No More D.C. Gun Ban? No Big Deal

The Supreme Court recently struck down the gun ban in Washington, D.C. A similar gun ban in Chicago may be the next to go.

The primary rationale for these gun bans is to lower crime. Do they actually work? There is remarkably little academic research that directly answers this question, but there is some indirect evidence.

Let’s start with the direct evidence. There have been a few academic papers that directly analyzed the D.C. gun ban and the papers came to opposite conclusions.

The fundamental difficulty is that you have one law change. So you can compare D.C. before and after. Or you can try to find a control group and compare D.C. before and after to that control group before and after (in what economists call a differences-in-differences analysis).

The problem here is that crime rates are volatile and it really matters what control group you pick. I would argue that the most sensible control groups are other large, crime-ridden cities like Baltimore or St. Louis. When you use those cities as controls, the gun ban doesn’t seem to work.

What about indirect evidence? In Chicago we have a gun ban and 80 percent of homicides are done with guns. The best I could find about the share of homicides done with guns in D.C. is from a blog post which claims 80 percent in D.C. as well. Nationwide that number is 67.9 percent, according to the F.B.I.

Based on those numbers, it is hard for someone to argue with a straight face that the gun ban is doing its job. (And it is not that D.C. and Chicago have unusually low overall homicide rates either.)

It seems to me that these citywide gun bans are as ineffective as many other gun policies are for reducing gun crime. It is extremely difficult to legislate or regulate guns when there is an active black market and a huge stock of existing guns. When the people who value guns the most are the ones who use them in the drug trade, there is next to nothing you can do to keep the guns out of their hands.

My view is that we should not be making policies about gun ownership, because they simply don’t work. What seems to work is harshly punishing people who use guns illegally.

For instance, if you commit a felony with a gun, you get a mandatory five-year add-on to your prison sentence. Where this has been done there is some evidence gun violence has declined (albeit with some substitution towards crimes being done with other weapons).

These sorts of laws are attractive for many reasons. First, unlike other gun policies, they work. Second, they don’t impose a cost on law abiding folks who want to have guns.


"Some people need to be saved from themselves" - comment #121

Perhaps they don't... natural selection says these people have bad genes.
If we try and save all these self-destructive people, their genes will reintroduce themselves into the gene pool, thereby making our society that much weaker; threatening to tear itself apart (or get squashed by China?).
It sounds cold, but think about it. We're ruining the genetic material of the human race.

Inner city DC resident

"May such science someday halt all political attacks on our Constitution"
— Posted by DJ

Maybe it will promote the attacks on the second amendment? Especially if guns are demonstrated to be a significant public health problem. Compare the rates of gun injury and fatality to smoking, obesity, type II diabetes etc, I think you'll find it is comparably similar. Some people need to be saved from themselves and you just can't legislate against stupidity, laziness and idiocy, that's the problem.


"“For every case of self-protection homicide involving a firearm kept in the home, there were 1.3 accidental deaths, 4.6 criminal homicides, and 37 suicides involving firearms. Hand-guns were used in 70.5 percent of these deaths. The advisability of keeping firearms in the home for protection must be questioned.”


The distortion of statistics comes into play here. Most uses of a firearm for self-defense or even when drawn by a police office do not result in a homocide. Thank God!

Homocide? How dishonest!


Captain James C. Green,
I was looking over your article, and I was a little bothered by the statistics. We all have a bias, and I personally dislike guns though I doubt we can do much in the US to control them.

For one of their statistics they used the International Crime Victims Survey. The authors worry (as do I) about trying to compare between countries, but they said
"that overall crime victimization Down Under rose from 27.8 percent of the population in 1988, to 28.6 percent in 1991 to over 30 percent in 1999."

Which was true in 2001 when the article was written. However in the 2003-2004 study, that overall victimization rate was much lower for austrailia at 16.3%. Page 44 of PDF. The US was 17.5%

Other stats from your article
"Also, they note that Australia leads the ICVS report in three of four categories -- burglary (3.9 percent of the population), violent crime (4.1 percent) and overall victimization (about 31 percent)."
However in the 2003-2004 study those numbers are much lower. 2.5% for burglary in Austrailia, still a leader but tied with US at 2.5%.
Robbery was down from 1.2% to .9%, assualts and threats from 6.4% to 3.4%"

I don't claim to that this is a trend of any kind. I'm just trying to say that you can cherry-pick whatever statistics you like. I felt that this site was a little biased, but there's never going to be a survey or study that provides irrefutable evidence that no one questions.

Just look more into your numbers more. 90% of all statistics are made up on the spot.



I agree that anti-gun laws in cities (or even States) in the US simply are doom to fail. The reason is because they are hard to enforce. Car speed limits would be also absurd if they were not patrols on the road observing their compliance.

However, in a truly supervised environment yes they do work. Canada has its borders patrolled but even if it would be easy to smuggle guns there. Since it is expected that people have no guns there, criminals don't feel the need of fire arms either but with a simply knife will do. There are robberies there; just the consequences are less dramatic, so better for the society as a whole. Yes, as a secondary effect, we would reduce the rates of suicide and accidents as well… and by the thousands a year!

I do really find amazing the level of hypocrisy when it comes to this gun issue in the US:
1) I know it is not about the Constitution (specially now that the word “militia” is disregarded.) Besides that, why cannot I have a heavy machine gun, a grenade launcher or a 110mm cannon at my home? They all are also “guns”! And for sure I could guard my property better with those. Why the government does not allow us our constitutional rights?

2) It is not either for security' sake. If so, why is the US army confiscating weapons in Iraq and Afghanistan? The theory of “for self-protection” should be applied in Iraq too, or don't they have right to self-protect? Or why I cannot take my handgun in a plane… hey, those hijackings would not have happen if passengers had guns to shoot at the bad guys!

If it is not for Constitutional rights or in the name of safety… well, why we have the policies we have so? I do believe it is just for “profits” sake but with the limitation to when it could be a threat to the establishment. Now I can make sense of it all.



"statistic that shows the percentage of unlocked guns from legal owners that are stolen" - the FBI has statistics on this, and the numbers estimated are quite high. But, what complicates the matter is that people who intentionally sell on the black market claim they were stolen if the gun is traced back to them. So, how do you determine which percentage are truly stolen vs. claimed to be? Somewhat draconian penalties will stop both.
You say this doesn't affect criminals - if you dry up their supply line, it affects them very much. The cost of guns in the black market will shoot up and they will be far less available. It will affect owners, but no more than car ownership affects them.
As to $10,000 being a paltry amount for a life, it is the cost of unintentional cause of death. If the owner is found to have intentionally sold or given the gun, then they are an accessory, and prison time will await them.
Note that a bond model says you pay essentially nothing if you are careful to make sure your gun is not stolen or lost.



I would like to see a statistic that shows the percentage of unlocked guns from legal owners that are stolen to justify a lost gun penalty. And how do obtain a specific amount for this penalty? If having a gun stolen results in a death, isn't $10,000 a paltry amount? Also, the cost to check up with each gun owner, especially people who have multiple guns, would be exorbitant. If a criminal wants a gun, they will get a gun. Your idea is inline with the same problems people have with current gun control, it doesnt effect criminals, just law abiding citizens


Sorry Captain James C. Green @107, you're cherry picking data to support your position.

You can't talk meaningfully about annual trends with data from only one year.

I direct your attention to Figure 3, page 43 of the latest edition (2004-05) of the International Crime Victims Survey (ICVS):

This table shows levels of overall criminal victimisation in Australia gradually in increasing from 1988 to 1999 (data for 1995 is missing?) followed by a dramatic decrease in 2003-04. While this doesn't necessarily imply causation following the introduction of tougher gun laws in Australia in 1997 and 2002, it doesn't rule out whether they could have had a statistically significant impact either.

I have only included this because earlier editions of this report are what are referred to in your link to D=21902. makes the same mistake of conflating figures for one year with an overall trend as well as making some other splendid and unsubstantiated claims. Personally, I would be wary of quoting sources, especially internet blogs, which are so obviously ideologically biased (is there anyone else who finds the combination of libertarian/religious social conservative slightly ridiculous, if not oxymoronic?).

Normally Australian pro-gun advocates pull out this 2006 paper by Baker & McPhedran in support of their hypothesis that gun control has had no impact on homicide rates in Australia ( However this study has subsequently been criticised on methodological grounds based on errors that they made in their time series analysis in this 2007 paper by Neill & Leigh ( ).

The biggest plus for gun control in Australia is that since the 1996 Port Arthur massacre (1 nutjob with an Armalite and a SLR killed 35 people and injured 18 others)- the event that triggered our current gun control regime - there have been exactly ZERO mass shootings in Australia!

How many mass shootings have there been in the US since then?

I rest my case...

PS: All you freakonomists should appreciate how the Australian government implemented this gun control scheme. Firstly, they socialised the cost, (which is appropriate because the benefits are spread across society) by implementing a temporary 1 per cent increase in income tax for one year. Then using the money raised, they compensated gun owners (for the reduction in their property rights) by buying back their soon-to-be illegal firearms.



"I ask, sir, what is the militia? It is the whole people, except for a few public officials."
— George Mason, in Debates in Virginia Convention on
Ratification of the Constitution, Elliot, Vol. 3, June 16, 1788


"Who are the militia? Are they not ourselves? Is it feared, then, that we shall turn our arms each man against his own bosom? Congress shall have no power to disarm the militia. Their swords, and every other terrible implement of the soldier, are the birth-right of an American ... The unlimited power of the sword is not in the hands of either the federal or state governments, but where I trust in God it will ever remain, in the hands of the People."
— Tench Coxe, delegate for Pennsylvania to the Continental Congress in 1788-1789.


@114 - PaulK

"You cannot live in this country without paying yearly fees for those rights. I think they call them taxes. Every right I have costs me. Misuse those rights and it costs me more if I get caught (laws/jail, etc). Freedom does not mean everything is free."

Sorry friend, I cannot buy that. Read the Preamble. The rights we have are natural and intrinsic. They existed before government.

Yes, one ought to be willing to pay the consequences of his own free actions -- but there is no "tax" one must pay to enjoy those freedoms. Enemy Combatants in Guantanamo don't pay taxes.

For that matter, one does not have to pay a penny of taxes to enjoy the freedoms outlined in the Bill of Rights. I'll bet the Jim Crow segregationists would have loved your reasoning in defending the Poll Tax, though.

Rich Beckman

It should be "difficult" to buy a gun. But it should be legal to own one and to carry one.

Drug laws should be heavily revised. Less illegal drug trade, less gun violence.

I wonder how many resources are put into stopping the illegal gun trade. Seems like with sane drug laws it would be considerably easier to clamp down on illegal gun commerce than it has been to clamp down on illegal drug commerce.


Interesting article about gun deaths by country.

"Factors that have been suggested to influence the use of firearms include the social norms concerning the use of firearms, the availability of firearms in general, and the types of firearms that people choose to use."

While people continue to feel that the ownership and the use of guns is acceptable (as indicated in many of the above posts), laws of any sort are unlikely to be effective in changing things.

P.S. I'm glad I live in Canada. I don't know of one person who owns a gun, and if they do they don't publicize it.


A more interesting study would focus on the number of accidental deaths and suicides in locales with and without gun bans.

On another note, I disagree with the overly-simplistic notion of "law abiding" citizens verus "criminals," that this column perpetuates--especially as the NRA attempts to broaden the legal use of deadly force to include protection of property, and arguements between individuals that escalate into violence.


Maybe a larger focus on responsibility would be the part of the solution. If we made people accountable for their actions fewer people might do things to cause harm to another person.


LOL - this whole gun control argument makes me glad I live in Australia. Here I can walk down the street without my right to continue breathing being curtailed by some moron who accidently shoots me because he forgot to put his safety on.

In case anyone hadn't noticed, it's bleedingly obvious that if there are no guns in a society nobody gets shot either accidently or on purpose.

While I disagreed with a lot of the things our ex Prime Minister John Howard did over his tenure, I applaud him for outlawing military-style assault weapons and limiting private gun ownership to people actually who reqire them for their jobs (eg farmers, park rangers, security guards etc).

The numbers speak for themselves; a 50 per cent decrease in all gun-related deaths in the decade 1991 to 2001.

Here's the link:


To #101 and #105, I am very serious. A bond is a kind of insurance policy. All it really says is that you will pay that much if you lose the gun or let it get stolen. Most of those kinds of bonds are guarantor bonds, so you actually put down nothing other a than a few bucks per year to some company which acts as a guarantor (they will get the money from you or have sold you insurance). The point is that the black market exists precisely because owners let their guns get stolen by not locking them up, or sell to them to black market to make money. This will put a stop to it.
When you ask if $500 and $10500 is the same, the answer is that it is just like a car. You pay $x for your car, but if you smash into someone's property, you are obligated to pay for damages. So, a market exists to sell you insurance - they will pay the obligation if it ever happens, and they will charge you a small amount based on risk assessment. If you own a gun, show the insurance company you have it locked up carefully, they will sell you the insurance (to cover the $10,000 if you lose it or it gets stolen). However, if it does get stolen, you will never get insurance again, as you are clearly a poor risk. Since the poorer areas are more ripe for gun thefts and people selling them into the black market, the burden will be higher only because the risk is higher - is it fair? No, but it is just as unfair as the price of food, gas, services, etc in poor areas - all of which are higher due to the higher risk and cost of doing business (theft, vandalism, etc).
The outcome is drying up the secondary market, since chain of custody is controlled by an obligation.



#90, PaulK

"Using one lucky example when there are so many contradicting ones is not statistics or evidence."

The anecdotes serve to explain the mindset of why one would want to own a gun. And there are many on this comment thread that would take interest in gun ownership as a clear sign of mental illness.

You strike at a good point, which again is the thrust of Levitt's original question: when will we get a decent study that looks at the final impact AND can be generalized, instead of ones that for some reason or another show selection bias. I would think the overall crime rates in an area with citizen-imposed zero-tolerance would be considered, and not just the cherry-picking of which deaths or which misfortune and misery one wants to calculate.


"doing so for your free speech rights" -- seems to me I do. You cannot live in this country without paying yearly fees for those rights. I think they call them taxes. Every right I have costs me. Misuse those rights and it costs me more if I get caught (laws/jail, etc). Freedom does not mean everything is free.

"Wouldn't better disciplinary measures for gun related crimes be a better way to punish people" - of course punishment for crimes using guns is critical. But, we do not solve crime purely on punishment. Most criminals do not take punishment into account, they believe they will not get caught. For example, if we raised the penalty for gun use to 5 extra years and handed out guns to anyone who wanted them (no questions asked), would you feel safer?
We put money in safes, we put locks on doors, etc all to prevent crimes in the 1st place. Making guns easily available only feeds the crime and criminals - the pipeline to the criminals has to stop. It is not either/or - we have to address all parts of the problem (of which we have discussed only two parts: poverty, hopelessness, drugs, etc are more parts of the equation).



@6 - Ike
"Isn't the larger issue that the possibility that a homeowner will be armed is in fact a deterrent?"

You certainly have a point. On the other hand, if burglars know that citizens are armed, there is a higher chance that the criminals take a gun with them too.

And also, would you rather shoot someone than lose your TV or money etc..? Think about it.

Kevin H

"Second, they don't impose a cost on law abiding folks who want to have guns."

Oh yes, because lengthy incarceration is so cheap.