The Correlation Between an Armed Populace and Less Violent Crime
February 3, 2013
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“Would Banning Firearms Reduce Murder and Suicide?” That is the question Don B. Kates and Gary Mauser asked in the title of their 2007 paper in the Harvard Journal of Law & Public Policy, which begins:
International evidence and comparisons have long been offered as proof of the mantra that more guns mean more deaths and that fewer guns, therefore, mean fewer deaths. Unfortunately, such discussions are all too often been afflicted by misconceptions and factual error and focus on comparisons that are unrepresentative.
To illustrate the fallacy of the belief that few guns means fewer deaths, they point to the instructive example of the Soviet Union:
So successful was that regime that few Russian civilians now have firearms and very few murders involve them. Yet, manifest success in keeping its people disarmed did not prevent the Soviet Union from having far and away the highest murder rate in the developed world.
They quote from Hans Toch & Alan J. Lizotte in another paper in Psychology & Social Policy the finding that
[W]here firearms are most dense violent crime rates are lowest, and where guns are least dense violent crime rates are highest.
They also cite two other pertinent recent studies:
In 2004, the U.S. National Academy of Sciences released its evaluation from a review of 253 journal articles, 99 books, 43 government publications, and some original empirical research. It failed to identify any gun control that had reduced violent crime, suicide, or gun accidents. The same conclusion was reached in 2003 by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control’s review of then extant studies.
They quote Joyce Lee Malcolm from her book Guns and Violence: The English Experience and offer further comment:
The peacefulness England used to enjoy was not the result of strict gun laws. When it had no firearms restrictions [nineteenth and early twentieth century] England had little violent crime, while the present extraordinarily stringent gun controls have not stopped the increase in violence or even the increase in armed violence.
Armed crime, never a problem in England, has now become one. Handguns are banned but the Kingdom has millions of illegal firearms. Criminals have no trouble finding them and exhibit a new willingness to use them. In the decade after 1957, the use of guns in serious crime increased a hundredfold.
In the late 1990s, England moved from stringent controls to a complete ban of all handguns and many types of long guns. Hundreds of thousands of guns were confiscated from those owners law‐abiding enough to turn them in to authorities. Without suggesting this caused violence, the ban’s ineffectiveness was such that by the year 2000 violent crime had so increased that England and Wales had Europe’s highest violent crime rate, far surpassing even the United States.
…On the one hand, despite constant and substantially increasing gun ownership, the United States saw progressive and dramatic reductions in criminal violence in the 1990s. On the other hand, the same time period in the United Kingdom saw a constant and dramatic increase in violent crime to which England’s response was ever‐more drastic gun control including, eventually, banning and confiscating all handguns and many types of long guns. Nevertheless, criminal violence rampantly increased so that by 2000 England surpassed the United States to become one of the developed world’s most violence‐ridden nations.
…The divergence between the United States and the British Commonwealth became especially pronounced during the 1980s and 1990s. During these two decades, while Britain and the Commonwealth were making lawful firearm ownership increasingly difficult, more than 25 states in the United States passed laws allowing responsible citizens to carry concealed handguns. There are now 40 states where qualified citizens can obtain such a handgun permit. As a result, the number of U.S. citizens allowed to carry concealed handguns in shopping malls, on the street, and in their cars has grown to 3.5 million men and women. Economists John Lott and David Mustard have suggested that these new laws contributed to the drop in homicide and violent crime rates. Based on 25 years of correlated statistics from all of the more than 3,000 American counties, Lott and Mustard conclude that adoption of these statutes has deterred criminals from confrontation crime and caused murder and violent crime to fall faster in states that adopted this policy than in states that did not.
Some further excerpts:
[A]doption of state laws permitting millions of qualified citizens to carry guns has not resulted in more murder or violent crime in these states. Rather, adoption of these statutes has been followed by very significant reductions in murder and violence in these states.
…[V]iolent crime, and homicide in particular, has plummeted in the United States over the past 15 years.
…Nations with higher gun ownership rates, however, do not have higher murder or suicide rates than those with lower gun ownership. Indeed many high gun ownership nations have much lower murder rates.
…The non‐correlation between gun ownership and murder is reinforced by examination of statistics from larger numbers of nations across the developed world. Comparison of “homicide and suicide mortality data for thirty‐six nations (including the United States) for the period 1990–1995” to gun ownership levels showed “no significant (at the 5% level) association between gun ownership levels and the total homicide rate.” Consistent with this is a later European study of data from 21 nations in which “no significant correlations [of gun ownership levels] with total suicide or homicide rates were found.”
…There is no social benefit in decreasing the availability of guns if the result is only to increase the use of other means of suicide and murder, resulting in more or less the same amount of death. Elementary as this point is, proponents of the more guns equal more death mantra seem oblivious to it. One study asserts that Americans are more likely to be shot to death than people in the world’s other 35 wealthier nations. While this is literally true, it is irrelevant—except, perhaps to people terrified not of death per se but just death by gunshot. A fact that should be of greater concern—but which the study fails to mention—is that per capita murder overall is only half as frequent in the United States as in several other nations where gun murder is rarer, but murder by strangling, stabbing, or beating is much more frequent.
…American jurisdictions which have the highest violent crime rates are precisely those with the most stringent gun controls.
…[N]ations with stringent gun controls tend to have much higher murder rates than nations that allow guns.
…The point is exemplified by the conclusions of the premier study of English gun control. Done by a senior English police official as his thesis at the Cambridge University Institute of Criminology and later published as a book, it found (as of the early 1970s), “Half a century of strict controls . . . has ended, perversely, with a far greater use of [handguns] in crime than ever before.” The study also states that:
No matter how one approaches the figures, one is forced to the rather startling conclusion that the use of firearms in crime was very much less [in England before 1920] when there were no controls of any sort and when anyone, convicted criminal or lunatic, could buy any type of firearm without restriction.
They point out that owning a gun doesn’t cause one to become a murderer:
…[A]almost all murderers are extremely aberrant individuals with life histories of violence, psychopathology, substance abuse, and other dangerous behaviors
…[S]tudies analyzing acquaintance homicide suggest there is no reason for laws prohibiting gun possession by ordinary, law‐abiding responsible adults because such people virtually never murder. If one accepts that such adults are far more likely to be victims of violent crime than to commit it, disarming them becomes not just unproductive but counter‐productive.
This discuss also the deterrent effect on crime of gun ownership:
Moreover, there is not insubstantial evidence that in the United States widespread gun availability has helped reduce murder and other violent crime rates. On closer analysis, however, this evidence appears uniquely applicable to the United States. More than 100 million handguns are owned in the United States primarily for self‐defense,85 and 3.5 million people have permits to carry concealed handguns for protection. Recent analysis reveals “a great deal of self‐defensive use of firearms” in the United States, “in fact, more defensive gun uses [by victims] than crimes committed with firearms.” It is little wonder that the
National Institute of Justice surveys among prison inmates find that large percentages report that their fear that a victim might be armed deterred them from confrontation crimes. “[T]he felons most frightened ‘about confronting an armed victim’ were those from states with the greatest relative number of privately owned firearms.” Conversely, robbery is highest in states that most restrict gun ownership.
Concomitantly, a series of studies by John Lott and his coauthor David Mustard conclude that the issuance of millions of permits to carry concealed handguns is associated with drastic declines in American homicide rates.
They reiterate that
[I]n nations that have experienced high and rising violent crime rates, the legislative reaction has generally been to enact increasingly severe antigun laws. This is futile, for reducing gun ownership by the law‐abiding citizenry—the only ones who obey gun laws—does not reduce violence or murder.
They conclude that
Whether gun availability is viewed as a cause or as a mere coincidence, the long term macrocosmic evidence is that gun ownership spread widely throughout societies consistently correlates with stable or declining murder rates. Whether causative or not, the consistent international pattern is that more guns equal less murder and other violent crime. Even if one is inclined to think that gun availability is an important factor, the available international data cannot be squared with the mantra that more guns equal more death and fewer guns equal less death. Rather, if firearms availability does matter, the data consistently show that the way it matters is that more guns equal less violent crime.
…As Hans Toch, a senior American criminologist who years ago endorsed handgun prohibition and confiscation, but then recanted based on later research, argues “it is hard to explain that where firearms are most dense, violent crime rates are lowest and where guns are least dense, violent crime rates are highest.”
…[I]n general, the American jurisdictions where guns are most restricted have consistently had the highest violent crime rates, and those with the fewest restrictions have the lowest violent crime rates. For instance, robbery is highest in jurisdictions which are most restrictive of gun ownership. As to one specific control, the ban on carrying concealed weapons for protection, “violent‐crime rates were highest in states [that flatly ban carrying concealed weapons], next highest in those that allowed local authorities discretion [to deny] permits, and lowest in states with nondiscretionary” concealed weapons laws under which police are legally required to license every qualified applicant. Also of interest are the extensive opinion surveys of incarcerated felons, both juvenile and adult, in which large percentages of the felons replied that they often feared potential victims might be armed and aborted violent crimes because of that fear. The felons most frightened about confronting an armed victim were those “from states with the greatest relative number of privately owned firearms.”
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