Criminologists, sociologists, and public-health scholars have devoted enormous attention to the role of firearms in violence, particularly regarding American homicide rates, but historians have been less inclined to examine the impact of firearms, especially their availability, on changing patterns of violence. Instead, legal and criminal-justice historians have emphasized the ways in which institutional, cultural, political, and social changes have fueled shifts in levels of murder. An analysis of the rich homicide case files and newspaper accounts of gun violence in early twentieth-century New Orleans, however, confirms the theory of “weapon instrumentality”—that homicide rates tend to soar whenever and wherever firearms abound and to decrease when guns are in shorter supply.

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