OAKLAND -- Widespread gun ownership in the United States does not lower the level of crime, a Stanford University law professor insisted.
John J. Donohue, a gun control advocate and opponent of the death penalty, presented his analysis of gun-related violence and other negative social factors that lead to it during the third in a series of Safe Oakland talks organized by District 4 Councilwoman Libby Schaaf. The programs are being held at Holy Names University on Wednesday nights. Donohue spoke on May 1.
In his opening remarks, Donohue admitted that his views are often controversial with pro-gun advocates, but he was willing to express his opinion.
"Many people who speak on crime don't tell you what they think," he said, "They tell you maybe what is helpful to hear.''
Though crime has declined nationwide, Americans have been shocked by incidents like the mass shootings of students in Newtown, Conn., and the recent terrorist bombings at the Boston Marathon.
Since 1965, more than 1.3 million Americans have died in gun-related incidents, though at least half were suicides, Donohue said. By comparison, 617,000 men and women of this nation died in all of the wars the United States fought throughout the 20th century.
More than 100,000 Americans become shooting victims each year. Last year, there were 11,101 gun-related homicides in the United States, 19,766 suicides by gun and 851 shooting accidents, according to Donohue's statistics. Americans own 270 million of the more than 600 million guns in private hands worldwide, he said.
The United States has far more homicides each year than other countries within the top 25 most affluent nations worldwide, Donohue said. Oakland also is above average in deaths compared with similar cities throughout the nation, according to Donohue's research.
"The U.S. is an unusually homicidal nation and Oakland is an unusually homicidal city," he said.
Overall crime has decreased nationwide by about 40 percent since the 1990s. Gun advocates insist that widespread gun ownership actually reduces crime. Following the Newtown shootings, National Rifle Association Executive Wayne LaPierre stated that the "best way to stop a bad guy with a gun is with a good guy with a gun."
Despite the NRA's assertions, Donohue claims that there is no credible evidence that large gun ownership reduces crime. He rejects studies done by the gun lobby that point to different conclusions.
"Many of the studies are similar to the studies by the Tobacco Institute that said that cigarettes were good for you," he said.
Widespread gun ownership also has its downside. More than 1 million guns are stolen from private homes each year and make their way into the black market as stolen weapons.
"You don't have to worry about enough gun rights," he said. "You have to worry about the gun you have because the gun is not only a threat to you but a threat to everybody."
"Every time a gun is stolen, it's going from a law-abiding citizen potentially into the hands of a criminal," he said.
Though guns are a big part of the crime problem, other social factors should be considered when trying to find an answer, Donohue said.
America has a larger disparity between rich and poor than other affluent nations and more unstable family relationships than other countries in our category. The percentage of children who live with three different men in their household by age 15 is three times higher than in Sweden, Donohue said, and divorce is especially hard on boys, which can show up in future crime rates.
The United States also imprisons more suspects -- 100,000 annually -- than any other nation in the world, according to Donohue. More cops on the street and not longer prison sentences can be a cost-effective way to reduce crime by stopping it at the source.
"The argument is that criminals tend to be impulsive and what matters is the swiftness and surety of punishment," he said.
Cutbacks in police staffing due to budget problems and the low number of murders that police solve in Oakland are worrisome, according to Donohue.
"A clearance rate for murder of 30 percent in unacceptably low," he said.
"Every time a criminal gets away with a crime their sense of invincibility goes up tremendously," he said.