Written by Jeff Knox
Friday, 10 October 2008
The Knox Report
From the Firearms Coalition
(October 7, 2008) In 1981, Morton Grove, Illinois became the first town in the U.S. to pass a flat out ban on the possession of handguns within the town limits by anyone except police and active duty military during the performance of their official duties. In response, the town of Kennesaw, Georgia passed a gun law of their own in March of 1982. The Kennesaw law was almost the exact opposite to the Morton Grove ordinance. Rather than banning handgun possession, Kennesaw required every head-of-household to keep at least one firearm and appropriate ammunition in their home – with exemptions for those who had religious or philosophical objections to maintaining or using weapons. In other words, gun ownership was mandatory except for people who didn’t want to own a gun.
While Morton Grove became an instant media darling, Kennesaw became a pariah and a punch line. Pundits and “reporters” made jokes and wild predictions about the blood that would soon run in the streets of the small town a few miles North of Atlanta. The derision can still be heard occasionally from a late-night talk show host or a reflective news anchor, but all of the predictions of the “Wild West” and shootouts over fender-benders, simply didn’t pan out. Of course this lack of disaster was simply ignored by most in the media as were the actual results of this little comparative experiment.
Kennesaw and Morton Grove weren’t really a fair comparison when the experiment started. Kennesaw was pretty rural while Morton Grove was solidly suburban. Kennesaw had a population of only about 5500 while Morton Grove was closer to 23,000. And Kennesaw had a per capita crime rate significantly higher than the national average while Morton Grove enjoyed a relatively low crime rate. The fact is, Kennesaw was at a marked disadvantage from the beginning of this comparison. In the nearly three decades since these laws went into effect, Kennesaw’s disadvantage has grown rather than shrunk. While Morton Grove has remained at a fairly steady population, Kennesaw’s population has boomed to take a slight lead. While Morton Grove’s residents are slightly older than the national average, Kennesaw’s are significantly younger. Both towns are predominantly White, but Kennesaw has more Blacks and Hispanics while Morton Grove’s minority population is predominantly Asian. Statistically, Asian populations have the lowest crime rates of any minority while Blacks and Hispanics have the highest crime rates in the nation.
With all of these disadvantages working against Kennesaw, how did the two communities actually fare?
Morton Grove’s relatively low crime rate went up by over 15% immediately after enactment of the ban (12% more than surrounding areas) and has held pretty steady at just a tad below the national average ever since. There has been no statistical indication of the handgun ban having any positive effect.
Kennesaw is a different story though. In 1982, the year the firearms requirement was enacted, Kennesaw realized a 74% reduction in crime against persons over the previous year. That rate then dropped 45% between 1982 and 1983. In fairness, statistics showing percentage increases or decreases in crime can be very misleading especially when crime numbers and the population are both low to begin with.
The statistics that are really telling are per capita comparisons between municipal, county, regional, and national averages. When a city’s crime rate is trending parallel to the national and/or regional crime rates (whether higher or lower) and then deviates dramatically from those averages after a new law is passed, that is a strong indication that the new law is having an impact. While Morton Grove’s per capita crime rate took a dramatic jump, deviating substantially from regional and national averages, right after passage of their gun ban, Kennesaw’s crime rate did the opposite in an even more dramatic way. After Kennesaw’s gun law was enacted crime dropped dramatically – much faster than federal, state, or local trends – and leveled out well below national averages. In spite of a population increase from 5000 to almost 30,000 during the same period, Kennesaw’s crime rates remain significantly lower than national or area averages. And the people of Kennesaw didn’t have to use their mandated firearms to effect this dramatic change. The simple knowledge on the part of criminals that if they worked in Kennesaw they were choosing to work with an armed prospective victim pool was enough to convince them not to pursue their chosen professions there.
After the enactment of the firearms mandate in 1982, it took 15 years before there was a murder committed with a firearm in the town. As I recall, it was the result of two visitors who got into an argument in their motel room. One was insisting that a .25 automatic could not penetrate thick chest muscles like his and the other fellow decided to settle the argument and proved beyond a shadow of a doubt that they were both idiots.
After 25 years, Kennesaw and Morton Grove stand out as proof positive that the only gun control laws with any hope of reducing crime are laws which empower the law-abiding people rather than disarming them. But remember how much news coverage was given to this story last March? Expect more of that deafening silence for the 26th anniversary next March.