Monday, May 24, 2010

Cause for celebration: FBI stats show crime rates dropping again

This new Reuters report provides the latest, greatest encouraging statistics about crime rates:

Murders and auto thefts fell sharply in the United States in 2009, extending the downward trend in violent and property crimes, according to preliminary statistics released by the FBI on Monday.

It was the third straight annual decline in violent crimes and seventh straight annual decline for property crimes, which occurred despite a weak economy, which is often linked to spikes in criminal activity.

Each region of the country experienced a drop in crime, with the southern United States experiencing the largest decline -- a 6.6 percent drop -- according to the FBI.

It did not provide a reason for the overall decline, which came as the economy started to show signs of growth after one of the worst recessions since the Great Depression. Experts and politicians often link a sour economy with higher crime.

Murders fell 7.2 percent, while forcible rapes decreased 3.1 percent. Cities with 500,000 to 999,999 inhabitants saw violent crime, which also includes manslaughter and robbery, drop the most among city groupings, down 7.5 percent.

There was an increase in the number of murders in cities with populations of 25,000 to 49,999, jumping 5.3 percent. Additionally nonmetropolitan counties experienced a small increase as well, up 1.8 percent, the statistics showed.

In the nonviolent crime category, motor vehicle theft dropped 17.2 percent, while burglaries fell 1.7 percent, according to the preliminary figures released by the FBI. Arson also fell 10.4 percent in 2009.

As I have said before and will say again, the continued decrease in crime rates in recent years is an extraordinarily great development that all serious criminal justice researchers should be trying mightily to assess and better understand. I am not sure if we are doing anything that much better in the sentencing and corrections arenas, but everyone should be very grateful for the continuing positive trends whether or not any causes or reasons can be identified and creditted.

UPDATE: I just received via e-mail a link to this notable press release which provides a notable spin on the new crime data:

For the third year in a row, violent crime has declined in the United States while increasing numbers of American citizens own firearms and are licensed to carry, a trend that belies predictions of anti-gunners that more guns will result in more crime, the Citizens Committee for the Right to Keep and Bear Arms said today.

Preliminary data from the FBI’s Uniform Crime Report shows that the violent crime rate went down 5.5 percent in 2009, compared to statistics from 2008. This covers all four categories of violent crime: murder, robbery, aggravated assault and forcible rape. Violent crime went down 4 percent in metropolitan counties and 3 percent elsewhere, according to the FBI.

At the same time, the agency’s National Instant Check System reports continued increases in the number of background check requests and the National Shooting Sports Foundation has reported increased federal firearms excise tax allocations to state wildlife agencies, an indication that more guns and ammunition are being purchased.

“This translates to one irrefutable fact,” said CCRKBA Chairman Alan Gottlieb. “There are more guns in private hands than ever before, yet crime rates have declined. In plain English, this means that gun prohibitionists have been consistently wrong. Higher rates of gun ownership have not resulted in more bloodshed, as the gun ban lobby has repeatedly forecast with its ‘sky-is-falling’ rhetoric."

May 24, 2010 in Data on sentencing, Gun policy and sentencing, Purposes of Punishment and Sentencing | Permalink | Comments (9) | TrackBack

Monday, May 17, 2010

Interesting data and discussion about guns in DC roughly two years after Heller

With Graham and Comstock now decided, I think the biggest constitutional law case still pending for con law and criminal justice fans is probably the McDonald Second Amendment incorporation case.  (There are a bunch of other significant SCOTUS sentencing cases still pending --- BarberCarr, Dillon, Dolan to name a few --- but I suspect most of these will be decided on relatively narrow grounds.)   And with McDonald on the horizon, I found these data and discussions from this Wall Street Journal article about DC's post-Heller gun regulations quite interesting:

The U.S. Supreme Court overturned the District of Columbia's 32-year ban on handguns in 2008, a victory for the gun-rights lobby that seemed to promise a more permissive era in America's long tussle over gun ownership. Since then, the city has crafted rules that are proving a new, powerful deterrent to residents who want to buy firearms....

Eleanor Holmes Norton, the District of Columbia's non-voting representative in Congress, is blunt about the point of the city's laws: discouraging gun ownership. "To get them you have to go through a bureaucracy that makes it difficult," she said in an interview. Her constituents tend to oppose firearms because of gun violence, she said. "Nobody thinks we would have fewer shootings and fewer homicides if we had more relaxed gun laws."

Kenneth Barnes, 65, became a D.C. gun-law activist after his son was shot to death in his clothing store in 2001. He supports the city's current gun law. "I have no issue with the right to bear arms," but the Supreme Court's decision gave the city the right to set gun laws for its citizens, he said. "What we're talking about is self determination."

In 2009, the first full year the law was in effect, homicides in the city dropped to 143 from 186 in 2008. The 2009 total was the lowest since 1966....

Gun-control supporters say the District is acting within the Constitution, in that Heller didn't outlaw all gun control. "From our perspective, there's a broad range of gun-control steps that can be taken that would be constitutional post-Heller," said Chad Ramsey of the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence.

Wayne LaPierre, executive vice president of the National Rifle Association, said the city's new rules strike against the spirit of the Supreme Court's decision. "Can you go out and buy guns in D.C. and defend yourself as the Supreme Court said you should be able to? No. The citizens can't experience the freedom from a practical level. What good is winning it philosophically?"

In the months since the Heller decision through April, the city has registered 1,071 guns, including 756 handguns and 315 "long" guns, such as rifles. That's a rate of about 181 guns per 100,000 residents. Before the Supreme Court decision, the rate of registered guns in Washington was close to zero.

Across the U.S., federal law-enforcement agencies estimate the total number of guns is between 200 million and 350 million, which results in a rate between 65,000 to 114,000 guns per 100,000 people nationally.  A 2006 survey by the University of Chicago's National Opinion Research Center found gun ownership in 34% of all homes.

Right now, the legal advantage lies with the District. In a federal District Court ruling in March, Judge Ricardo Urbina upheld the city's gun law, writing that the Supreme Court didn't rule gun registration "unconstitutional as a general matter."  The judge concluded the city had the power to limit the kinds of firearms permissible and the size of ammunition magazines.

As regular readers know, I think many of the federal and state laws that categorically prohibit and threaten to severely punish any non-violent felon who takes possession of any kind of gun "strike[s] against the spirit of the Supreme Court's decision."  But, because dicta in Heller suggests that these laws were not unconstitutional as a general matter, those federal laws continue to operate to prevent millions of persons from keeping and bearing arms.  If (and when) the McDonald Second Amendment incorporation case opens up constitutional attacks on these laws at the state level, a cottage industry of gun regulation litigation is sure to ensue.

May 17, 2010 in Gun policy and sentencing, Second Amendment issues | Permalink | Comments (1) | TrackBack

Saturday, May 15, 2010

"Heller, McDonald and Murder: Testing the More Guns, More Murder Thesis"

The title of this post is the title of this piece on SSRN that is especially timely while we all await the Supreme Court's next ruling in the Second Amendment.  Here is the abstract:

We examine several aspects of the more guns, more murder hypothesis.  We find that ordinary people typically do not kill in a moment of rage, so that preventing them from owning guns will not save lives.  Societies without guns are not typically peaceful and safe.  Historically, more guns are associated with less murder.  Modern Europe nations with very high gun ownership rates have much lower murder rates than low gun ownership nations.  In the United States: the colonial period of universal gun ownership saw few murders and few of those were gun murders. More guns do not mean more murder.

May 15, 2010 in Gun policy and sentencing, Second Amendment issues | Permalink | Comments (2) | TrackBack

Friday, March 26, 2010

Lots of gun news from DC: Gilbert Arenas gets probation for gun possession, while Dick Heller loses latest Second Amendment case

Proponents of gun rights in DC might be inclined this afternoon to remember the old saying "ya' win some, ya' lose some," after gun possessor Gilbert Arenas had a pretty good day in a DC court, while gun possessor Dick Heller had a not-so-good day in a DC court.  Here are the basic headlines and leads from coverage from the Washington Post:

Washington Wizards star guard Gilbert Arenas was spared a jail sentence Friday when a judge sentenced him to probation for bringing guns into the Verizon Center, ending a high-profile locker room confrontation with a teammate that changed the makeup of the team and Washington-area sports.

D.C. Superior Court Judge Robert B. Morin issued the sentence after a 100-minute hearing before a packed courtroom. Morin sentenced Arenas to 18 months in jail, but suspended that part of the sentence. He ordered the star to serve two years probation to begin with 30 days in a halfway house. He also ordered Arenas to serve 400 hours of community service and pay a $5,000 contribution to a crime victim's fund.

Corrections officials will determine in the next few days what halfway house he will be assigned to. Once there, Arenas will stay overnight, but be allowed to leave during the day to serve his community service.

A federal judge on Friday upheld limitations on gun ownership that the District of Columbia put in place following a 2008 Supreme Court decision overturning the city's outright ban on handguns.

Dick Heller, the plaintiff in the landmark Supreme Court case, had challenged the new regulations, claiming the registration procedures, a ban on most semiautomatic weapons and other limitations violated the intent of the high court's decision.

U.S. District Judge Ricardo M. Urbina sided with the city, saying the Supreme Court decision did not ban reasonable limits on gun ownership designed to promote public safety. 

March 26, 2010 in Gun policy and sentencing, Second Amendment issues, Who Sentences? | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

Thursday, March 25, 2010

"Jail or no jail? Fateful day arrives for Arenas"

The title of this post is the headline of this new AP piece focused on the high-profile sentencing question that will be answered at a court proceeding in DC on Friday.  Here is some background to help readers opine on the question:

The Washington Wizards three-time All-Star point guard will be sentenced Friday in D.C. Superior Court on one felony count of violating the District of Columbia's strict gun laws. Judge Robert E. Morin will decide whether Arenas does jail time or gets probation. The prosecution and defense teams stated their cases earlier this week in voluminous filings. It's all far beyond anything Arenas imagined on that December morning when he says he brought four guns to the locker room to play a prank on a teammate.

Prosecutors want Arenas to go to jail for at least three months. They point out that he lied repeatedly about why the guns were in the locker room, that he tried to cover up what happened, that he displayed a cavalier attitude about the whole affair, that he knew bringing guns into D.C. was illegal, and that he has a prior gun conviction....

Arenas' lawyers are asking for probation and community service, arguing that he was playing a misguided joke with no intention to harm anybody. They point out that the guns were unloaded, that Arenas' lighthearted comments about the incident were misinterpreted, and that he's a good role model who goes beyond the call of duty when it comes to community service. They add that he was confused about D.C.'s gun laws, and that he's already been severely punished through humiliation and the loss of tens of millions of dollars from canceled endorsements and his suspension without pay for the rest of the NBA season....

The maximum term for Arenas' crime is five years. The sentencing guidelines for someone with his record call for 6-24 months, although those guidelines also allow for probation.

A general survey of similar cases over the last two years in the city indicate that about half of the defendants convicted of Arenas' crime receive some jail time, but the mitigating circumstances vary widely.  Arenas' prior conviction — a no contest plea to carrying a concealed weapon in California in 2003 — was already a major strike against him, and the evidence revealed this week that he appeared to instigate a cover-up — as shown in a text message produced by prosecutors — has further damaged his case....

Gun control advocates will be monitoring Friday's developments closely. Paul Helmke, president of the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence, said he thinks jail time is appropriate in Arenas' case.

I am not at all surprised that gun control advocates are eager to have a prominent person imprisoned merely for possessing a gun and are vocally calling for jail time for Arenas.  I am also not surprised, though I am a but disappointed, that gun rights advocates are not providing any support for Arenas or urging that mere gun possess should not be the basis for a term of imprisonment.  Arenas, like Delonte West and Lil Wayne and Plaxico Buress and other similar celebrities who get in trouble for problematic gun possession in urban areas with strict gun control laws do not seem to be the type of gun owners that many gun rights advocates are eager to make their "test case" in either the media or the courts.

So, dear readers, you be the judge: what would you give Arenas?

Some related posts on the Arenas case and other celebrity gun possession cases:

March 25, 2010 in Celebrity sentencings, Gun policy and sentencing, Second Amendment issues | Permalink | Comments (3) | TrackBack

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Federal prosecutors recommend 3-month prison sentence for gun possession by Gilbert Arenas

As detailed in this new post at a Washington Post blog, "Prosecutors recommended on Tuesday that Wizards star guard Gilbert Arenas spend three months in jail for bringing guns into the Verizon Center locker room."  Here's more:

Prosecutors also proposed that Arenas serve three years probation and perform 300 hours of community service. The recommendations came in a sentencing memo to the court that is required in most criminal cases. Arenas's formal sentencing is Friday.

In a scathing 61-page memo, Assistant U.S. Attorney Christopher R. Kavanaugh wrote that his office is seeking jail time primarily because Arenas initially provided inconsistent stories about why he had the guns in the locker room and that he never showed any remorse for his actions. "The defendant's conduct since the time of the incident establishes that he has shown little genuine remorse for anything other than how this incident may affect his career," Kavanaugh wrote.

"If any other individual without fame, power and the wealth of this defendant, brought four firearms into the District for the purpose of a similar confrontation," the prosecutor wrote, "the government would seek their incarceration and the court would almost certainly give it."

Arenas pleaded guilty on Jan. 15 in D.C. Superior Court to a felony count of carrying a pistol without a license. As part of a plea deal, prosecutors agreed not to ask for more than six months in jail. He has been free pending sentencing.

Superior Court Judge Robert E. Morin is not bound by the plea agreement -- a fact he emphasized in court in January -- and could sentence Arenas to anywhere from probation to a maximum five years in jail. The former all-star was released after agreeing to surrender his passport and not possess any handguns.

The charges stem from the now-infamous incident in the Wizards' locker room at Verizon Center on Dec. 21. At the hearing in January, Assistant U.S. Attorney Chris Kavanaugh filled in some of the details of the confrontation between Arenas and teammate Javaris Crittenton, without mentioning Crittenton by name.

Some related posts on the Arenas case and other celebrity gun possession cases:

March 23, 2010 in Celebrity sentencings, Gun policy and sentencing, Offense Characteristics, Who Sentences? | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

Monday, March 15, 2010

Guns don't kill people, people kill people ... after cops sell the guns

The cheeky title of this post is inspired by this new story reporting on the backstory of two guns used in two recent high-profile shootings.  The news account is headlined "Memphis police, Shelby sheriff's office sold guns used in high-profile shootings," and here is how it begins:

Two guns used in high-profile shootings at the Pentagon and a Las Vegas courthouse both came from the police and court system of Memphis.

Law enforcement officials told The Associated Press that one of the weapons in the Pentagon attack was seized by Memphis police from a convicted felon in a 2005 traffic stop and later traded to a gun dealer.  And they said the shotgun used in the Jan. 4 courthouse shooting in Las Vegas was sold by a judge's order and the proceeds were given to the Shelby County Sheriff's Office.

In both cases, the weapons first went to licensed gun dealers but later came into the hands of men who were legally barred from possessing them -- one a convicted felon, the other mentally ill.

The use of guns that once were in police custody and then involved in attacks on police officers highlights a little-known divide in gun policy in the United States.  While some cities and states destroy guns gathered in criminal probes, others sell or trade the weapons to get other guns or buy equipment.

In fact, on March 4, the day of the Pentagon shooting, Tennessee Gov. Phil Bredesen signed legislation removing the option of destroying confiscated guns, unless they are unsafe or don't work, and directing that the proceeds of such court-ordered gun sales go to law enforcement instead of a city or county's general fund.

March 15, 2010 in Gun policy and sentencing | Permalink | Comments (4) | TrackBack