The Radical Center
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The Radical Center

Would Sixties style gun laws save lives?

Black Panthers 1967

An op-ed in the Washington Post is headlined: “To fix our gun crisis, we should revert back to ’60s gun laws.” Author Howell Raines was an editor at the New York Times. He asserts a change to 60s style laws “would nonetheless spare the lives of thousands of citizens….” Those are his words, not mine, thousands of lives would be saved if things were back to the 60s status quo.

At no point does Mr. Raines offer hard data, just sanctimonious pontification. Odd considering how easy the data is to secure. I used the Disaster Center which has data from 1960 up to 2017.

What does the data indicate?

Here is the homicide rate per year for the 1960s:

1960 5.1

1961 4.8

1962 4.6

1963 4.6

1964 4.9

1965 5.1

1966 5.6

1967 6.2

1968 6.9

1969 7.3

Over the decade, if you do the math (and you are welcome to do it if you don’t believe me) you will find the average homicide rate was 5.51 per 100,000 per year.

Now, we have data at the Disaster Center for 2010 to 2017, or eight years .

2010 4.8

2011 4.7

2012 4.7

2013 4.5

2014 4.4

2015 4.9

2016 5.4

2017 5.3

Over the period 2010–2017 the average is 4.83, which is lower than the 1960s average. Preliminary data for 2018 indicates it is down again in 2018 from 2017 as well. The lowest homicide rate in the 60s was 4.6 for 1962 and 1963. The two lowest years this decade were 2013 and 2014 at 4.5 and 4.4 respectively. In fact, those are the two lowest years over the last 59 years!

The longer term trend is the homicide rate in the period 2000 to 2009 was 5.52, almost identical to the 60s.

So, the actual homicide rate today is lower than it was in the 60s but Raines thinks 60s laws will save lives — in spite of higher homicide rates when they were in effect.

The general trend in all crimes is downward

The rise in homicides began in the 60s and peaked in 1980, since then the trend has been downward. While the highest homicide rate was in 1980 the lowest homicide rate since 1960 was in 2014. What this means is this decade has the lowest homicide rate of all decades since the 60s. The problem is you wouldn’t know this from media reports.

It is true gun laws became more strict in the 1960s, something largely inspired by racism. Scenes of Black Panthers with rifles terrified racists. When the Panthers protested on the steps of the California state house, saying “The time has come for black people to arm themselves,” new restrictions on gun ownership passed the legislature easily, and even the NRA supported them. notes: “The 1967 bill took California down the path to having some of the strictest gun laws in America and helped jumpstart a surge of national gun control restrictions.”

The N.R.A., which I have never believed to be advocates of equal 2nd Amendment rights, fought for gun control when they feared African-Americans would arm themselves. The N.R.A “fought alongside the government for stricter gun regulations in the 1960s. This was part of an effort to keep guns out of the hands of African-Americans as racial tensions in the nation grew. The NRA felt especially threatened by the Black Panthers, whose well-photographed carrying of weapons in public spaces was entirely legal in the state of California, where they were based.”

Yes, in the 1960s the drive for stricter gun control laws began, largely as a racist reaction to Civil Rights and groups such as the Black Panthers and Deacons for Defense.

It’s hard to draw a firm conclusion those laws increased crime rates, but crime rates did increase. Where the highest homicide rate in the 60s was 7.3 in 1969, during the 70s the lowest homicide rate was 7.9 in 1970 with the rate ranging from 8.6 to a high of 9.8 in both 1979 and 1974. During the 80s it varied between 8.3 and 10.2. Only beginning in the 1990s did the rate decline, reaching 5.7 by 1999, with it never going above 5.7 in the 2000s, finally reaching a six decade low in 2014 of 4.4.

As noted, beginning in the 60s there was a “surge of national gun control restrictions” and there was a surge in homicides as well. I’m not sure this supports the theory fewer that restrictions lower the homicide rate, but it does repudiate the theory of Raines that a return to 60s style restrictions will lower it.

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A blog for the Moorfield Storey Institute: a liberaltarian think tank.

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James Peron

James Peron is the president of the Moorfield Storey Institute, was the founding editor of Esteem a LGBT publication in South Africa under apartheid.