In statehouses across the country, inside the halls of our nation’s Capitol, and even in municipal government buildings in small towns, leaders are grappling with the best approach to reduce the type of mass bloodshed that has scarred the country in recent weeks.
But any efforts to construct a comprehensive solution to the violence inevitably pivot on one question: Will access to weapons for law-abiding citizens make our communities safer, or more dangerous?
In the aftermath of the Newtown massacre, NRA Executive Vice President Wayne LaPierre placed the powerful gun lobbying group square in the eye of the storm by declaring that “the only thing that stops a bad guy with a gun, is a good guy with a gun.”
In California, there’s evidence to support LaPierre’s theory. As the Sacramento Bee recently reported, California gun owners have purchased millions of weapons in the last decade, while gun-related deaths and injuries have declined.
Do these two statements, taken collectively- that gun ownership has risen in California while gun-related violence has dampened- suggest that a more armed, law-abiding citizenry is part of the solution to curbing the violence?
Before tackling that question, it’s important to examine whether or not gun ownership in the Golden State really has increased while violence has subsided.
It is accurate, for one, to claim gun ownership in California has shot up in recent years.
In 2011, California gun owners purchased more than 601,000 firearms from dealers, according to data available through the Office of the Attorney General.
That figure represents the high-water mark for gun sales since state gun owners purchased 642,000 such weapons in 1993.
To say that gun sales in California have increased in the last 10 years, however, is misleading.
After examining gun sale numbers over the last decade, we found Californians have actually purchased *fewer guns, on average, than they did in the preceding decade.
Between 1992 and 2001, dealers sold 451,800 weapons a year in California. That figure compares to 405, 820 weapons annually between 2002 and 2011.
So while gun sales have jumped recently, firearms still aren’t being sold at the same clip in California as they were during more violent times.
This brings us to the second element of the equation: Can one reasonably conclude that gun sales have caused the state’s violent crime numbers to dip?
Again, it is true that in California, as well as across the country, violent crimes have decreased steadily in recent years.
According to the California Department of Justice’s “Crime in California 2011” report, the homicide rate peaked in 1980 at 14.4 homicides per every 100,000 residents, and has been falling ever since.
The biggest drop-off, on a percentage basis, occurred between 1995 and 2000, when the homicide rate fell from 11 percent to just below 6 percent. Gun sales over that time period were generally in-line with historical averages.
How about when California gun sales were at their highest levels?
Consumer demand for firearms, at least in terms of sales, peaked in 1993 when dealers sold roughly 642,000 weapons. The homicide rate for the year was a hefty 12.9 percent.
The second highest output, however, occurred in 2011, when a notch over 600,000 guns were sold and the homicide rate stood at 4.8 percent.
Finally, the third highest year for sales, 1994, coincided with a homicide rate of 11.5 percent.
What to take away from these figures?
While there are obviously several factors that could affect violent crime rates, the trend has been for violent crime numbers to decline, irrespective of how many guns were being sold at the time.