Fact Check: Does an Increase in Gun Ownership Lead to a Decrease in Crime?
Charles Manning writes yesterday:
Overall violent crime is down in the U.S., notwithstanding the steady procession of mass shootings. 2nd Amendment fanatics believe being armed accounts for a major part, if not all, of the decline. They think would-be criminals are scared of being shot by armed “law-abiding citizens.” Citizens, that is, who believe the 2nd Amendment gives them the right to be judge, jury and — executioner. I believe there’s some truth to this.
It is true that overall violent crime is down in the U.S. in comparison to previous decades (and it is also true that mass shootings are a very small minority of all murders in a year). But is it reasonable to believe, as Charles Manning does, that this is due to increased gun ownership? If this were true, then rises in gun ownership in a state should lead to lower crime rates.
We can and should assess this empirically. Let’s do a fact check.
In the September 12, 2013 edition of the American Journal of Public Health , Michael Siegel, Craig Ross and Charles King report on a 50-state study of gun homicide and rates of gun ownership (read the report for free here). They control for all sorts of confounding factors and account for changes from year to year. To get right to the point, what the researchers find is the opposite of what Manning predicts. As gun ownership rises in a state, so does the rate of gun homicide. There are multiple reasons this might be happening, but their findings contradict the idea that more gun ownership leads to less crime.
In a paper for the National Bureau of Economic Research, Mark Duggan finds, again controlling for confounding factors, that at both the state and county level in the U.S. higher levels of gun ownership are associated with more, not less, gun homicide. What’s also striking is that higher levels of gun ownership are associated with no consistent and statistically significant change in robbery, larceny, assault, rape, burglary and auto theft rates. The occasional statistically significant results that appear for these crimes show that gun ownership is associated with an increase, not a decrease, in rates of commission of these crimes. Again, results contradict the idea that more gun ownership leads to less crime.
Sripal Bangalore and Franz Messerli of the New York University School of Medicine study the crime rates and gun ownership in a cross-national study to be published in the October 2013 issue of the American Journal of Medicine. They find internationally, as did Duggan in just the the United States, that increased gun ownership is associated with an increased rate of gun-related deaths and no statistically-significant change in the crime rate in general. Yet again, results contradict the idea that more gun ownership leads to less crime.
Lisa Stolzenberg and Stewart D’Alessio report in the journal Social Forces that illegal gun availability increases all sorts of violent crime, including but not limited to gun crime. They also find that legal gun ownership has no association with the crime rate. Both findings are inconsistent with the “more guns, less crime” hypothesis.
The Bottom line: available peer-reviewed research does not support the “more guns leads to less crime” hypothesis.