Surprising facts behind revived gun control debate
By DONALD GILLILAND, The Patriot-News The Patriot-News
on December 15, 2012 at 7:23 PM, updated December 15, 2012 at 8:17 PM
In the wake of the elementary school shooting in Connecticut discussion of gun control has risen to a new pitch, but homicide by gun is actually on the decline in the United States.
So too, the number of people who tell Gallup pollsters they support stricter laws covering the sale of firearms.
According to the most recent FBI uniform crime reports, murder in the United States has been on the decline for at least six years, including the number of people killed by guns.
Both the raw number of people killed and the murder rate per 100,000 people have been ticking steadily downward for more than half a decade.
According to the FBI statistics, there were 1,642 fewer people murdered with a gun last year than in 2006, a 16 percent drop.
Ironically, according to figures collected by the Associated Press, the number of licensed gun dealers in the United States actually increased — from 47,509 to 50,812 — under the Obama administration, after a long, steady decline since the early 1990s.
The percentage of total murders committed with a gun has remained fairly constant, around 67 percent, and of those, the preferred type of gun — the handgun — has remained fairly constant, around 70 percent of all gun murders.
According to the Associated Press, public opinion in favor of stricter gun laws is at a 20-year low in the United States.
Only 43 percent of Americans supported stricter gun laws in an October 2011 Gallup poll, compared to 78 percent in a September 1990 poll.
According to an Associated Press compilation of Gallup polls on the issue, over the past 20 years, public support for stricter gun laws has been trending downward, with small upticks in 1999 following the Columbine school shooting and again between 2002 and 2004.
Nevertheless, in light of the Connecticut shooting, many have begun calling for new laws.
Former Gov. Ed Rendell, tweeted Friday afternoon that it’s “Time for Washington to stop being wusses and put sensible controls on firearms.”
New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg and others were part of the chorus.
Pennsylvania’s federal politicians — notably senators Robert Casey, Jr. and Pat Toomey — refrained from weighing in, limiting their response instead to condolences for the victims of the shooting.
Given the 20-year-old shooter apparently used his mother’s legally registered guns, it’s unclear what kind of laws would have prevented the tragedy, short of a total ban on guns similar to Japan’s.
Even among people who have been touched by mass shootings like the one in Connecticut, opinion is far from uniform.
Tom Mauser, who became a gun control advocate after his son Daniel was killed at Columbine, urged officials to stop playing defense on gun control.
Sean Graves, a student was wounded at Columbine, said he was disgusted by the shootings in Connecticut but he didn’t believe laws can prevent such violence.
If people “want to find a way to harm people, they’re going to find a way to do it,” Graves said.
— The Associated Press contributed to this story.
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