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Bang! Bang! You're Dead
Martin Kane
March 18, 1968
Bonnie and Clyde have given the burgeoning cult of violence a campy stylishness, and a lot of Americans are going out and buying guns—not necessarily for sport. With the long hot summer just ahead, has the right to bear arms become outmoded? This question has brought much rhetoric, but here is a careful study—and specific recommendations
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March 18, 1968

Bang! Bang! You're Dead

Bonnie and Clyde have given the burgeoning cult of violence a campy stylishness, and a lot of Americans are going out and buying guns—not necessarily for sport. With the long hot summer just ahead, has the right to bear arms become outmoded? This question has brought much rhetoric, but here is a careful study—and specific recommendations

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Dingell also quoted Romey P. Narloch, a former crime-studies analyst for the California Department of Justice, Bureau of Criminal Statistics. Narloch reported:

"One of the clear conclusions of this research is that the mere availability of weapons lethal enough to produce a human mortality bear no major relationship to the frequency with which this act is completed. In the home, at work, at play, in almost any environmental setting a multitude of objects exist providing means for inflicting illegal death." In other words, in cases of what might be considered casual homicide and not the work of professional or habitual criminals, whatever comes to hand—a baseball bat or a butcher knife—will do the job if the neighbors are insufferably noisy or the wife goes beyond the barriers of normal nagging privileges.

Dingell cited the work of R. C. Bensing and O. Schroeder, whose 1960 study of homicide in Cleveland found that "the almost invariable association of a high homicide rate with so many other symptoms of social ill-health and economic need shows almost conclusively the socio-economic basis of homicide." There is a general opinion among criminologists that the availability of firearms has little to do with their use in crimes of passion. Thus, Dr. Marvin E. Wolfgang, professor and graduate chairman of the department of sociology at the University of Pennsylvania, asserts in his book, Patterns in Criminal Homicide, that "the hypothesis of a causal relationship between the homicide rate and the proportionate use of firearms should be rejected."

Congressman Dingell even quoted J. Edgar Hoover, Director of the Federal Bureau of Investigation, as asserting that "hoodlums and criminal gangs will obtain guns regardless of controls" and that "laws pertaining to owning and carrying firearms...bother few, if any, Klansmen, and weapons are illegally carried by them." Nevertheless, Hoover favors more stringent laws, as do many law-enforcement authorities.

Not all, however. In 1963 Robert V. Murray, Washington, D.C. chief of police, told a House of Representatives committee: "If I felt that we could take the guns out of the hands of the criminal with this bill or any other bill, I would be 100% for it. But a criminal who is going to set out to hold up a place or assault somebody with a gun, [a law against] the carrying of a gun is not going to deter him. He is a criminal anyhow, and he cannot lawfully possess a gun. So a law on the books that he cannot have a gun in his possession is not going to deter him.

"It may be argued that any legislation that would reduce the number of pistols in circulation would substantially reduce the number of aggravated assaults. The argument rests upon two mistaken premises. First, it assumes that restrictive legislation will prevent criminals from obtaining guns. The fact is that experience has shown that legislation such as the Sullivan Law [ New York's unique requirement that a pistol, to be merely possessed, be licensed by the police] does not reduce the number of pistols in the hands of criminals. Second, the argument assumes that handguns are used in most aggravated assaults, whereas the fact is that pistols are used in only a small percentage of assaults."

In this connection, Dingell pointed out that in New York City, Sullivan Law and all, "police reported that in 1966 not a single New York City homicide involved a licensed firearm" and that "since 1944 New York City police have taken possession of 28,409 illegally possessed pistols."

In a speech to the House, the Congressman said: "For example, the antigun faction is fond of pointing to the homicide rate in metropolitan Dallas, which has realistic firearms laws, and disclosing that it is higher than the rate in metropolitan New York, which has the severe Sullivan Law. They contend that this is to the credit of the Sullivan Law and that similar gun laws—per se—will stop crime.

"However, if they were to examine the three principal categories of crime in which firearms play a part—murder, aggravated assault and robbery—they would find that New York has a total rate of 244.2 offenses per 100,000 people, compared to 203.1 in Dallas.

"The antigun forces have never informed the public that out of 183 standard metropolitan statistical areas surveyed by the FBI, there are 131 with overall homicide rates lower than New York's. None of these areas has firearms laws as severe as the Sullivan Law....

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