The National Rifle Association's just-concluded convention in Milwaukee has sparked outrage in some quarters of New York, but jealousy might be a more appropriate response. The outrage seems to be directed toward members of the NRA who live outside the New York City metropolitan area and dare to like guns. Consider a recent column by Michael Daly of the Daily News. He reports on a "jarring" encounter with one Peggy Irving of Missouri, who brought her 16-month-old daughter Katie to the convention and says she "loves" her Smith & Wesson 9-mm lady's. He seems astonished that a mother who comes across as "as decent and amiable a person as you could ever meet" would like guns, and might even joke about how her infant daughter will one day own a firearm.
Could it just be that Ms. Irving, a humble Missourian, knows something that Mr. Daly hasn't yet grasped - that there is little clear relationship between gun control, or gun ownership for that matter, and crime? According to the Federal Bureau of Investigation's Uniform Crime Report, in 2004, the most recent year for which complete statistics are available, there were 687.4 violent crimes per 100,000 residents in New York City, of which 7.04 were murders (the vast majority were robberies or aggravated assaults). We don't know from where in Missouri Ms. Irving comes, but it almost certainly has a lower crime rate despite her efforts to instill in her daughter a respect for guns. Columbia, Missouri, experienced a violent crime rate of 362.1 per 100,000 and a murder rate of 0.7. Jefferson City reported 279.8 violent crimes per 100,000, and no murders.
The Kansas City metro area saw 595.6 violent crimes per 100,000, of which 7.9 were murders. Missouri's gun laws are significantly less restrictive than those in New York - residents need a permit only to carry a handgun, and otherwise they don't need to register or license their firearms. Kansas City proper has long been a crime hotspot, and it has the high murder rate to match - 19.9 per 100,000 within the city limits. Yet even then, the murder rate appears only loosely correlated with gun control, something that was suggested by a famous experiment, often cited by proponents of gun control, conducted between 1992 and 1993. Police in the inner city volunteered for overtime shifts and during those shifts did nothing but hunt for guns that were illegal under existing law. Crime did go down by 49%, but not in proportion to gun seizures, which increased 67%.
Instead, what crime statistics from across Missouri show is the truth of a point made by the FBI itself right at the top of its annual crime report: Many factors cause crime. The FBI offers its own list, from "population density and degree of urbanization" to "modes of transportation and highway system" to "effective strength of law enforcement agencies" to "citizens' attitudes toward crime." Although arguably included in the broad category of "policies of ... components of the justice system," gun control per se doesn't make an appearance on the list. By the way, we're looking at the list in the 1997 report, published in the thick of the Clinton administration.
New York has been racked in recent months with a spate of tragic gun crimes, including the death of a two-year-old on Easter morning in the Bronx. The city grieves with the families of the victims, and applauds recent high-profile enforcement actions conducted by Commissioner Ray Kelly and New York's Finest. It would be a mistake, however, to think that more gun control will solve that problem. Taking a gun out of Ms. Irving's hands will not make New York safer. Nor will refusing law-abiding New Yorkers the right to keep and bear arms that is guaranteed to all Americans in the Second Amendment to the Constitution.