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February 5, 2015


To the editor:

I offer comments regarding the Jan. 9 lecture given by David Brent, as reported in the University Times (Jan. 22 issue).

The U.S. homicide rate has fallen in half since its peak in the early 90s, while the number of guns in private hands has increased substantially. Suicides are down too, though not as much.

Homicide rates remain higher than in other wealthy industrialized countries, but attempts to ascribe the difference to gun availability founder on closer inspection. For example, where gun homicide rates are lower, non-gun homicide rates tend to be lower as well, suggesting a common cause in non-gun-related cultural factors. Historically, London’s homicide rate was far lower than New York City’s, back when there were virtually no restrictions on gun purchases in Britain while New York already had the restrictive Sullivan Law. Rampant murder among inner-city youth in America is not unrelated to the government’s obsessive war on drugs, which drives up prices and incentivizes street gangs to fight over turf. When it comes to suicide, the U.S. is not the outlier among wealthy industrialized countries, making it still harder to blame suicide rates here on gun availability.

As Brent notes, mass shootings account for a miniscule fraction of homicides.  What he does not mention is that virtually all of those events occur in purportedly “gun-free” zones — that is, where people are forbidden to carry firearms for self-defense and mutual aid. Mass shootings in Australia stopped after the government confiscated large numbers of guns, but they also stopped in neighboring New Zealand around the same time, without confiscations. Brent notes that making it harder to obtain a concealed carry permit is “not particularly significant” in decreasing deaths. What he does not mention, but surely must know, is that massive statistical studies have demonstrated that the implementation of liberal  shall-issue concealed carry permit laws has been associated with downturns in violent crime.

Brent’s MD training makes him no more of an authority on the advisability — much less constitutionality — of laws preventing ready access to the means of self-defense than my physics training makes me. With that in mind, allow me to share my own bit of easily-replicated research on the subject from a couple of years ago. has state-by-state homicide data going back to 1960, while the anti-gun Brady Center offers a rating of states according to the (presumably desirable) restrictiveness of their gun-control laws. I compared the 10 “Brady-best” states (c2010) with the 16 “Brady-worst” (16 due to an 8-way tie near the bottom). The average 2010 homicide rates for both groups were nearly identical, at about 4 per 100,000. Then I compared the same states in 1960. It turns out that the average homicide rate for the “Brady-good” states had been about 3, while in the “Brady-bad” states it had been about 5. Since the preponderance of gun-control legislation came in the years after 1960, the result is that the states that imposed the most restrictive legislation saw their homicide rates increase on average, while the reverse was true for the states with the least restrictive policies.

Allan Walstad

Associate Professor of Physics



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