Washington D.C.’s Gun Ban: A Failed Experiment

Those politicians in Washington D.C who champion a platform advocating for stricter gun control must be unfamiliar with the city in which they work, because aside from D.C. acting as our nation’s capital it is also infamously regarded as the murder capital of the nation. This has been true for decades, despite its almost unprecedented level of oppressive gun control – an outright ban on handguns.

In 1976 D.C. banned all future purchase of handguns by its residents (a ban, which mind you, was ruled unconstitutional by the U.S. Supreme Court in the 2008 District v. Heller case.). At the time the ban was praised as being an effective response to the districts ridiculously high violent crime and murder rate (the highest in the nation). In summary, the ban basically stopped all sales of handguns in the city for over 30 years. Careful analysis of crime rates should indicate whether the ban was a success or not. On face value one would expect the former, since close to 70% of murders in the district were committed with a firearm (generally speaking, nearly all murders are committed with handguns). So we should see a drastic decline in the aforementioned types of crime following the 1976 ban, and an increase following it’s abolishment in 2008.

Data indicates that the murder rate per 100,000 in Washington D.C. fluctuated by as much as 5.0 during the early 1970’s. 1976 was 4.0 less than 1975, yet to the surprise of many gun control advocates 1977 witnessed a slight increase which remained stable for several years and then shot up again to where it was prior to the ban by 1980, hovering around 35 murders per 100,000 (the national average was roughly 9 from 1970-1980). Basically, following the ban there was no reduction in the violent crime rate.

Surprisingly, following the SCOTUS ruling in 2008 the crime rate actually dropped; significantly, in 2009 (data for years 2010 and 2011 were not available at the time I researched this material). 2008 had 31.5 murders per 100,000, while 2009 had 24, over a 30% decline. Is it possible that the (albeit still heavily regulated) availability of handguns persuaded some criminals to avoid targeting newly-armed victims? We may never know. What is certain is that violent crime was not affected by the districts handgun ban.

Some may argue that had it not been for nearby states with less stringent gun control measures thereby allowing illegal influx of firearms into Washington D.C., the districts violent crime rate may actually have decreased. Often ATF trace date is cited to support this position, stating that the majority of firearms confiscated and submitted to the ATF by the Metropolitan PD originated from out of state. It is my intent to point out several serious flaws with this approach.

  • In 2008 for example of 1,951 firearms submitted to the ATF for trace requests only 30 were used in homicides in 103 in assaults. Therefore the vast majority of firearms that the ATF attempts to trace are not representative of firearms used in violent crimes in the district.
  • We must also consider the fact that WashingtonD.C. maintains its own database of firearms and would likely utilize that before contacting the ATF. As a result ATF trace data in many ways specifically represents firearms that did not originate in Washington D.C. and excludes those that did, thus rendering it useless in supporting any theory that out of state firearms contribute, let alone cause Washington D.C.’s high violent crime rate.
  • Additionally, nearby cities in states such as Virginia and Maryland had single digit murder rates nearly 1/3 that of Washington D.C., which also climbed at fractions of 1 while the districts shot up often by 5 to 7 per 100,000. It would therefore be hard to argue that the violence spilled over to nearby states, when in reality the violence was an issue plaguing just the district.

It is much easier for politicians to “blame the guns” than it is to address what may be the actual root of the districts violence issues. Washington D.C. is perhaps the most unique in the county in terms of demographics, containing both a highly educated and well paid population as well as a poor minority population, each consisting of roughly half the city. This stark contrast is found in few other places in the nation, perhaps resulting in what is known in criminology as “strain theory”, where one group feels compelled to commit crime to attain the status and materials possessed by another, often better-off group. Indeed, only a small percentage (20%) of Washington D.C.(geographically speaking) accounts for over 60% of the crime in the district. Most of this area is represented by lower income individuals. These findings indicate that the true cause of crime within the district has nothing to do with guns at all, but rather far deeper societal issues.

It is a dirty secret often ignored by left-wing politicians arguing for further gun control that our nation’s capital is so bloody. Yet we must not allow them to sweep such realities under the rug. Gun control, in its strictest and most oppressive form had over 30 years to prove its success in a crime ridden city. It did not succeed; gun bans do not work. These same politicians who argue that you do not need firearm XYZ or XX number of rounds to defend yourself and family are also the ones who often have armed security escort them throughout the dangerous city, exempted from the restrictions that affect the “mere citizens”. Do not buy into their “Do as I say, not as I do” logic.

Written by Marcus Dilloff, posted by Mass. Firearms Attorney Jesse Cohen