America is still bleeding from gun violence, make no mistake. Some 12,343 people were killed by guns in 2010, keeping the US at the top of the most violent Western countries. The US also has more guns, per capita, than any other Western country, with at least 310 million and as many as 400 million firearms in circulation.
Since 1993, the rate of gun violence dropped by the greatest degree in the 1990s and has stayed relatively stable since the early 2000s. But recent years have witnessed a dramatic shift in US gun culture, with millions of Americans getting certified to carry concealed weapons and women increasingly joining the ranks of gun owners.
An estimated 8 million Americans now have concealed weapons permits, and thousands wear guns openly in the 43 states that allow it. Atlanta Police Chief George Turner told the Monitor recently that urban police no longer automatically assume a citizen wearing a gun is in the process of committing a crime, as they did just a few years ago.
In a separate survey, Pew found in March that 49 percent of gun owners keep firearms for protection today, compared with 26 percent who said the same in 1999. In other words, it appears that perceptions about the rate of violent crime are partly responsible for the growth of gun ownership across the US in the last 20 years, a trend only helped along by Supreme Court decisions and state laws that have increasingly backed greater gun rights.
“The gun prohibition lobby has long promoted this idea that reducing the number of guns is a good idea, that fewer guns are better categorically,” says Dave Kopel, a research analyst at the Independence Institute in Denver. “But here we have a real world experiment which shows the opposite, where we have a huge decline in gun crime at the same time as there’s been an enormous increase in the firearms supply in the United States. It doesn’t prove that the increase in gun numbers or licensed carry caused the decline, but it sure does contest the simplistic theory … that more guns equal more crime.”