The Role of Gun Supply in 1980s and 1990s Urban Violence
38 Pages Posted: 27 Jun 2015
Date Written: June 25, 2015
It is reasonably well-established that gun homicides in urban areas, particularly among young black males, increased radically in the late 1980s and early 1990s and then began to fall. The standard explanation for this has been the expansion of crack markets in the 1980s; to the degree that increased gun access among young black males was believed to play a role, the implicit assumption was there was a demand shock in gun markets. We examine the gun homicide rate increase/decrease among urban young black males of this period using the NBER vital statistics datasets, indices of crack use, data on arrests and incarceration and a novel data set looking at gun prices and quantities sold during this period. We find four facts that complicate the standard model: First, the prices of cheaper "entry-level" guns fall during the late 1980s and 1990s, even as quantities sold increase, fitting the MICRO 101 signature of a positive supply shock in the market for guns; second, gun violence falls rapidly after 1993, while all measures of crack use show stable or increasing patterns; third, local measures of crack use generally have a 25-50% lower correlation with local gun homicides then a global measure of crack use, suggesting a spurious relationship; fourth, gun homicides stay very closely correlated with gun suicides, a standard proxy for gun ownership, suggesting that conditional on gun ownership, violence levels remained fairly constant. We argue that improvements in manufacturing technology and changes in the regulatory posture of the BATF played a substantial role in increasing availability of guns, in particular low cost 25 ACP, 380 ACP and 9mm autoloaders in the late 1980s and early 1990s.
Keywords: Illegal Behavior, Murder
JEL Classification: K42
Suggested Citation: Suggested Citation