The Right Opinion

After the 'Toughest' Gun Law, Gun Crime Rose

By Jeff Jacoby · Feb. 18, 2013

In 1998, Massachusetts passed what was hailed as the toughest gun-control legislation in the country. Among other stringencies, it banned semiautomatic “assault” weapons, imposed strict new licensing rules, prohibited anyone convicted of a violent crime or drug trafficking from ever carrying or owning a gun, and enacted severe penalties for storing guns unlocked.

“Today, Massachusetts leads the way in cracking down on gun violence,” said Republican Governor Paul Cellucci as he signed the bill into law. “It will save lives and help fight crime in our communities.” Scott Harshbarger, the state's Democratic attorney general, agreed: “This vote is a victory for common sense and for the protection of our children and our neighborhoods.” One of the state's leading anti-gun activists, John Rosenthal of Stop Handgun Violence, joined the applause. “The new gun law,” he predicted, “will certainly prevent future gun violence and countless grief.”

It didn't.

The 1998 legislation did cut down, quite sharply, on the legal use of guns in Massachusetts. Within four years, the number of active gun licenses in the state had plummeted. “There were nearly 1.5 million active gun licenses in Massachusetts in 1998,” the AP reported. “In June [2002], that number was down to just 200,000.” The author of the law, state Senator Cheryl Jacques, was pleased that the Bay State's stiff new restrictions had made it possible to “weed out the clutter.”

But the law that was so tough on law-abiding gun owners had quite a different impact on criminals.

Since 1998, gun crime in Massachusetts has gotten worse, not better. Instead of “lead[ing] the way in cracking down on gun violence,” the state has seen gun violence shoot up. In 2011, Massachusetts recorded 122 murders committed with firearms, the Boston Globe reported this month – “a striking increase from the 65 in 1998.” Other crimes rose too. Between 1998 and 2011, robbery with firearms climbed 20.7 percent. Aggravated assaults jumped 26.7 percent.

Don't hold your breath waiting for gun-control activists to admit they were wrong. The treatment they prescribed may have yielded the opposite of the results they promised, but they're quite sure the prescription wasn't to blame. Crime didn't rise in Massachusetts because the state made it harder for honest citizens to lawfully carry a gun; it rose because other states didn't do the same thing.

“Massachusetts probably has the toughest laws on the books, but what happens is people go across borders and buy guns and bring them into our state,” rationalizes Boston Mayor Tom Menino. “Guns have no borders.”

This has become a popular argument in gun-control circles. It may even be convincing to someone emotionally committed to the belief that ever-stricter gun control is a plausible path to safety. But it doesn't hold water.

For starters, why didn't the gun-control lobby warn legislators in 1998 that adopting the toughest gun law in America would do Massachusetts no good unless every surrounding state did the same thing? Far from explaining why the new law would do nothing to curb violent crime, they were positive it would make Massachusetts even safer. It was gun-rights advocates, such as state Senator Richard Moore, who correctly predicted the future. “Much of what has been said in support of this bill will not come to pass,” said Moore during the 1998 debate. “The amount of crime we have now will at least continue.”

But crime in Massachusetts didn't just continue, it began climbing. As in the rest of the country, violent crime had been declining in Massachusetts since the early 1990s. Beginning in 1998, that decline reversed – unlike in the rest of the country. For example, the state's murder rate (murders per 100,000 inhabitants) bottomed out at 1.9 in 1997 and had risen to 2.8 by 2011. The national murder rate, on the other hand, kept falling; it reached a new low of 4.7 in 2011. Guns-across-borders might have explained homicide levels in Massachusetts continuing unchanged. But how can other states' policies be responsible for an increase in Massachusetts homicides?

Relative to the rest of the country, or to just the states on its borders, Massachusetts since 1998 has become a more dangerous state. Economist John Lott, using FBI crime data since 1980, shows how dramatic the contrast has been. In 1998, Massachusetts' murder rate equaled about 70 percent of the rate for Vermont, New Hampshire, Maine, Connecticut, Rhode Island, and New York. Now it equals 125 percent of that rate. Clearly something bad happened to Massachusetts 15 years ago. Blaming the neighbors may be ideologically comforting. But those aren't the states whose crime rates are up.

(Jeff Jacoby is a columnist for The Boston Globe).

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9 Comments

Kevin from Arkansas in USA said:

The Brady Campaign gave zero “stars” (an “F,” essentially) to 31 states and one “star” (a “D”) to nine states base on their perceived level of gun control. The lower the grade the more pro 2nd Amendment the states were. Meanwhile, lawyers, based on the same criteria, gave “F” grades to 24 states and “D” grades to 10 states.

But recently, the FBI reported violent crime data for 2011, which showed that the nation’s violent crime rate has declined for 18 of the last 20 years, 49 percent overall, to a 41-year low. The rate of the most serious violent crime—murder—has fallen 52 percent in the last 20 years, to a 48-year low.

Here’s another one: Both groups give their best grades (“A-” from the lawyers, 4 “stars” from Brady) to California. But California’s murder rate is higher than the rates of 30 states, and 73 percent higher than the average rate of those states. On top of that, 20 of those 30 states got an “F” or “D” from the lawyers, and 24 got a “0” or “1” from Brady. Brady even gave zero stars—an “F”—to the six states that have the lowest murder rates, which is about on par with its grades in previous years.

And here’s one more: The lawyers say there are 10 states that have the “strongest” gun laws and 10 that have the “weakest.” But guess what: The average murder rate of the states with those “strong” gun control laws is 2.2 times higher than the average rate of the other states.

We understand why the anti-gunners are frustrated. Over the last 20 years, many gun control laws have been eliminated or relaxed at the federal, state and local levels. Americans keep buying several million guns a year, including the guns that anti-gunners most loathe: semi-automatic self-defense handguns and rifles like the AR-15. And the number of Right-to-Carry states has risen to an all-time high of 41.

Gun Control - it only works in the minds of Liberals.

Monday, February 18, 2013 at 9:57 AM

M Rick Timms MD in Georgia said:

Ban Gun Free Zones, and prosecute the politicians that impose them on citizens, leaving them defenseless.

Monday, February 18, 2013 at 12:58 PM

Tod the tool guy in brooklyn ny said:

good use of stats, Jeff! Sempre Fi!

Monday, February 18, 2013 at 1:38 PM

Mark in Cape Cod, MA said:

Hence the reason we refer the past Governor as Paul Cell-u-out-cci! Not a real Republican.

Monday, February 18, 2013 at 8:08 PM

Don Holmes in Selah Wash 98942 said:

If you stop and think about it, it is this kind of news that proves that there is a bigger force in progress.If it was making it safe for the "children" ,every state would be reducing anti-gun laws. The bigger force is disarming america ,it also tells us who our enemys are in the legislative bodys State and federal.

Monday, February 18, 2013 at 10:52 PM

wjm in Colorado said:

Marxist ideology is abbout opposites, where fairness equals shared misery. To rule means to disarm. It is about control, not safety. Democrats are the party of Marx, they are traitors.

Tuesday, February 19, 2013 at 11:39 AM

BJ in St. Cloud, MN said:

In 1776 while attempting to enforce one of the first gun control laws against the colonists by taking their guns from the armory at Lexington. The British tried to cross the bridge at Concord. The colonists had the same weaponry that the British army had and stood up to them, Hence, the "Shot Heard Round The World." "Shall Not Be Infringed" was built into the 2nd Amendment and it means what it says. ANY gun laws are Unconstitutional. ANY Restriction of "gun rights" by the people we may have to fight against is a ludicrous concept. You get to bring a single shot or semi auto to a fight where the aggressor has mortars, machine guns, radar, drones, cruise missiles, body armor, aircraft, etc etc.
Dipstick vice prez joe biteme says "the govt has the right to restrict what type of weaponry the public can have." Not even close to the truth. "Shall Not Be Infringed"
All three branches of govt are way past the point of despotic at this point. Individual rights, which this country was built on, are now a thing of the past while we're FORCED to serve the "collective" of barack hussien obama and his regime of collectivist minions. Biteme says "buy a shotgun." These are the people that should know what's in the Constitution better than anybody so when they say a gun is to protect your family from badguys or for some sporting purpose they're really just trying to convince the "sheeple" that it's true. "Shall Not Be Infringed" Registration has ALWAYS been followed by confiscation in the history of the world. Pol Pot, Stalin, Hitler, Castro, etc and 50 plus million people were killed by their own govts last century. Since badguys don't obey laws, and laws aren't enforced anyway, gun laws only affect the good guy while the badguy stays armed and we're disarmed. "Shall Not Be Infringed"
Would more gun laws have stopped Columbine, the CO. movie theatre, the school shootings, Luby's? Many gun laws were broken each time and everytime yet the collectivist govt wants you to believe that more gun laws will solve the problem. "Shall Not Be Infringed" Do gun laws stop the mayhem in our big cities? Do gun laws stop the carnage of over 50,000 killed near the Mexican border in the last 5 years. Do bad guys want us armed or disarmed? AGAIN-DO BAD GUYS, INCLUDING THE GOVT, WANT US ARMED OR DISARMED. "Shall Not Be Infringed"

TERM LIMITS-IMPEACH-PROSECUTE-SOON

Wednesday, February 20, 2013 at 1:59 PM

Buzz Fuzzel in Corpus Christi, TX said:

Hey Massachusetts your criminals may be coming to Texas to get their guns but they are not staying. Ever wonder why? We probably have the largest number of concealed carry license holders in this state of any state in the union. Any time any where you are out in public you can be almost certain some law abiding citizen is in the room with a legal concealed semi automatic high capacity firearm. While your crime rates are climbing ours are falling. Please do not change your laws. We want your criminals to keep returning to your state after they come to ours to break your laws.

Thursday, February 21, 2013 at 12:40 AM

Greg in Jackson, OH said:

Solving gun violence is not as simple as restricting guns. There a thousands of variables which play a part in gun violece. Rampent drug use in the socienty, lack of emotional control derrived from children being raised in single parent homes where there is minimal to no supervision much of the time. The me culture. The attitude that I am entitled to what I want with out working for it. Government policies that have run this country into debt. Government policy that is aimed at gaining re-election and not helping the country.

Thursday, February 21, 2013 at 11:05 AM