Boxer’s claim of 56 percent reduction in gun violence includes suicide, accidental death
U.S. Sen. Barbara Boxer made the day of conservative media outlets when, in the wake of the San Bernardino massacre, she said, “In California, since the ‘90s, we have passed a number of important gun safety laws. And over that period of time, we’ve had a reduction in gun violence of 56 percent. Sensible gun laws work, we’ve proven it in California, and we’re not gonna give up.”
How accurate was the 56 percent figure? And does it mean California is really getting safer because of gun restrictions?
Boxer’s data point comes from the Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence, which found gun violence dropped between 1993 and 2010 in a study released in 2013:
Over the last 20 years, the number of people injured or killed by guns in California has decreased dramatically. In 1993, 5,500 Californians were killed by gunfire; by 2010, the most recent year for which data is available, that number had dropped to 2,935. In just two decades, the state’s gun death rate has been cut by 56 percent, a reduction that translates to thousands of lives saved every single year.
Boxer and the Law Center are correct that gun-related deaths are down.
The rate has wavered since the late 1990s, peaking at almost 9.6 deaths per 100,000 residents in 2002 before dropping to 7.7 in 2013, according to stats kept by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
There were about the same number of people killed in incidents involving guns in 1999 and 2013 — just under 3,000 — even as the population grew by 5 million.
Those deaths — the “gun violence” Boxer is referring to — are not limited to street gang shootings, domestic disputes that ended in death, or the murderous rampage of the couple in San Bernardino.
The figures also include suicides involving guns and accidental shootings, said Lindsay Nichols, senior attorney with the Law Center.
Is an accidental shooting really “gun violence”?
“Yes, I would say when someone gets shot, it is pretty violent,” Nichols said.
Other stats call into question the assertion that the state’s “sensible gun laws work.”
Four California cities – Compton, Oakland, San Bernardino and East Palo Alto – remain among the top 30 “murder capitals” in the U.S., according to an analysis of murder rates by the site NeighborhoodScout.
The state’s overall murder rate of 4.4 per 100,000 people is the same as Texas’, a state with no assault weapons ban that has recently adopted “open carry” for licensed gun owners.
California has seen other violent crimes rise recently.
Between 2013 and 2014, the state’s rate of aggravated assaults increased by two per 100,000 residents, to 236. Rapes increased by almost 11 per 100,000 to 30.
Gun sales up
While California continues its widespread reputation as a haven for gun control, weapons purchases are up.
Since the terrorist shootings, Californians have been buying more weapons, according to a story this week in the Los Angeles Times:
San Bernardino County Sheriff’s Deputy Adam Cervantes said 75 applications for concealed-weapons permits were submitted last weekend, about seven times the department’s normal application volume.
Orange County Sheriff’s Department Lt. Jeff Hallock said his office saw 130 applications for concealed-weapons permits last weekend, up from the roughly 30 applications that typically come in. Sheriff’s officials in Riverside and San Diego counties said they had likewise seen new interest from people asking about concealed-carry permits.
Gun sales in California were increasing even before the shooting. Sales more than doubled between 2008 and 2014, from 425,244 in 2008 to 931,037 last year. Handgun sales went from 208,312 in 2008 to 512,174 in 2014.
A comparison of maps showing the number of gun stores per 100,000 residents in California with the number of firearm homicides shows that more murders happen in areas with fewer gun stores. (See graphic)
Nichols, of the Law Center, said people buying guns to protect themselves is the way the law is supposed to work.
“It’s not my business to agree or disagree that guns make people safer,” she said. “Data shows that it doesn’t work that way, but I’m not going to argue with people who are law-abiding citizens who want to own guns. The problem is the people who shouldn’t own guns having them.”
At 20.1 percent of the adult population, California has one of the lowest rates of gun ownership in the U.S., and aside from Nebraska, the lowest this side of the Mississippi.
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