Well, if you were to go by the popular media, maybe. But it wasn't really the reality. Crime WAS up, but only because population was up and crime stats had only been tracked since 1963. This was 1974, remember. Crime was up, but Dirty Harry was 1971...and sparked debate over police brutality and victim's rights. When Dirty Harry came out, the Miranda Rights we all take for granted were only FIVE YEARS OLD. Interestingly enough, in various drafts, the Scorpio killer was a vigilante (an idea Eastwood liked and they used in Magnum Force, where Harry fights overzealous cops).
The Punisher was no Dirty Harry, either. Check out this snippet from Spiderman #175. The Punisher DOES kill, but he usually only does it in self-defense or stop the worst kind of violent criminal, like a terrorist. He doesn't kill henchman or incapacitated foes and has a very strict moral code:
"I've sworn no innocent would ever become a victim of my private war against the underworld even if it meant losing my own life instead."
In this issue, the Punisher actually has to decide between saving Spiderman (who in turn is holding JJJ) and the Hitman...a professional kidnapper and assassin (albeit also a comrade of Frank's from the 'Nam). He actually has to agonize over the choice. Frank was simply not THAT hardcore back in the 70s. It wasn't until the Zeck series in the 80s that he got nasty.