But then something happened. In the 16th century the rate tumbled back to 20.28 per 100,000.
Carlisle Moody of the College of William & Mary says that the year the trend changed was 1505 and what happened was the handgun, namely the wheel lock pistol which by that year had become common enough to make a social impact.
The pistol put the little guy (and gal) on a equal footing with the big, strong, armor-plated club/knife/ax wielding thug.
Moody says the likely inventor of this device was Leonardo Da Vinci which would make Leonardo the father of the handgun. Thank you Leonardo.
For what it’s worth, the authoritarian types didn’t like them from the beginning. The first gun control law happened in 1517 when Holy Roman Emperor Maximilian I declared “Inasmuch as certain persons in our territories of Lower Austria are in the habit of carrying self-striking hand-guns that ignite themselves which we are on no account prepared to allow . . .our nobles, stewards, administrators, chief justices, mayors and judges should under no circumstances permit such guns to be carried.”
Still handguns didn’t disappear and the trend continued. In the 17th century the murder rate dropped big to 7.84 per 100,000. Moody says the big year was 1621 when the flintlock — which became the standard firearm for the next two centuries — entered general use.
Moody notes the cost of firearms was rarely prohibitive for the masses. In 1699, a pair of pistols cost 5 shillings or about $41 in today’s dollars.
The European murder rate continued to fall reaching 1.18 per 100,000 by the 20th century. In Britain, by 1920 it had fallen to .84 per 100,000. That was the year The Firearms Act was passed essentially ending the English right to bear arms. Since then the British murder rate has risen to 1.44 (as of 1999) and the assault rate has exploded from 2.39 per 100,000 to 419.29.
Some other tidbits: Moody says London had a homicide rate of .26 per 100,000 in the 1820s before the first world’s first police force was created in 1829. It now has a rate of 2.28 per 100,000.
Carlisle Moody notes that three out of every four murder victims before 1850 would have survived with today’s medicine. He says, however, even dividing by four would not affect the pattern regarding the previous century murder rates.
Moody’s paper can be found here. The math is there to back up his claims to other academics and doesn’t have to be followed to get his point.
Carlisle Moody: Handguns Stop Murders
Carlisle Moody is a member of the Economics Department at the College of William and Mary in Williamsburg, Va.
Carlisle Moody’s paper is titled Firearms and the Decline of Violence in Europe: 1200-2010.