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Study: New Strategies To Combat Gun Crimes May Be Having Impact

Mon., Oct. 14, 1996

In what may be a significant turning point in the battle against gun violence, analyses of two new studies suggest that murders, robberies and assaults committed with guns dropped faster than violent crime over all last year.

This decline in gun violence comes after a decade, from 1985 to 1994, when the number of murders, robberies and assaults using a gun grew nearly 60 percent while the overall violent crime rate increased 42 percent, according to one study, the FBI’s annual crime survey.

Experts cautioned that this abrupt reversal of the decadelong increase in crimes committed with guns covered too short a time to allow a definitive conclusion.

But they said the turnaround indicated that some new strategies to combat gun crime might be having an impact.

Those include the Brady Bill, which requires a waiting period to buy a handgun, the ban on assault weapons and innovative tactics by police forces to focus on guns.

The study showing that criminals were less likely to use guns in crime last year was done by the Center to Prevent Handgun Violence, drawing on data in the new FBI report, which was officially released on Sunday. According to the figures, the number of murders in 1995 fell 7.4 percent from 1994 while the number of murders committed with a gun dropped 11.6 percent.

Similarly, the number of robberies in 1995 decreased 6.2 percent from 1994, but the number of robberies committed with a firearm slid 7.6 percent. And the number of aggravated assaults for 1995 dropped 1.3 percent while the number of aggravated assaults with guns fell by 6.35 percent.

“These data provide more compelling evidence that the Brady Law is working,” said Sarah Brady, the chairwoman of the Center to Prevent Handgun Violence and the wife of James Brady, the former press secretary to President Ronald Reagan who was seriously wounded in the 1981 assassination attempt on Reagan.

The figures on the decrease in gun crimes was only one of several indications in the FBI report that violent crime appeared to be declining.

In fact, the report, based on statistics compiled by police departments around the nation, found that violent crime decreased 4 percent in 1995, the fourth consecutive decrease, led by a 7 percent drop in the national homicide rate.

That put the homicide rate at 8 per 100,000, the lowest it has been since 1985, before the epidemic of crack cocaine, which spread drugs, guns and gangs in inner cities.

The last time before 1985 that the homicide rate had been as low as 8 per 100,000 was all the way back in 1970, when it stood at 7.9 per 100,000.

The modern crime wave began in the mid-1960s, after decades of decline in violent crime, when the homicide rate rose from 4.6 per 100,000 in 1963 to a high point of 9.8 in 1974. Since then, said Alfred Blumstein, a criminologist at Carnegie Mellon University, the murder rate has been oscillating between roughly 8 and 10 per 100,000.

Blumstein and other experts pointed to several factors they believe underlie the decline in violent crime, though these causes are hard to measure separately. In addition to the new gun-control laws and the innovative police tactics, they include greater community involvement in crime prevention, longer prison sentences and possibly a change in attitude toward violence among young people.

“It seems as though there may be a significant change in attitude even among kids in our tolerance for homicide,” said James Alan Fox, the dean of the college of criminal justice at Northeastern University.


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