Following revelations by independent researchers that Home Office and Scottish Office statistics show a strong negative correlation between licensed gun ownership and armed crime in Great Britain, a Home Office spokesman countered:
"that a ban on licensed guns was being considered not because the statistics showed or didn't show they caused crime, but because they were dangerous."
The notion that handguns are specially dangerous was put forward in the main findings of a Scottish Office report to the public inquiry into the shootings at Dunblane primary school:
"Although handguns featured in only 9 (26%) incidents shots were fired from them proportionately more often, and they were responsible for more injuries and deaths, than any other type of firearm."
This conclusion was widely reported in the press and is repeated at paragraph 9.47 of Lord Cullen's inquiry report:
"In the study of serious crime in Scotland to which I referred in 9.10, although handguns featured in only 26% of the incidents (9 out of 34), shots were fired from them proportionately more often, and they were responsible for more injuries and deaths, than any other type of firearm."
However, the study which Lord Cullen quotes was confined to one year only (1993) in which the use of pistols in homicide and attempted murder is higher than in any other year from 1986 to 1995 (see Table 1, based on Scottish Office statistical bulletins). Nine homicides and attempted murders were committed with pistols during that year, which is more than twice the average figure for the ten-year period. Furthermore, 1993 is one of only two years in the period 1986-95 in which the fatality rate for homicide attempts with pistols is well above average while the fatality rate for other firearms homicide attempts is below the average for the ten-year period. Regrettably, the Scottish Office researchers did not draw attention to the fact that 1993 was such an exceptional year. To the contrary, they wrote:
"…there is no reason to assume that 1993 was significantly different from immediately preceding or subsequent years."
At paragraph 9.55 of his report, Lord Cullen wrote:
An assessment of risk involves an examination of two elements in combination - (i) the chances of harm happening; and (ii) the nature and extent of the harm.
By basing their widely-publicised report to Lord Cullen on an unrepresentative data set, the Scottish Office Central Research Unit exaggerated both elements of the assessment of risk posed by the use of pistols in crime. For this reason the relevant conclusions of the Dunblane Inquiry and the Government response thereto should be re-examined.
Table 1: Homicide and attempted murder by firearm
type, Scotland, 1986-95
(Source: Scottish Office statistical bulletins)
|Year||Homicide||Attempted murder||Homicide & Attempts||Fatality rate||% of firearms
offences carried out
The author invites critical review. The full set of data and calculations summarised in this paper is published as crimstat.zip