January 21, 2003 | Commentary on Crime
Maryland Firing Blanks
Gun-control advocates weren't happy to see Robert L. Ehrlich Jr.
win the Maryland governorship. But are gun-control laws really
effective at reducing violent crime?
Compare Maryland's record with Virginia's. Other than a
one-handgun-per-month purchase law, the two states have little in
common on gun control. Gun-control measures in Maryland
• A ban on the cheap handguns known as Saturday night specials
• A waiting period for the purchase of assault weapons
• Background checks and waiting periods for purchases at gun
• A ban on certain "assault" pistols (1994).
• A ban on "straw purchases," in which a buyer acquires a gun
to give to someone else (1996).
• A requirement that gunmakers provide a spent shell casing
from each handgun sold in the state to provide law enforcement with
ballistic "fingerprints" (2000).
• A requirement that all newly manufactured handguns sold in
the state have a built-in trigger lock (2003).
So are Marylanders a lot safer than Virginians? Quite the
FBI data show that in 2000 (the most recent year for which figures
are available), on a per capita basis Maryland ranked third in
murders and first in robberies among the states, while Virginia
ranked 15th in murders and 27th in robberies. Maryland had a
firearm-related murder rate of 5.9 per 100,000 residents, while
Virginia's rate was almost 70 percent lower, at 1.8 incidents per
Maryland also doesn't stack up well nationally. Its firearm murder
rate in 2000 was nearly double (190 percent) the national rate,
while Virginia's rate was 42 percent below the national rate.
What has Virginia done that has made its residents safer than
Marylanders -- other than not passing "progressive" gun laws? In
1995 it enacted a law that allows law-abiding residents to carry
concealed firearms. After an initial increase in the rate of
firearm-related homicides, by 2000 Virginia's firearm-related
homicide rate declined by 22 percent.
It's a pattern borne out nationwide, according to John Lott of the
American Enterprise Institute. His research shows that states that
have adopted concealed-handgun laws have experienced sharp declines
in every type of violent crime: murders, rapes, aggravated
No one is claiming that the difference between the crime rates in
Maryland and Virginia can be attributed solely to their differing
gun laws, but clearly these laws -- or the lack thereof -- have
played a role and probably a significant one.
The primary flaw in Maryland's approach is that those determined to
harm innocent people are the ones least likely to obey gun-control
laws. Instead, these measures disarm law-abiding residents, making
them more likely to become victims. Why make it easier on
Muhlhausen is a senior policy analyst
specializing in criminal justice in the Center for Data Analysis at
the Heritage Foundation.
Originally appeared in the Washington Post