Gun right advocates make a mistake whenever they turn to New York City’s gun laws as evidence that gun control laws do not work. New York City has an undeserved reputation for being a violent crime ridden city because of past history from decades ago or because of media portrayals like the TV show Law & Order. Despite stereotypes to the contrary, New York City is in fact, one of the safest major cities in the country. With an annual gun death rate of 4.9 per 100,000 residents it is the second least dangerous large city for gun violence in the nation, behind San Jose, California. This year already New York City had a nine day streak without a single homicide, despite a population of over 8 million people.
In many states where gun laws are more relaxed, major cities have much higher gun death rates. A New Orleans resident is 14 times more likely to be killed by a gun than a resident of the Big Apple. A Las Vegas resident is 7.5 times more likely to be shot to death than a New York City resident. Someone living in Richmond, Virginia is 6 times more likely to die from a gunshot wound than a New York City person. New York is a poor example for gun rights advocates to point too, because the evidence is clear that New York is a comparatively safe city especially when measured against most large cities in the South or Midwest that have much higher rates of gun violence.
The more intelligent right-wingers have stopped mentioning New York City and instead focused their scorn and ridicule upon Chicago. Newt Gingrich, for example has tweeted that if gun control worked Chicago would be a safe city and he has referred to the city as the murder capital of the United States, claiming its reasonably strict gun laws are the reason for its homicide problem. In sheer numbers Chicago may qualify as the murder capital as it has surpassed the more populous cities of Los Angeles and New York City, but in murder rate it is nowhere close to the nation's deadliest city. Incidentally, both New York City and Los Angeles are in states with even stronger gun control laws than those in Illinois.
Although to their credit, more intellectually savvy right-wingers have now chosen to highlight Chicago instead of New York City as their “gun control doesn’t work” punching bag city, even this argument is problematic. While Chicago is much more dangerous than New York, making this a more promising line of argument for gun proponents, even the windy city compares favorably with many other US cities in states with weaker gun restrictions. Although Chicago does have a serious gun violence problem, it is still safer than New Orleans, Las Vegas, Miami, St. Louis, Richmond, Memphis, Atlanta, Kansas City, Baton Rouge, Jackson, Birmingham, Gulfport (MS) and Ft. Myers (FL), all cities in states with lax gun control laws.
State wide data shows that gun deaths are higher per capita in the states of Alaska, Louisiana, Wyoming, Arizona, Nevada or Mississippi, than they are in the cities of New York or Chicago. Indeed an Alaskan is four times more likely to die from gun violence than a resident of New York City. Of course these figures are when we include all forms of gun violence combining deaths by murder, suicide and accidental deaths.
However, even when we look at gun homicide rates alone neither Chicago nor New York City make it near the top of the list of most dangerous American cities. In 2011, the FBI Uniform Crime Reports reveal both New York City and Chicago had lower overall homicide rates than Atlanta, Baton Rouge, Birmingham, Danville (VA), Dayton (OH), Ft. Myers (FL), Gary (IN), Gulfport (MS), Jackson (MS), Kansas City (KS), Kansas City (MO), Little Rock, Memphis, Miami, New Orleans, North Little Rock (AR) Pine Bluff (AR), Richmond (VA), Rocky Mount (NC), St. Louis, and York (PA).
New York City has a gun death rate that is less than half the national average and a lower homicide rate than such innocuous and unthreatening cities as Beaumont (TX), Clearwater (FL), Conway (AR), Council Bluffs (IA), Delray Beach (FL), Ft. Lauderdale (FL), Glendale (AZ), Pueblo (CO), South Bend (IN), Terre Haute (IN) and Topeka (KS). A New York City snowbird, who vacations or moves to West Palm Beach Florida is more than twice as likely to be murdered in West Palm Beach than to be killed in New York City. A Tulsa, Oklahoma resident is twice as likely to be murdered and 2.5 times more likely to suffer a fatal gunshot wound then a resident of the Big Apple.
Gun deaths and murders in general are highly complex sociological events, so it is not always easy to determine what effect gun control laws have as correlation does not necessarily equal causation. What we do know however is that both firearm suicide and homicide rates are much higher in the gun law lax South than in the more gun restrictive Northeast and West Coast states The evidence is especially clear that gun suicides are lowest in areas with strong gun control laws. The large cities with the lowest firearm suicide rates are New York City, Washington DC, San Jose, Chicago and San Francisco, while the highest rates are in Las Vegas, Tampa, Aurora, Miami and Louisville. In fact, a gun suicide is 25 times more likely in the Libertarian paradise of Las Vegas than in the Michael Bloomberg’s much ridiculed over-regulated “nanny state” of New York City.
Gun control laws are somewhat less strongly correlated with lower homicide rates, but again the data suggests that the deadliest cities for homicide are not New York City or even Chicago, but instead places like New Orleans, Detroit, St. Louis, Jackson, Birmingham and even medium-sized towns like Baton Rouge, Dayton, Ohio, Pine Bluff, Arkansas and Ft. Myers, Florida. Although Chicago does have a gun violence problem that is serious, while New York City does not, neither of these cities is as dangerous for homicide as a typical medium to large Southern city in the Bible Belt.
When you factor in all gun deaths, the argument becomes even weaker, as residents of these urban cities are much safer than their American counterparts in the lightly populated states of Alaska and Wyoming. If gun control opponents want to argue their case for putting more guns on the streets and in people's homes, they will need to craft a better argument than some throwaway comment like "look at New York City or Chicago", because as long as those cities are safer than Birmingham and Ft. Myers, gun rights folks do not have a leg to stand on.