After the Supreme Court decided that a resident of Washington D.C. has a Constitutional right to own a firearm for self-defense in the home, Senator Dianne Feinstein of California stated: "I believe the people of this great country will be less safe because of it." 1
The Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence is one of the country's leading gun control organizations. Brady's President Paul Helmke had this to say after the Supreme Court decision: "Our fight to enact sensible gun laws will be undiminished by the Supreme Court's decision in the Heller case." 2
But what exactly qualifies as "sensible," according to Helmke? And is there any way to determine whether reduced restrictions on gun ownership makes us less safe?
For many years, the Brady Campaign has released an annual "report card," grading each state on its level of "sensible" gun laws. States with higher grades (e.g. "A") were obviously more "sensible," according to Brady; states rated "F" were apparently considered "non-sensible." 3
The first interesting detail in the 2001 version of this report card is that Washington, D.C. is missing. This is also true for Brady's 2002-2004 reports.4 This is a curious omission because the Brady Campaign is on record as supporting the D.C. ban on functioning firearms--Helmke said "we [Brady Campaign] disagree with the Supreme Court's ruling" 5--and it seems reasonable that their report card would be an excellent opportunity to highlight D.C.'s success, since surely a total firearms ban rates an "A."
Also in 2001, the North Carolina State Center for Health Statistics, as part of their Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance System (BRFSS), asked respondents from all over the country the following question: "Are any firearms now kept in or around your home? Include those kept in a garage, outdoor storage area, car, truck, or other motor vehicle." 6
Results from this survey were collated with Brady's 2001 grades. After sorting by gun ownership levels, states were divided roughly into quartiles: under 30% gun ownership rates (12 states); 30-40% (14 states); 40-50% (15 states); and over 50% ownership rates (10 states). There is a clear correlation between low levels of gun ownership and higher Brady grades: Only the first quartile of states, incidentally with the lowest levels of gun ownership (average 16.5%), were rated well by Brady, averaging a grade of B+. Quartiles 2-4 had average grades of D+, D+, and D-, respectively. This indicates that Brady's definition of "sensible" gun laws equates with laws which restrict or prohibit gun ownership.
Unfortunately for Brady, there is another correlation which demands attention. Each year, the Federal Bureau of Investigation releases their annual Uniform Crime Report, reporting on major violent and property crimes committed around the country. Included in their crime tabulations is a Table 4, which compares the current year's crime rates to the previous year's. This enables the FBI to report on updated data for the previous year's, reflecting corrections and late entries from participating law enforcement agencies from across the country. As a result, Table 4 in the 2002 Uniform Crime Report has more accurate crime data for the year 2001.7
Brady's favored group--with the B+ average grade--had a average violent crime rate of 610.0 in 2001. Violent crime levels dropped sharply in quartiles 2-4: 424.5, 410.7, and 319.6, respectively.8 (All rate values equal incidents per 100,000 population.)
Brady makes much of the relationship between guns and crime, particularly firearms deaths. Helmke states:
Our weak or non-existent gun laws contribute to the thousands of senseless gun deaths and injuries in this country that occur each year.9
However, Brady's B+ group had an average homicide rate of 7.6. As gun ownership levels increased, murder rates decreased: 4.9 for quartiles 2 and 3, and 4.2 for quartile 4 (the states with over 50% gun ownership rates).
Not only do Brady's "best" states have low levels of gun ownership, but they averaged relatively high levels of violent crime and murder. More interesting is that in 2001, 10 of 12 states in the B+ quartile were not Right-to-Carry (RTC), while all 10 states in quartile 4 were RTC.
In practical terms, Brady's criteria for "sensible gun laws" translates into less civilian gun ownership and an inability for law-abiding citizens to protect themselves against violent criminals, flying in the face of the Supreme Court ruling that concluded:
The Second Amendment protects an individual right to possess a firearm unconnected with service in a militia, and to use that arm for traditionally lawful purposes, such as self-defense within the home.10
What's sensible about being less safe?
About the Author
Howard Nemerov is a columnist for Texas State Rifle Association's TSRA Sportsman and "unofficial" investigative analyst for NRA News. His new book, Four Hundred Years of Gun Control: Why Isn't It Working?, deconstructs the gun control agenda and empowers readers to be better emissaries for gun rights. He can be reached at HNemerov [at sign] Netvista.net.
 Associated Press, Supreme Court Strikes Down D.C. Gun Ban, Upholds Individual Right to Keep and Bear Arms, Fox News, June 26, 2008. http://www.foxnews.com/story/0,2933,372041,00.html
2 Statement Of Brady President Paul Helmke On Supreme Court Second Amendment Ruling, Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence, June 26, 2008. http://www.bradycampaign.org/media/release.php?release=992
3 See The Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence 2001 Report Card, Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence, January 22, 2002. http://www.bradycampaign.org/facts/reportcards/2001/details.pdf
4 See The Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence 2002 Report Card, Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence, January 2, 2003. http://www.bradycampaign.org/facts/reportcards/2002/details.pdf
The Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence 2003 Report Card, Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence, January 9, 2004. http://www.bradycampaign.org/facts/reportcards/2003/details.pdf
The Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence 2003 Report Card, Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence, January 12, 2005. http://www.bradycampaign.org/facts/reportcards/2004/details.pdf
5 Statement Of Brady President Paul Helmke On Supreme Court Second Amendment Ruling.
6 North Carolina State Center for Health Statistics, Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance System, BRFSS Survey Results 2001 for Nationwide: Firearms. http://www.schs.state.nc.us/SCHS/brfss/2001/us/firearm3.html For further discussion of this survey, see Is Philadelphia's Violence Due to Firearms Availability? http://www.newswithviews.com/Nemerov/howard1.htm
7 Federal Bureau of Investigation, Crime in the United States, 2002, Table 4 - Index of Crime by Region, Geographic Division, and State, 2001-2002, pages 68-77. http://www.fbi.gov/ucr/cius_02/pdf/02crime2.pdf
8 Discussion of correlations between Brady grades and crime rates based upon Excel workbook compiled from Brady Report Card, BRFSS Survey Results 2001, and FBI Uniform Crime Report. Email request for workbook.
9 Statement Of Brady President Paul Helmke On Supreme Court Second Amendment Ruling.
10 District of Columbia et al. v. Heller, No 07-290, Supreme Court of the United States, Syllabus, page 1. http://www.supremecourtus.gov/opinions/07pdf/07-290.pdf