Burglaries in Kennesaw Glenn Reynolds points to a page that purports to show the effect on crime of Kennesaw’s ordinance that made gun ownership mandatory. Unfortunately the numbers given there are misleading—they just give the crime rates for the year before the ordinance (54 burglaries) and the year the ordinance was passed (35 burglaries) and for 1998 (36 burglaries). This makes it look like there was a decrease, but if you look at burglary rates over a ten year period (see the graph to the left [1]) there is a lot of fluctuation. A statistical test shows that there was a statistically insignificant increase [1].

It’s not surprising that the ordinance had no effect. It was purely symbolic and was never enforced so is unlikely to have had any effect on gun ownership in Kennesaw.

There was also a large increase in the population of Kennesaw, which meant that by 1998, although the number of burglaries had not changed, the burglary rate per 100,000 population had decreased greatly. It is hard to attribute this to the ordinance since the large increase meant that the people living in Kennesaw in 1998 were almost completely different from those living there in 1981.

[1] David McDowall, Brian Wiersema and Colin Loftin. “Did Mandatory firearm ownership in Kennesaw really prevent burglaries?” Sociology and Social Research 74:48-51 (1989).

Update: Glenn Reynolds responds in an update:

I don’t think that burglars check resumes, and I don’t see why duration of residency should make any difference at all here. And if the number of burglaries stays the same, while the population grows, that means that burglary is getting less common. Doesn’t it?

The burglary rate decreased gradually as the population increased. It doesn’t make sense to attribute a gradual decrease to a one time event like the ordinance. If it had an effect, you would expect an abrupt decrease when it was passed, but there was no such decrease.

Comments

  1. #1 Kevin Baker
    November 24, 2003

    Kennesaw is a suburb of Atlanta. Would it not be a valid comparison to check Atlanta’s burglary rates versus those of Kennesaw, and against other suburbs such as Roswell and Lithonia? You yourself note that the rate per 100,000 went down. How does that rate compare?

  2. #2 Tim Lambert
    November 24, 2003

    The best comparison is between Kennesaw before the ordinance and Kennesaw after the ordinance. The graph shows that there was no change.

  3. #3 Kevin Baker
    November 24, 2003

    You wrote: “There was also a large increase in the population of Kennesaw, which meant that by 1998, although the number of burglaries had not changed, the burglary rate per 100,000 population had decreased greatly.

    The question, then, is what did the burglary rate of other Atlanta suburbs do? You flippantly dismiss the possible effects of the ordinance by saying “It is hard to attribute this to the ordinance since the large increase meant that the people living in Kennesaw in 1998 were almost completely different from those living there in 1981.

    Pardon me, but what difference does it make who specifically was living in Kennesaw? Other questions: What did the population of other suburbs of Atlanta do during this same period? Did Kennesaw experience a significantly larger or smaller change in population than other suburbs? If so, why? Did the ordinance attract people to the town, or repel them so that the net increase in population was smaller than other Atlanta suburbs experienced? Did the population of Kennesaw experience a net increase in firearms because the people moving in were already armed, and wanted to live somewhere where gun ownership was positively acknowledged by the town government?

    I think you oversimplify to an extreme. The count of actual burglaries doesn’t tell us much, but it doesn’t tell us that the ordinance was ineffective, either.

  4. #4 Brett Bellmore
    November 24, 2003

    I think Kevin nailed it; What’s the point in even bringing up the actual count of burlaries, when the population changed that dramatically? It’s the RATE people care about, and you admit that that DID drop drastically.

  5. #5 Kevin Baker
    November 24, 2003

    You write: “The burglary rate decreased gradually as the population increased. It doesn’t make sense to attribute a gradual decrease to a one time event like the ordinance. If it had an effect, you would expect an abrupt decrease when it was passed, but there was no such decrease.”

    However, you indicate that there has been a major increase in the population of Kennesaw over time. Now, unless you compare the populations and burglary rates of suburbs of Atlanta similar to Kennesaw at the time of passage of the ordinance, you can’t draw a conclusion.

    What you’re saying is “The burglary rate didn’t drop immediately upon passage of the ordinance, therefore it was useless.” I don’t think you can draw that conclusion honestly. If more gun-owning people moved to Kennesaw after passage of the ordinance, and if Kennesaw’s burglary rate (which you indicate dropped significantly) became statistically lower than other, similar suburbs, then the conclusion would be that the ordinance had a beneficial effect. If not, then not.

    It would appear that you’re applying a double standard. (Color me shocked.) Gun control laws are never required to have an immediate, obvious, statistically valid beneficial effect. We’re always told that they take time to become effective. Then we’re told that they failed because of “loopholes,” and we need more, stronger really serious gun control laws. (“Next step” anyone?)

    So far, the worst thing anybody’s had to say about Kennesaw’s ordinance and the spread of state concealed-carry legislation is that they might not have made crime go DOWN.

    I can live with that.

  6. #6 Tim Lambert
    November 24, 2003

    The claim made by progunners was that burglars started avoiding Kennesaw when the ordinance was passed. A glance at the graph of burglary numbers shows this to be false.

    Your suggestion that the ordinance caused an increase in gun ownership in Kennesaw is interesting, but you don’t have any evidence that there was any such increase. Moreover more gun ownership is associated with more burglaries.

    For what it’s worth, I looked at a map and found the closest suburb to Kennesaw was Acworth. In 2002, it had roughly the same burglary rate as Kennesaw (335 in Acworth vs 265 in Kennesaw).

    If you want to accuse me of applying a double standard, I’ll thank you refer to things I’ve actually written, rather than stuff you’ve made up and attributed to me.

    Ayres and Donohue actually found that carry laws tended to increase crime. Those who were persuaded by Lott’s statistics that crime went down should, if they were consistent, now be persuaded that the laws increased crime.

  7. #7 Kevin Baker
    November 24, 2003

    But I don’t find Cook & Ludwig to be all that much more reliable than Lott. And, of course, I cannot download the linked file, not being a subscriber. Let’s consider Kennesaw in light of their assertion that: “Guns in the home may pose a threat to burglars, but also serve as an inducement, since guns are particularly valuable loot. Other things equal, a gun-rich community provides more lucrative burglary opportunities than one where guns are more sparse.” Assuming this is universally true, then with Kennesaw’s ordinance, shouldn’t their burglary rate have gone up? After all, Kennesaw would be a “gun-rich community” providing “more lucrative burglary opportunities,” would it not?

    Try this idea: Burglary rates are high in some areas, and sometimes the response of the residents is to buy guns. Jens & Ludwig draw the conclusion: high gun ownership = more burglary. Chicken or egg? In Kennesaw the relationship is reversed. The town ordinance says “own a firearm for protection of yourself and your property.” As a result, people who believe in the idea of defending themselves and their property move there – and burglary rates go down (per your own admission.) Is this a difficult conclusion to draw?

    “Other things equal”? I think not.

    Let’s look at some other suburbs of Atlanta. Your (single) example of Acworth has a burglary rate of 335/100,000 – some 26% higher, though Acworth has a population of about 13,000 and Kennesaw has a population of about 25,000. Alpharetta has a population of about 35,000 and a burglary rate of 661/100,000. Conyers has a population of about 11,000 and a burglary rate of 1,395/100,000. Roswell, right next to Alpharetta has a population of 79,000, and a burglary rate of 458/100,000. Smyrna has a population of 41,000, and a burglary rate of 984/100,000. In fact, Cobb County has an overall burglary rate of about 600/100,000. That puts Kennesaw (at 265) WAY low, does it not? Kennesaw is not a particularly large or small suburb. It has a median household income of about $60k. Acworth’s is about $50k, Smyrna’s is about $47k, Marietta’s is about $41k. Alpharetta has a median household income of about $71k, as does Roswell.

    So, why did you pick Acworth, again?

  8. #8 random
    November 24, 2003

    Kevin, I don’t see how you make claims of double standards. Look at Tim’s original post. All it said was that claims that the data shows crime rates went down uses only selected data to show the conclusion. In response to that you say that he didn’t give enough data from surrounding suburbs? How come you aren’t asking Glenn Reynodls to give more data?

    But wait, there’s more. Then you base an argument on assumptions you made up that gun ownership at Kennesaw actually went up, but you give no evidence of that.

    Sounds like a double standard to me.

  9. #9 Tim Lambert
    November 24, 2003

    Cook and Ludwig do consider the possiblity of burglary causing gun ownership:

    “To deal with the potential problem of reverse causation, we replicate our analyses using a 22-year panel of police-reported crime data obtained from the FBI s Uniform Crime Reports (UCR), finding that lagged gun-ownership rates are positively related to future burglary rates. On the other hand lagged burglary rates appear to have a negligible effect on future gun prevalence, at least in the short run.

    “The issue of reverse causation is also addressed by use of instrumental variables (IV) estimates. The specific instrument employed in these estimates is the percentage of the state population living in rural areas in 1950, an indicator of rural tradition in the state to which gun ownership is closely tied. The resulting estimates are compatible with the ordinary-least-squares estimates in suggesting a non-negative relationship between gun density and burglary rates.”

    You have presented no evidence that gun ownership increased in Kennesaw — for all we know, it may have decreased as the population increased. Nor do you have any evidence for your theory that “people who believe in the idea of defending themselves and their property move there”. The ordinance has never been enforced, so why would it make any difference?

    I already explained why I picked Acworth — it is the closest suburb to Kennesaw. Given the size of the raw numbers, the difference in burglary rates between Kennesaw and Acworth is not statistically significant — for example, in 2001, the burglary rate was higher in Kennesaw.

  10. #10 Kevin Baker
    November 24, 2003

    As I said, I was unable to download the paper. Is the gun ownership rate in Kennesaw higher? I don’t know, do you? I do know that the burglary rate in Kennesaw is far below the average for Cobb County as a whole.

    What I know is this: We need a lot more data before we can draw any concrete conclusions, don’t we?

  11. #11 Dominion
    November 24, 2003

    Amazing. And it only took you five comments to come to the exact same conclusion as Tim’s original post!

    One would hope that you will be very bit as dilligent pointing this out to Professor Glenn.

  12. #12 Kevin Baker
    November 24, 2003

    I believe that the ordinance has drawn gun owners to Kennesaw. I know that Kennesaw’s burglary rate is far below Cobb County’s average, and has come down since the passage of the ordinance. This suggests that the ordinance might have something to do with that, but that has not been researched. Tim’s conclusion was that it didn’t have an effect, because there was no immediate statistically valid reduction in burglaries.

    That’s hardly “the exact same conclusion as Tim’s original post!”

    But thanks for playing!

  13. #13 David Brigden
    September 7, 2005

    An interesting debate! What about other crimes; rape, muggings, murder and holdups? Are there any figures for these crimes?

    I live in the UK and I can tell you for fact that after there was a total ban on pistols (following a horrendous crime by a Thomas Hamilton in Dunblaine, Scotland) armed crime, particularly that committed with pistols increased dramatically (40% in the first year) and has continued to increase since then. Methinks there is much truth in the statement “If guns are outlawed only outlaws will have guns”

    With regards to Thomas Hamilton; he did have a Firearms Certificate issued by the Police, despite recommendations from various gun clubs that he should not, he was considered unsuitable. The Police Officer who conducted the inspection at the time of Hamiltons FAC renewal came to the same conclusion but the Chief of Police granted it anyway, it seems they were both members of some sort of association!

    Sorry to cloud the issue but I thought you might find this of interest.

  14. #14 regent
    January 13, 2006

    Oh my… Just stumbled across this browsing the web. Mr. Lambert’s use of absolute numbers where per capita data would meaningfully apply caused a smirk, but something much better (and funnier) was soon to follow.

    Mr. Lambert, it appears that you have two points: 1) burglaries didn’t really go down and 2) there is no data that actual gun ownership increased, you even implied that it didn’t.

    Am I the only one to note that these two points, when combined, picture you as a hard core pro-gunner?

    And as my way of saying “thanks” (for the laughs) I would like to address this one concern. Regarding lack of data about actual gun ownership, that is. Dear Mr. Lambert, of course discussion participants won’t have this data. Do you want to know why? Because noone sponsored their research to collect it! Somehow it appears that folks with anti-gun agenda have much easier time getting grants.

    There is great news, however, for those really concerned. This data, while unavailable to us plain folks, is also unneeded for the sake of this discussion: the research by venerable Mr. McDowall didn’t revolve around actual gun ownership, and neither did you at first (until getting beat up in statistics, that is). The research revolved around city ordinance rather than gun ownership. So, back to the drawing boards we go.

  15. #15 regent
    January 13, 2006

    Oh, how could I miss this. It deserves to be quoted entirely:

    “There was also a large increase in the population of Kennesaw, which meant that by 1998, although the number of burglaries had not changed, the burglary rate per 100,000 population had decreased greatly. It is hard to attribute this to the ordinance since the large increase meant that the people living in Kennesaw in 1998 were almost completely different from those living there in 1981.”

    So, the moral is that pro-gun ordinance attracted only GOOD people? You ARE a hard core pro-gunner, aren’t you. Sorry about blowing off your cover ;)))

  16. #16 Mark Frank
    January 13, 2006

    Uhm – my attention was drawn to this rather old thread by Regent’s posts and I noticed David Brigden’s post from last September. I am also from the UK and would like to set the record straight.

    There is some dispute about the level of increase of armed crime in the UK and Tim has covered this elsewhere. But even if there has been a dramatic increase it is implausible that it is related to the ban on handguns. Even before Dunblane handguns for private use were heavily restricted and almost totally confined to criminals, those who used them for sport and those who used from for professional reasons (e.g. Vets). The chances of a criminal finding their victim to be armed were negligible. If there has been a significant change since Dunblane it is an increase in the number of illegal hand guns, not a decrease in the number of legally held handguns. So, unless we are to believe that the ban somehow enabled criminals to get more guns there is no plausible connection.

  17. #17 Alex
    January 13, 2006

    Further, depending on who says it, the story moves about. A lot of the time it is just asserted that”crime” went up, rather than armed crime.

    The pistol ban coincided with a major change in the methodology used to collect the figures cited. In the UK there are two sources of crime statistics – the count of crimes reported to the police, and the British Crime Survey, which is a survey of the personal experience of criminality of a large representative sample of the population.

    The statistic in question was the reported crime count (for a very good reason to be touched on next). Before 1998, a considerable number of offences were not recorded by the police for statistical purposes. These were such things as minor assaults where no-one was injured. In 1998 this practice was changed and all reported offences were recorded.

    Unsurprisingly, the reported crime count went up dramatically. The BCS, which is time-consistent, showed no such development. In fact the two measures do not agree – recorded crime is rising (although much of the increase “since 1997″ is still made up of the one-off jump), but the BCS count peaked in 1995 and has been falling ever since.

  18. #18 Mark Frank
    January 13, 2006

    Thanks Alex. I am aware of the difference between recorded crime and BCS but when challenged can never find the actual figures. Do you have URLS?

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