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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  • Liberal on most things

    Hmm… gun crime is up in Massachusetts since the 1998 law passed, despite the fact that in most of the rest of the country where the laws have become more lax gun crime is down substantially (except Chicago–same story). It seems a pretty clear statistical correlation.

  • http://www.facebook.com/futo.buddy Futo Buddy

    When do we let the facts speak for themselves? All over america more gun control leads to more crime. Its unbelievable that they want to make it even worse here in mass. do they want us to become like chicago or DC? Have gun crime rates also spiked in NH and ME at the same rate ad timespan they have here? If not then its pretty disingenous to blame them

  • peterlake

    Never mind the facts. Democrats will ALWAYS want more gun control. It’s their mantra.

    Gun-grabbers always blame gun crimes in cities on “nearby states with lax laws.”

    In other words, the solution for failed policies in the cities with high gun crimes is more of what hasn’t worked before.

    You can count on Lynch and Markey running for the Senate on more gun control.

  • http://www.facebook.com/norman.m.henderson Norman M Henderson Jr

    Massachusetts officials – notably Mayor Menino – are real quick to blame NH for supplying the guns used in Massachusetts crimes but seem to have trouble coming up with actual examples!

  • jefe68

    And yet states with lax gun control such as Texas, North and South Carolina, Louisiana, Alabama to name a few all have high gun crime stats. Go figure.

  • LorangeDuPuis

    When will gun owners man up and personally accept responsibility – and liability – for their guns? Unless and until the people who buy and those sell guns are held responsible for what those guns are used for, then we are only one deranged teenager and one unsecured gun away from another Aurora or Newtowne…and may I remind you gun owners that the gun owner in Newtowne was killed with her own gun in her own home by her own son.

    • lorihaskins

      I guess she paid the price and was held responsible as you wish.

  • http://www.facebook.com/futo.buddy Futo Buddy

    “high capacity” magizines are already restricted in mass. although i guess if you redefine that you can ban them again. i would like to know what kinds of crime the 98 laws have been effective in “dealing with”.

  • Rosebud4

    Thank you for the discussion. I’m glad Professor Fox brought up the Tiahrt Amendment. It would be helpful, too, to see more public understanding of how the NRA has bought blocks to enforcement of the existing gun laws. I can only imagine that even those touting stricter laws are also taking money to divert attention from this very important element.

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