The Giffords Law Center publishes an annual Gun Law Scorecard which ranks states by the rate of gun deaths and provides letter grades to each state in the U.S. based on several factors including:
- Universal Background Checks
- Gun dealer licensing
- Assault weapon and large capacity magazine ban
- Handgun licensing
- Lost and stolen firearm reporting
- Handgun design safety standards
- Ammunition sale regulation
- Licensing authority has discretion to deny a concealed carry permit
- Child access prevention law
- State collection and maintenance of handgun and assault weapon sale records
- Waiting period
The gun death rate used by Giffords Law Center for ranking combines the following data from the CDC:
- Law Enforcement Shootings
- Unintentional Shootings
- Undetermined Shootings
I believe there are some fatal flaws in how they grade the states starting with which laws impact the type of gun death. With 61% of gun deaths being suicides from 2013 – 2017, it’s hard to see how many of the laws that they use to grade states apply to this category. Really, it’s hard to see most of the laws that they use to grade states apply to anything but homicides.
I think we’re long overdue to begin having intellectually honest conversations about the data and understand how things break down so we can collectively work together to address the root of each of these very disparate issues.
In this article, we are going to hone in on homicides and take a look at the issues with the Giffords Grades in the following areas.
- The inconsistencies between the letter grade given and the homicide rates in a state
- The rates of homicide over time as compared to letter grades over time
- The effectiveness of gun control laws that have been implemented in states over time
- Issues with Giffords Law Center assertions about gun laws and trafficking
- Prosecution rates for gun violations
Charting Grades Leads to Anomalies… But Are They Anomalies?
If we look at the grades for each state in 2017 and sort them by homicide rate from low to high we see some interesting anomalies start to appear. There are states with some pretty high grades that also have rather high homicide rates. Maryland with a grade of A- has a higher homicide rate than all but 4 states in the nation. This doesn’t seem to make much sense.
If we change how we sort the data, and take a look at it by grade and then homicide rate, we get a bit of different picture of what’s going on here.
One of the things I find most interesting is that if you were to take the average firearm homicide rates of states based on a simple pass/fail. A – D- and then F there is only a 1.04 per 100,000 difference.
Even if we were to adjust the pass/fail criteria to say anything below B- is unacceptable the rate difference per 100,000 is only 1.06.
Some things that I find to be even more interesting is if we look at some of these rates over time. Grades are increasing, but so are homicide rates. Even Maryland going from a grade of B to A- seems really odd considering Maine has consistently rated as an F and their homicide rates are actually decreasing.
Trafficking Explains Everything! Except That it Doesn’t
So the folks over at the Giffords Law center aren’t completely oblivious to some of these outliers that would clearly draw criticism. They have a simple explanation for states like Maryland, Illinois, and California. Gun trafficking from states with weaker gun laws. They focus the blame on a lack of universal background checks and federal interstate trafficking laws. There are some fatal flaws in this simple explanation they offer, however.
Let’s break this down a bit. Given the following two things are true. Let’s conduct a thought experiment.
- We know that most homicides and gun crimes are conducted with handguns
- While there may not be a federal law on the books that is specifically called “Interstate Gun Trafficking,” the act is highly illegal, with many state and federal laws being broken in order to move these weapons from one state to the other.
We are going to pick on Maryland and Virginia in this example. The Giffords Law Center states that nearly 1/3 of crime guns recovered in Maryland were originally sold in Virginia. As we saw from our previous chart. Maryland had an A- rating and a homicide rate of 7.5 while Virginia held a rating of D with a homicide rate of 4.1. We also know from the FBI that from 2012 – 2017 an average of 94% of all firearm homicides carried out in Maryland were done so with a handgun. (2012, 2013, 2014, 2015, 2016, 2017)
In this experiment, let’s assume 10 handguns with magazine capacities of > 10 rounds are moved across state lines. We are also going to throw in a few variables in this experiment.
- The guns were originally stollen
- Virginia law states that the theft of a firearm regardless of value is considered Grand Larceny which is a felony punishable by not less than one year nor more than 20 years in a state correctional facility.
- The guns were purchased illegally through an FFL via a straw purchase
- 18 U.S.C. § 922(a)(6) prohibits straw purchases which are a felony punishable by a fine of up to $250,000 and 10 years in prison.
- The guns were purchased in a private party transaction
- 18 U.S.C. 922(a)(5) outlaws the private sale and transfer of firearms between residents who do not live in the same state
So before the person even leaves Virginia and heads into Maryland, felonies are being committed on both state and federal levels. Once in Maryland, the list of felonies and misdemeanors being committed both on a federal and state level is nearly endless. Whether it’s the illegal importation of handguns, the possession of unregistered handguns, the illegal transportation of handguns, the possession of “high capacity” magazines, or the intent to illegally distribute handguns, the list goes on and on. We’re talking about hundreds of years of jail time. I started trying to dive into the Maryland laws, but quickly became overwhelmed at their complexity being a non-resident and a non-lawyer to get into the very specific aspects of it all. If you’d like to know more about them, check out this website: https://codes.findlaw.com/md/criminal-law/
So How Effective are New Gun Laws?
If by now you haven’t been completely convinced that we’re all being tricked into believing more gun laws are the answer. Let’s see how the states that have enacted some of the new gun laws like universal background checks and magazine bans are doing. Have these new laws made a dent in their homicide rates? The short answer is no, but we can take a closer look at this.
We would certainly expect to be seeing homicide rates in these states dropping if the laws had any real effect on crime, however, we see homicides rising while the law-abiding citizens are being stripped of their rights to defend their very lives from the criminals carrying out these horrible acts.
HIGH CAPACITY MAGAZINES
Several states have enacted “high capacity” magazine bans in recent years while some never lifted theirs from 1994. Let’s take a look at those who have enacted them recently. Let’s look at Colorado, Connecticut, and Maryland who all enacted these bans in 2013. As we can see, all three of these states have had an increase in their firearm homicide rate.
UNIVERSAL BACKGROUND CHECKS
Several states have also enacted universal background checks in recent years which require all firearm transfers, even those between private parties to undergo a background check. Let’s look at another three states that implemented these all about the same time. Colorado in 2013 and Massachusetts and Washington in 2014. Again, we see all three states have had an increase in their firearm homicide rates.
A Brief Look at Criminal Prosecution
As I’ve been doing more and more research on this subject, I thought it might be prudent to take a look at what’s going on in the criminal justice system. I was a little bit surprised at what I found. To be sure, I don’t consider myself an expert on the data provided by the U.S. Department of Justice’s BJS reports. I did find it rather interesting though that the difference between the number of weapons offenses that people were arrested compared to the number of charges filed dropped 8% from 2012 – 2016. With 2016 being the latest available year of data. It raises questions about the number of violent offenders we’re letting walk without even a trial. I can’t help but wonder if this isn’t a contributing factor in the problems we’re experiencing in society today.
At this point, I’d hope has become evident that the grades being put out by the Giffords Law Center are extremely misleading and flawed. The claims that are made based on these grades are very much full of holes and don’t speak to the root issue. It is quite clear to me that gun control laws are clearly doing nothing to stop homicides from being carried out, and I hope that it is crystal clear now that guns, magazines, and a perceived lack of gun laws are not actually the issue here. It’s the criminal, and none of the existing laws or any new laws are going to prevent them from carrying out their horrific acts. We’ve got plenty of laws on the books both federally and at the state level to put evildoers behind bars.
Like me, you might be asking what do we do about this then? What’s the answer? I don’t have a complete answer to be sure. However, there seem to be some pretty obvious places to start looking if we want to really get to the root of the issues. From a prevention standpoint, it seems clear that we need to look at our criminal justice system. Why aren’t prosecutors prosecuting criminals? Why are violent criminals with long records walking the streets? Why are we letting our mental health care facilities crumble? Why aren’t we helping the people who are struggling with fierce addictions get the help they need to be rehabilitated and re-integrate into society? People that have no choice but to turn to crime in order to feed their disease. Why aren’t we working more with our under-served communities to bring in better education and outreach programs as well as getting engaged in helping people rise up and reach their full potential as individuals stopping the slide into a life of crime before it starts?
There isn’t a silver bullet or a magic potion that will make all these issues go away. In-fact, I don’t believe we will every fully resolve all these issues. At least not in my lifetime. Some of this government can help with, non-profits and organizations can help other parts of it, and you and I as individuals can help affect positive change by volunteering our own time. Change that will not only make communities safer, but it can also help bring us together where we can find deeper healing from our collective past traumas, and we don’t have to throw away our rights to do it.