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by Peter Moskos

April 23, 2014

Guns and Homicides

We all, er, know that guns don't kill people (even though that is what they're designed to do).

But what I didn't know was that guns really didn't kill people until just a few decades ago.

As recently as 1960, just 20 percent of homicides involved a gun! That went up to 48 percent in 1970 and 69 percent in 1990. And I think it's remained at about two-thirds ever since.

The jump from 1960 to 1970 is amazing. Remember, this isn't the crime rate or the number of homicides but the percent of homicides using a gun. What happened? How and why did guns suddenly spread to the criminal class?

(And feel free to applaud me for an all-too-rare use of full-and-honest scaling on the y-axis... you know want to.)


ryan said...

Does this reflect convictions of Murder, or merely death and cause of death? For example, if someone is merely convicted of manslaughter and the victim died of a gunshot, is that not counted here?

PCM said...

I'm not certain. But I would guess it is only homicides, and thus not manslaughter. But I would also guess it's based on UCR data, so it would be reported by police departments (and not based on conviction).

Peter Gehred said...

Also of note, 1960 to 1970 crime rates, including homicide, increase dramatically (around 50%). So this was a mammoth explosion in gun violence. Probably something like four times as many gun homicides in 1970 as in 1960.

I did a year researching causes of the 1990s and beyond crime decline. A gaping hole in the research is a lack of consideration of the reasons for the 1960 to 1980 crime surge.

I think the unraveling American consensus in the 1960s (e.g. read Nixonland) combined with lead poisoning and the baby boomers coming entering prime crime years is the most compelling explanation. The unraveling consensus would probably have the most impact on the gun issue, as black nationalists actively sought gun ownership and white America embraced increased gun ownership and decreased barriers to such gun ownership (e.g. "gun rights") in response.