the absolute numbers rather than the rates, there was an
average of 203 homicides per year prior to the law, and an average of
234 homicides per year after the law, during the same 1964-1991 period.
Clearly, a more populous D.C. (with more guns available) was a safer
place to live during the 1960s than a less populous D.C. with some
of the most stringent "gun control" laws in the nation is today.
Recently, the police in Washington, D.C. have begun advising city
residents how to obtain guns for home defense. Lt. Lowell K. Duckett
of the D.C. Police held a two-hour community meeting in March 1996, and
was quoted in the Washington Post as saying "Gun control has not worked
in D.C. The only people who have guns are criminals. We have the
strongest gun laws in the nation and one of the highest murder rates.
It's quicker to pull your Smith and Wesson than to dial 911 if you're
being robbed." Duckett favors repeal of D.C.'s ineffective gun "bans."
Adapted in part from a posting by Kevin M. Okleberry


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