Case Study: Morton Grove, Illinois v. Kennesaw, Georgia

Many advocates of gun rights know of the small town of Kennesaw, Georgia. For those that are not familiar with the city and its recent history, in 1982, the city passed a law that requires each household to own a firearm and ammunition. Exempt from this law were felons, paupers, and those physically or mentally unable to maintain a firearm. The local government passed this law in response to a law passed in 1981 in Morton Grove, Illinois that outlawed the private ownership of handguns. Even though this law is difficult to enforce and was passed primarily as a symbolic measure, it gained worldwide attention. Now, I choose this example to contrast the opposite nature of these two cities. The results may surprise you.

Before the comparison begins, first let me point out a few differences in the two cities that could have an effect on the data. Kennesaw grew as a city over the next ten years or so, nearly doubling in population. This urbanization typically causes crime to increase. Morton Grove however began with a relatively low crime rate and a fairly urbanized city that remained constant throughout the next ten years. In a direct comparison, Kennesaw ought to be more predisposed for crime to increase. However, in reality, the opposite happened.

Immediately after the passage of Kennesaw’s law, the amount of burglaries was cut in half. Violent crime within the city dropped at all levels. The community did not suffer a murder for years after that, and according the police chief at the time that was done by a knife. The gun requirement acted as a deterrent for criminals around the city. According to a past police chief D. Wilson, inmates had contacted the government of Kennesaw with the message that they would avoid Kennesaw because of the gun requirement. Those criminals knew that their potential victims would probably be armed, and that fear caused them to go elsewhere. Other fears with a mandatory gun law include escalations in domestic violence and an increase in fatal accidents involving children. Since the law was enacted, neither has happened. In the decade after the law was passed, there were no instances of handguns used against spouses nor were there any instances of children being injured due to accidental discharge. That in itself supports the theory that guns are safe in the hands of a safe person.

Now that we have examined the effects of the law on the Kennesaw community, let us examine the effects in Morton Grove. The complete ban of private ownership of handguns did not cause crime to go down. In fact, violent crime increased by 15% in the city the following year. In the surrounding areas, crime increased only 3%. This increased rate stayed constant in the years after. Statistically speaking, the ban led to an increase in crime. Pundits can debate the reasons for this until we all puke, but it makes sense to think that the ban makes criminals more active. Either way, in this case, the ban did not have the effect of reducing crime.

While the effects of gun laws and gun restrictions vary based on the culture of each community and the backgrounds of the people within them, these two cities provide a good example of how gun laws impact the community. Would the law in Kennesaw work in other cities? Not necessarily. Does the data seem to support that it may help reduce crime? In this scenario it does. The crime rate in Kennesaw dropped significantly after they (loosely) required every citizen to own a firearm and stayed at this low level for years despite undergoing changes in population that typically lead to increased crime. Morton Grove on the other hand banned the ownership of handguns within their city and saw their crime rate go up. Whether or not this change in crime is the result of these laws is debatable and should be debated, but the facts themselves have a strong voice.

-J.G.

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