Original post: Every place that has banned guns (either all guns or all handguns) has seen murder rates go up. You cannot point to one place where murder rates have fallen, whether it’s Chicago or D.C. or even island nations such as England, Jamaica, or Ireland.
For an example of homicide rates before and after a ban, take the case of the handgun ban in England and Wales in January 1997 (source here see Table 1.01 and the column marked “Offences currently recorded as homicide per million population,” UPDATED numbers available here). The gun control laws in Northern Ireland (1972 handgun ban) are different than those of England and Wales.
Law-abiding individuals had already registered their handguns and were required to turn in their guns “at designated police stations” by May 14, 1997. After the ban, clearly homicide rates bounce around over time, but there is only one year (2010) where the homicide rate is lower than it was in 1996. The immediate effect was about a 50 percent increase in homicide rates. Firearm homicide rate had almost doubled between 1996 and 2002 (see here p. 11). The homicide and firearm homicide rates only began falling when there was a large increase in the number of police officers during 2003 and 2004. Despite the huge increase in the number of police, the murder rate still remained slightly higher than the immediate pre-ban rate.
The peak in firearm homicides occurred in 2001/02. The peak in total homicides occurred in 2002/2003 partly as a result of including mass murders by Dr. Harold Shipman. Our point was that the drop in homicides only occurred after the large increase in police. Subtracting Dr. Harold Shipman’s homicides from the 2002/03 totals doesn’t change the point that the drop in homicides occurred after the big increase in the number of police. In terms of total homicides, there was a 32% increase between 1996 and 2002.
There are a lot of issues about how different countries measure homicide or murders differently, but that isn’t really relevant for the discussion here as we are talking about changes over time within a country.
Other information for Ireland and Jamaica.
Jamaica’s crime data were obtained from a variety of sources. Its murder data from 1960 to 1967 were obtained from Terry Lacey, Violence and Politics in Jamaica, 1960–70 (Manchester: Manchester University Press, 1977). Professor Gary Mauser obtained the data from 1970 to 2000 from a Professor A. Francis in Jamaica and the data from 2001 to 2006 from the Statistical Institute of Jamaica (http://www.statinja.com/stats.html). Jamaica’s population estimates were obtained from NationMaster.com (http://www.nationmaster.com/graph/ peo_pop-people-population&date=1975).
How about for DC and Chicago (Figures taken from More Guns, Less Crime)? (Click on figures to enlarge.) Regressions that try to account for lots of other factors are available in that book from the University of Chicago Press.
The raw data for DC over a long period of time is available here (the crime rates are available on the bottom half of the screen).
Now Australia didn’t have a complete ban on guns, they didn’t even ban all semi-automatic guns, but a discussion on the changes in their crime rates from their gun buyback is available here (see also particularly here).
Regarding Japan, the point to make clear is that Japan has had a very low murder rate for as long as data is available. Gun ownership by private citizens was banned or extremely heavily regulated for hundreds of years, with no significant change in the number of people allowed to own guns. Some point to the drop in homicides after the 1958 gun law, but they ignore the 1946 regulations under the Allied Occupation and the 1950 Order that continued “the general prohibition of possession of guns by civilians.” We have consulted Professor Mark Ramseyer at the Harvard Law School, probably the leading US-based expert on the Japanese legal system. He believes that handguns were effectively banned for years long before crime data existed in Japan despite some minor variations in the law over time. Hence, a comparison of crime rates before and after a ban isn’t possible.
The issue here is to separate whether it is gun control or something else different about Japan that is important. Unless you can see a change before and after a change in gun control laws, it is difficult to infer anything about the impact of gun control laws. There are currently about 208,961 Japanese who currently own rifles or shotguns.
Much of the debate over gun control focuses on what is called “cross-sectional” data. That is crime rates are examined at one particular point of time across different places. Here are two paragraphs from John Lott’s The Bias Against Guns that explain the basic problem with cross-sectional analysis.
First, the cross-sectional studies: uppose for the sake of argument that high-crime countries are the ones that most frequently adopt the most stringent gun control laws. Suppose further, for the sake of argument, that gun control indeed lowers crime, but not by enough to reduce rates to the same low levels prevailing in the majority of countries that did not adopt the laws. Looking across countries, it would then falsely appear that stricter gun control resulted in higher crime. Economists refer to this as an “endogeniety” problem. The adoption of the policy is a reaction to other events (that is, “endogenous”), in this case crime. To resolve this, one must examine how the high-crime areas that chose to adopt the controls changed over time —not only relative to their own past levels but also relative to areas that did not institute such controls.
Unfortunately, many contemporary discussions rely on misinterpretations of cross-sectional data. The New York Times recently conducted a cross-sectional study of murder rates in states with and without the death penalty, and found that “Indeed, 10 of the 12 states without capital punishment have homicide rates below the national average, Federal Bureau of Investigation data shows, while half the states with the death penalty have homicide rates above the national average.” However, they erroneously concluded that the death penalty did not deter murder. The problem is that the states without the death penalty (Alaska, Hawaii, Iowa, Maine, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, North Dakota, Rhode Island, West Virginia, Wisconsin, and Vermont) have long enjoyed relatively low murder rates, something that might well have more to do with other factors than the death penalty. Instead one must compare, over time, how murder rates change in the two groups – those adopting the death penalty and those that did not.
More information is available in chapters 2 and 10 of More Guns, Less Crime (University of Chicago Press, 2010, third edition).