Gun Control 2013: Guns and Crime is a False Correlation

With the mass shooting events of 2012 still fresh within our minds, the media has run wild in the early months of this year focusing its magnifying glass directly on firearms and violent crime. Week after week, horrific plots are foiled, shooters are gunned down, by police, and — most unfortunately — people die at the hands of a person wielding a gun. And though no gun control measures have thus far made any serious leeway in Congress, politicking is in full effect from Washington, D.C. to your local town halls as people are asking what to do about America's gun culture and the Second Amendment. 

As fellow PolicyMic pundit David Susman pointed out recently in one of his articles, the lack of expertise on the subject of firearms amongst the “gun control” crowd is alarming. This is not necessarily a major issue in itself— a person who knows very little about something may indeed have valid concerns about the safety and efficacy of firearms and concealed-carry laws, for instance. But it is another thing entirely when regular people, along with pundits and politicians, spread outright lies to advance their pet groups' agendas.

Much to the dismay of the gun-grabbers, the spurious and inconsequential effects of gun control policies are widely documented amongst a number of reputable academic journals. The most (in)famous of these works is that of John Lott Jr., whose bestselling book More Guns, Less Crime actually makes the counterargument obvious in its title. Lott's work was published by the University of Chicago Press, peer reviewed by over 12 concurrent studies in The Journal of Law and Economics, and continues to this day to be a source rich with seemingly irrefutable data that areas that having more guns in the hands of private citizens actually have lower rates of violent crime. 

Talking points make for good dinner table conversation, but they lack the qualities necessary to produce substantive policy. This is why it is important to thoroughly research subjects for yourself, rather than relying on information or data from a single source. It is fine to point out that Harvard professor David Hemmenway has conducted studies which show a correlation between murder and firearms in the home. However, it is completely disingenuous to consequently ignore the fact that there are dozens more studies and opinions (pg. 24-5) which insist the contrary. This happens to be one of the most interesting aspects of statistical analysis (especially within the gun-control debate) — oftentimes political opponents will use the same data to argue different sides of an issue.

The question most central to the gun-control debate on the whole can be stated very basically as, “Does more guns mean more crime?” But unfortunately this is not empirical. What is “more guns?” What is “more crime?” What kind of crime? Finding a meaningful answer will require asking a more specific question. For the purpose of this article, we'll stick to “Do states with above-average rates of civilian gun ownership have above-average violent-crime rates?”

To determine the rate of civilian gun ownership in each of the 50 states (plus Washington, D.C.), I used data from a phone survey conducted by the North Carolina State Center for Health Statistics. In the BRFSS Survey for the year 2001, respondents were asked: “Are any firearms now kept in or around your home? Include those kept in a garage, outdoor storage area, car, truck, or other motor vehicle.” (We will assume that only legally owned firearms were reported in the survey). I then cross-referenced this data with the violent crime statistics from the FBI's Uniform Crime Report for the same year. Violent crimes are considered to be those which use or threaten to use force, including murder and non-negligent manslaughter, rape, robbery, and aggravated assault. Each state is then rated upon how many violent crimes occur per 100,000 residents in a given year, which is the pertinent piece of data I used for comparison.

As I had hypothesized from reading previous studies on the subject, the results of my study showed no clear statistical correlation between a state's rate of civilian gun ownership and violent crime. Of the states which had gun-ownership rates above the median average (40% or more), 16 of them had violent-crime rates below median average (390.1), while 11 of them had violent-crime rates above the median average. Of the states which had gun-ownership rates below the median average, nine of them had violent-crime rates below the median average, while 15 of them had violent-crime rates above the median average.

The graph below shows a clustering of data in quadrants II and IV, where quadrant II represents states with above-average gun ownership rates and below-average crime, and quadrant IV represents states with below-average gun ownership rates and above-average crime. In other words, if there was any trend visible at all, it was that in 2001, states with more guns actually had less crime. Considering that this affirms the overwhelming majority of credible data that I have seen on the subject it is my belief that were this study continued spanning over the decade between 2001 and now, the results would be much the same.

Findings like these should not be at all confusing. It was assumed that most if not all of the guns reported in the survey were legally owned. We can furthermore deduce that most people aren't dropping their normal lives to take up arms and begin lives of crime. Thus, the amount of firearms in the hands of law-abiding civilians could, if anything, only reduce crime. Adding guns to a population does not turn the population into criminals, just as adding cars to a city does not turn the city into the Indy 500.

I would suspect that a major reason that legal gun ownership rates have no strong, consistent positive correlation with violent crime is recidivism: over 70% of violent criminals are arrested again within three years of their release. As felons are already not legally allowed to own firearms, they are the exception to the rule and not the rule. We also know that 80% of incarcerated felons acquired their firearms through illegal transfers (40%) or illegal trafficking (40%). It would be most helpful for researchers to put future efforts into inspecting the mental and cultural conditions of violent criminals, as well as the connection of violent criminals to illegal drug trafficking. There are convincing suspicions that high violent crime rates may be directly linked to the so-called War on Drugs, as articulated by fellow PolicyMic pundit Gary Patterson Jr.

I encourage open and honest debate on any and all political issues, and I am typically willing to hear all sides. America experiences an unfortunate number of gun related deaths each year, yet although gun ownership is as high as ever, gun homicides are down dramatically. I will support any reasonable attempt to reduce that number as much as possible. That being said, I will not support any additional whirlwind gun-control legislation, in light of crystal clear evidence that it is a tested failure. I will also continue to support any legislation which enables law-abiding citizens to safely and legally own and carry firearms for personal protection. We should seriously consider the implications of the illegal use of guns, but be careful not to reduce the rights guaranteed in the Second Amendment.

Let's keep the conversation moving.