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State Sen. Doug Whitsett recently took to the Internet to warn Oregonians that the Legislature was within a single vote of passing legislation that he said would have eroded the Second Amendment right to bear arms.
We disagreed with Whitsett on the way he described the votes, in another fact check, but he said something else about gun-related homicides and crimes that we thought merited its own analysis:
"Unfortunately, too many people are simply unaware of the facts regarding the possession of guns, and the commission of gun related crimes. In fact, most families have been convinced by media reports that gun related crimes are on the increase in America.
That simply is not true!
Over the past twenty years, the number of homicides committed with a firearm in the United States has decreased by nearly 40 percent. The number of other crimes involving the use of a firearm has also plummeted, declining by nearly 70 percent …
… All indicators point to the fact that our society becomes safer as more responsible families own guns."
We’ll be upfront: We have no idea if society is safer as a result of more responsible families owning guns. It’s not certain who owns firearms or how responsible they are. Also, some people would chalk up a decrease in firearm related homicides and crimes to better policing or to a decline in the crack cocaine epidemic of the 1980s and 1990s, or to other factors.
Others would add that we should look at suicide and other statistics to get a fuller picture of how to address firearms policy. For example, more than 30,000 people die from firearms a year, including suicide. There are too many variables and opinions to make a definitive statement on safety and guns and society.
But what we can fact check are the statistics Whitsett cites. Has the number of homicides committed with a firearm decreased by nearly 40 percent in the last two decades? Are other crimes involving firearms down nearly 70 percent?
The Republican state senator from Klamath Falls said he based his remarks on a Bureau of Justice Statistics report from May 2013, which used statistics from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
There were 11,101 firearm homicides in 2011, down from 18,253 in 1993, according to the BJS report. That is a 39 percent decline. Nonfatal crimes involving firearms declined 69 percent, from more than 1.5 million victims in 1993 to 467,300 victims in 2011. Those numbers back up Whitsett.
The Pew Research Center released a separate report in May, also highlighting CDC numbers. It gives the same percentages and offers other calculations that back up the drops, including rates per 100,000 people. The Pew report noted that many Americans are unaware of the declines.
The reports do not state definitive reasons for the decreases, but do point out that decreases were much steeper in the 1990s than in the 2000s. Apparently, 1993 was a peak year for homicides and the country has fared better since then. The numbers between 2000 and 2011 have gone up and down.
Homicides and other violent crimes involving firearms have declined over the last two decades. Whitsett picked the numbers and years straight from a federal report issued in May, based on CDC statistics. The Pew Research Center, which is nonpartisan, used the same statistics.
Readers can argue over what the declines mean, but they can’t take issue with the accuracy of his numbers. We rate the statement True.
Oregon Catalyst, Sen. Doug Whitsett: Oregon gun bills wrap-up, Aug. 16, 2013
PolitiFact Oregon, "Was the Oregon Legislature within 'one vote' of enacting firearms legislation?" Aug. 24, 2013
U.S. Department of Justice, "Firearm Violence, 1993-2011," May 2013
U.S. News and World Report, "Justice Department: Gun Murders Down 39 Percent From 1993 to 2011," May 7, 2013
Pew Research, "Gun Homicide Rate Down 49% Since 1993 Peak; Public Unaware," May 7, 2013
AP, "Reports show gun homicides down since 1990s," May 7, 2013
The Washington Post, "Report: Sharp drop in gun violence, but most killings still involve firearms," May 7, 2013
The Washington Post, "Chart of the day: Gun homicides are down 49 percent since 1993," May 7, 2013
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, "Firearm deaths and death rates, 1999-2010"
FactCheck.org, "Gun Rhetoric vs. Gun Facts," Dec. 20, 2012
Email from Doug Whitsett, Sept. 3, 2013
Email from Michael Planty, U.S. Department of Justice, Bureau of Justice Statistics, Sept. 3, 2013
Email from D’Vera Cohn, senior writer, Pew Research Center, Sept. 4, 2013
Interview with and email from Penny Okamoto, executive director, Ceasefire Oregon, Sept. 6, 2013
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