Washington DC

Early in 1996, Police Lt. Lowell Duckett, president of the Black Police Caucus and special assistant to Washington, D.C. Police Chief Larry Soulsby, while at a neighbourhood meeting of residents worried about crime, stated that the city's ban on handgun ownership by law-abiding citizens should be repealed. Furthermore, he stated: "Gun control has not worked in D.C.".

Handgun Bans: A History of Failure

Washington, D.C.

The District of Colombia has required police approval to buy a handgun and handgun registration since the 1960s. A law prohibiting the possession of handguns not previously registered with the police took effect in February 1977. Firearms ownership opponents claim that homicide declined thereafter, deceptively counting annual homicide numbers during a time when the city's population was rapidly falling.

They also ignore the fact that homicides were declining before the law took effect. Per capita homicide rates, however, increased gradually after the law, dropped sharply after enactment (1982) of an NRA-backed mandatory penalty for use of a firearm during a violent crime, rose gradually as the penalty fell into disuse, and then skyrocketed with the advent of the "crack" cocaine trade.

In summary: In September 1976, the District of Colombia, home to the federal government of the United States, enacted a highly restrictive "gun control" law which in effect "froze" the number of legally owned handguns in the District by stopping the issuance of new handgun licenses. In addition, new strenuous registration requirements were placed on the ownership of rifles and shotguns, and the law further required that all firearms be kept either under lock and key, or kept unloaded and disassembled when not being used for recreational purposes. Violations of the law were to be punished by ten days in jail and a $300 fine, and this penalty was later increased to a year in jail, and a $1,000 fine. D.C. thus became a test case for the effectiveness of highly restrictive "gun control" laws at the local level.

A 1991 article in the anti-gun New England Journal of Medicine attempted to show that the registration law in D.C. reduced the average (arithmetic mean) number of gun-related homicides per month following the implementation of the law. As with other "gun control" studies published in the New England Journal of Medicine and as with a later (as yet unpublished) study of the effects of concealed carry reform laws by researchers from the University of Maryland (to which the authors of the Loftin study were affiliated), this paper has serious flaws in its methodology.

Loftin study - New England Journal of Medicine

The most curious aspect of the Loftin study is the particular span of years which the researchers chose to examine. The study period covers the years 1968-1987, which can best be described as a "plateau" period, before which murder/non-negligent manslaughter (MNNM) rates (as measured by the FBI's Uniform Crime Reports data) were much lower than during the period of study, and after which the MNNM rates in the District ballooned to record levels! (Ironically, in 1991, the very year Loftin, et al. published their work, the MNNM rate for Washington, D.C. had reached its all-time high.)

As a result, Loftin, et al. begin calculating their averages in 1968, which (coincidentally) is the year before a large jump in the number of MNNM recorded by the FBI's UCR (195 to 287), and they end their study in 1987, just before another jump in MNNM numbers (another coincidence). In 1988, the MNNM number shot up to 369, from 225 in 1987. Data from years which would contradict the conclusions of the study are excluded from consideration

The problems with the data used in the Loftin study don't end there, however. The study counts homicides, not MNNM as does the UCR data, and so does not distinguish between justifiable self-defense homicides, so-called "legal intervention" by the police, and unlawful homicides such as murder and manslaughter. The researchers consider only the absolute numbers of homicides, rather than homicide rates adjusted for changes in the size of the population. The use of average homicides per month as the measurement produces some very "noisy" data, and makes understanding the longer term trends more difficult. The population of D.C. declined during the study period (1971-1983), declining from its peak in 1964, while the population of the suburbs which Loftin, et. al. used for controls was increasing during the study period.

In 1994, D.C. had only 71% of the population it had in 1964, yet it had a MNNM rate 423% of the rate in 1964, which was prior to the enactment of "gun control" laws at the Federal and local levels! Despite declines in population in D.C., the MNNM rate has skyrocketed, putting to rest the notion that crowding necessarily results in greater murder rates. If that were true, the more-crowded D.C. of the 1960s would have had a high murder rate, while during the relatively less populated 1990s, the rate would have been expected to fall. The "prompt decline" in average monthly gun-related homicides which is the central claim made by Loftin, et al. in their study was very prompt indeed, since the homicide rate was already trending downward. The law only became effective at the end of September 1976, after which handgun owners had 60 days to register their guns, placing the effect of any of the law's criminal sanctions into late November 1976.

The researchers note that there was a restraining order which went into effect at the beginning of December which prevented enforcement of the law for a 49-day period, ending in mid-February 1977. Curiously, however, the rate of MNNM was already declining in 1976, and for most of that year, the law wasn't in effect at all! Prompt action indeed, for a "gun control" law to begin reducing MNNM prior to it even being in force... Even using the same source and similar methods as the Loftin study, it can be found that for the period 1964 to 1991 (adding four years to each end of the study period) the average annual homicide rate (using numbers from the National Centre for Health Statistics, rather than the FBI's UCR) was 27.1 per 100,000 population prior to the law ('64-'76), and 37.4 per 100,000 population after the law was in force.

Considering the absolute numbers rather than the rates, there was an average of 203 homicides per year prior to the law, and an average of 234 homicides per year after the law, during the same 1964-1991 period. Clearly, a more populous D.C. (with more guns available) was a safer place to live during the 1960s than a less populous D.C. with some of the most stringent "gun control" laws in the nation today. --- Adapted in part from a posting by Kevin M. Okleberry (kevmoky@cc.usu.edu)


Written Testimony of David B. Kopel, Select Committee Investigating the Use of Automatic and Semiautomatic Firearms, September 8, 1994, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania