WBUR

Mass. Gun Crimes Rise Despite Strict Laws

BOSTON — Massachusetts passed some of the toughest guns laws in the nation in 1998, but statistics show that since then, the number of gun-related crimes committed here has risen.

The Boston Globe reports that in 2011, Massachusetts recorded 122 gun-related homicides, almost double the 65 homicides in 1998.

According to an FBI analysis, there were increases in other crimes involving guns in Massachusetts, too. From 1998 to 2011, aggravated assaults with guns rose almost 27 percent while robberies with firearms increased almost 21 percent.

Gun-rights groups say the statistics are evidence that gun control does not work.

But gun-control advocates point out that many of the gun-related crimes are committed with weapons bought out of state, particularly New Hampshire and Maine, where gun-buying laws are less restrictive.

Above reporting by The Associated Press

James Alan Fox, professor of criminology, law and public policy at Northeastern University, joined WBUR Monday to discuss what these numbers mean (interview highlights below):

Interview Highlights:

On putting the statistics into context: Let’s also point out that we remain extremely low in terms of our gun homicide rate [compared to other states]. Nationally, we rank about 11th-best (or lowest), and one of the lowest among urbanized, or industrialized, states. … The increase is an increase from an extremely low number. So we have to put that into context, but it still is worthy of concern.

But let’s also understand, as we discuss gun restrictions, that a significant share of the guns that are used in crime in Massachusetts are purchased outside of Massachusetts and brought across the border. … It’s a huge factor. States like Massachusetts that have relatively strict gun laws tend to be states where a large share of gun crimes, or guns recovered in crime, weren’t purchased in this state. They come from states like New Hampshire or Maine, which have much more liberal laws, [and] even more from the states down South. You know there’s no metal detectors at the border, so there’s nothing really to prevent people from bringing guns across the border from a state with lax gun laws to a state like Massachusetts with tougher gun laws.

On what can be done about out-of-state guns: Well, that’s a tough one. What we need to do is focus a lot more on the illegal gun markets. For example, there’s a federal amendment called the Tiahrt Amendment, which has prevented people like me from studying the gun tracing data and identifying where these guns are coming from, what dealers, for example, are responsible. We used to find, for example, that over half the guns recovered in crimes could be linked to less than 1 percent of gun dealers. So we need to know who those gun dealers are and make sure they upgrade their business practices if they need to.

On whether the Globe statistics prove, as some gun-rights advocates say, that the 1998 laws don’t work because they don’t target the criminal element: [The laws are] effective with dealing with some kinds of crime. I mean, keep in mind, we still are one of the lowest rates of gun homicide in the nation, but they can’t solve the problem entirely, and that is because of the interstate transfer of guns, particularly illegally.

On proposals to restrict high-capacity magazines and improve access to mental health records: We understand the desire to restrict the size of magazines; that certainly can help resolve certain kinds of crimes. It will take a nibble out of the crime problem, but not a large bite, because a very small percentage of gun crimes are committed with large-capacity magazines or even assault weapons. That’s a really small part of the whole equation. As far as background checks, sure, there’s people we don’t want to get guns, but when you look at what happens is most of the crimes are not being committed by people who would be restricted. They’re committed by people who don’t have any mental health records. They’re committed by criminals who also don’t have mental health records. Sure it makes sense, but it’s not going to take a major bite out of our crime problem.

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