Watching the mayor take on certain causes in which we don't share his views, we've grown to have a good deal of respect for him, even when we think he's wrong. So we're not here to jeer at the demarche on guns that he announced in his inaugural address on Sunday. He wants a national debate about gun control, with an eye to exporting New York's strict gun control laws elsewhere. And we say, let's, by all means, have that debate. If we do, however, the mayor is likely to discover that if other states have gun control laws that are less onerous than ours, it's because other states have caught on to the fact that those laws don't cut crime.
Some states have enjoyed reductions in violent crime after enacting right-to-carry laws that increased the number of legal guns on the streets. It's harder to find a venue where reducing the number of legal guns correlates with the reduction in gun crimes. In the years following enactment of 1968's Gun Control Act, crime shot up, increasing 17.7% in one year alone - between 1969 and 1970 - in New York State. After the 1994 assault weapons ban expired last year, violent crime rates continued to fall in large cities.
The plunge in violent crime in New York in the 1990s may have been due to many factors, but it's going to be hard for the mayor to argue that gun control is one of them. The start of the decline predated enactment of the two signature gun laws of the decade, the Brady Act and the assault weapons ban. We detailed all these facts in our editorial of October 21, 2005, "Good Sense on Guns."
The mayor appears to be taking an interest in the gun laws of other states, such as Virginia and Georgia, which supposedly are so lax that Empire State criminals just hop on Interstate 95 to buy their weapons. A number of lawmen we respect enormously, including the police commissioner and the Manhattan district attorney, are extremely concerned about this factor. But the mayor might want also to zip up I-95 in the other direction, toward Boston, where the mayor there has taken to criticizing neighboring states, especially "Live Free or Die" New Hampshire, for making it too easy for criminals to buy guns that then kill innocent people in Beantown's streets.
It turns out, however, that the United States Attorney in New Hampshire, Thomas Colantuono, recently disputed that claim, citing data showing that the majority of gun crimes in Massachusetts are committed with guns originally purchased instate. This mirrors a national trend, according to the senior vice president of a gun-industry trade group, the National Shooting Sports Foundation. Lawrence Keane of the NSSF told us yesterday that across the country, the top source for guns used in crimes is almost always the state in which the crime is committed.
What does work? Strict enforcement of laws that are already on the books. New Yorkers already have ample experience with this phenomenon - witness the spectacular success of Mayor Giuliani's crime control program that focused on zero tolerance not just for violations of the gun laws but for all crime. Criminals, by definition, do not follow the law. Enacting more laws for them to break won't exactly change that. But fair, ruthless, committed, steady leadership in the uniformed services, such as we've had in recent years, and a practice of backing up the police during controversies will do a lot.
It convinces law-abiding people, for example, that they don't need guns to be safe. The mayor is a thoughtful, persuasive Eagle Scout, and it may be that he'll find traction on the gun issue. But we can't help thinking of the effort of conservatives to plump for a return to the gold standard in the early 1980s. People shrugged it off, partly because it coincided with Chairman Volcker's success in defeating inflation by other means. Mr. Bloomberg is talking gun control at a time when violent crime has been reaching record lows in New York.