More guns = Less crime

Pursuant to the recent discussion on the safety of carrying guns, I thought I’d throw this on the table:

According to this web page there are numerous studies demonstrating that increased firearms carrying decreases crime. The argument is being made that armed students will generally stop an attack in progress on a campus, if there are armed students but also notes that “in homes, in businesses and on the streets, … people use guns to stop violent crime–without hurting themselves or any innocent bystander.”

The study goes on to say:

The landmark study by criminologists Gary Kleck and Marc Gertz, showing hundreds of thousands of successful defensive gun uses annually, was reliable enough to be endorsed by the leading anti-gun criminologist of the day, the late Marvin Wolfgang–and Kleck’s book covering the research, Point Blank, won Kleck the 1993 Michael Hindelang Award of the American Society of Criminology for the best book in the field.

But Kleck and Gertz are not alone. As economist John R. Lott Jr. noted … “There have been 26 peer-reviewed studies published by criminologists and economists in academic journals and university presses. Most of these studies find large drops in crime [under Right-to-Carry laws]. Some find no change, but not a single one shows an increase in crime.” (Lott was too modest to mention that one of the key studies is his own, discussed in his book, More Guns, Less Crime.)

Although the above cited analysis does not provide sources, these were easy enough to find:

Victim resistance and offender weapon effects in robbery

Self-defense with guns: The consequences

Self-Defensive Gun Use by Crime Victims

Mass Shootings in Schools

Comments

  1. #1 Stephanie Z
    October 7, 2009

    Cool. I’ll check those out later. I will note, though, having looked at the Kleck and Gertz study yesterday, that it was specifically designed to include illegal behavior that wouldn’t be reported in the national crime survey. That’s not how it’s usually presented, of course….

  2. #2 Joe
    October 7, 2009

    I would assume there is some point of deminishing returns with the saturation of a market with hand guns. The more weapons available the more accidental or ‘crimes of passion’ you will have even if the percentage of these events stay the same. I would be interested to see focused studies with areas saturated with handguns. Then see if there is any correlation with poverty rates or employment numbers in the area. Also police presence could be a determining factor. You take areas with high gun saturation, but low government control (Somalia, South Africa, etc), I don’t think anyone would consider these areas ‘safer’ with more guns. There are just too many variables to make blanket statements.

  3. #3 Ray
    October 7, 2009

    One of the things I would note is that people who go to the trouble of getting a concealed carry license are generally more law-abiding than the rest of the population. Whether this is because they were already more law-abiding or whether it’s because the responsiblity of carrying a weapon is so great, I don’t know. But it would follow that an increase in the numbers of people *legally* carrying handguns would not increase gun crime.

    IIRC, there was a study in Texas several years ago where it was shown that people with concealed carry licenses were about 7 times less likely to be arrested for any crime than the regular population. Sadly, I can’t find the link to the study right now.

  4. #4 Mike
    October 7, 2009

    Yet

    In a first-of its-kind study, epidemiologists at the University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine found that, on average, guns did not protect those who possessed them from being shot in an assault. The study estimated that people with a gun were 4.5 times more likely to be shot in an assault than those not possessing a gun.
    http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2009/09/090930121512.htm

    and

    Comprehensive regulation of gun sellers appears to reduce the trafficking of guns to criminals, according to a study led by researchers at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health. Preventing the diversion of guns to criminals is important because 85 percent of guns recovered by police were recovered from criminal suspects who were not the original purchasers of the guns according to prior research from the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF).
    http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2009/07/090707111749.htm

  5. #5 NewEnglandBob
    October 7, 2009

    Even if this is true, I still do not want to live in a society where everyone is armed and it feels like a war zone. That would be my definition of hell. It is still a phallic symbol to compensate for personal inadequacies perceived.

  6. #6 Jim Thomerson
    October 7, 2009

    Another anecdote: When I lived in Illinois I had an Illinois Gun Owner card. You sent in a form, a picture and $5 and you were a legal gun owner. Had to have the card to buy ammo or another gun.

    Moved to Texas, card still current. Flew soon after 9/11. Presented my Illinois Gun Owner Card as a Government issued picture identification. No problem although my wife berated me after we got away from the counter. I doubt that any Islamic terrorist has an Illinois Gun Owner Card.

    Life is just a series of anecdotes.

  7. #7 David W
    October 7, 2009

    I wonder how the crime statistics compare to jurisdictions with strict gun control and almost no (legal) access to handguns. Canada comes to mind as an example. The crime rate there is not higher because of a lack of guns to defend ourselves

  8. #8 Russell
    October 7, 2009

    I’m skeptical. None of those studies empirically observed an actual decline in crime anywhere. Even if there is some effect on the margin, how would it matter? Shooting is primarily either part of a hobby, typically taken up when young, or part of someone’s work. Relatively few people will put in the time, money, and effort to become proficient solely for defensive purpose. Too much expense for too little, um, bang.

    I would phrase NewEnglandBob’s objection a bit differently: I wouldn’t want to live any place where I felt the need to carry a gun. Curiously, the people I know who have a CCP don’t actually seem to need it, since they never carry. The LEOs I know carry only when duty requires.

  9. #9 Greg Laden
    October 7, 2009

    Jim[5]: “I doubt that any Islamic terrorist has an Illinois Gun Owner Card. ”

    Why would an Islamic Terrorit ™ who lives in Illinous not get a gun owner card at his or her earliest opportunity?

    David W [6] I think comparing across countries is tricky. In fact, it is tricky across states as well. But that is a good point.

    Russell [7]”Relatively few people will put in the time, money, and effort to become proficient solely for defensive purpose. Too much expense for too little, um, bang.” Do you happen to have any handy dandy stats for that? And, what is a LEO?

    By the way, I’ll just throw this out there now, though I’m thinking of integrating this into a post: When I think really hard about it, I’ve seen several hand guns in someone’s possession, where the gun was there, we noted it, we talked about it. None of them was registered and most of them were either clearly illegal. I’m not sure that I’ve ever seen a registered handgun (this excludes cops’ guns)

  10. #10 Donna B.
    October 7, 2009

    LEO is Law Enforcement Officer.

  11. #11 Donna B.
    October 7, 2009

    Comparing across neighborhoods is difficult. Statistically, I live in a “high crime” neighborhood because of the way someone drew some lines (census maybe) but in reality, the only crime in 20 years in what *I* term my neighborhood is theft of a few lawnmowers and ATVs and one big drug bust.

    Regarding “bang for the training buck” if one wants a CCL, they are going to get some training first, at least in the four states I live near. Otherwise, I have no good information on that because so many of the people I know are military.

    What made you think the guns were illegal? Were they full automatic, or altered in some way to make them so? There are a lot of unregistered guns simply because guns last a long time. The only one my husband owns that is registered was one bought within the last 10 years. That doesn’t make the older ones illegal.

    I’m going to other thread now… lots of posts since I was there.

  12. #12 Greg Laden
    October 7, 2009

    Change that to “illegal or unregistered”

    If it is true that if registration is required but a gun can be unregistered and that’s OK, then there really isn’t registration, is there? The situation is worse than I thought. Maybe we should just round up the guns and start fresh.

  13. #13 Rich Wilson
    October 7, 2009

    I suspect it depends on the gun saturation. If nobody else has guns, then having a gun makes you less safe due to factors such as ‘non intended use’. If everyone else has a gun (including the bad guys) then having a gun makes you more safe because otherwise you’d be the easy target.

    Which is why there are studies that show that having a gun makes you both less and more safe.

    But then I grew up in Canada so what do I know.

  14. #15 Russell
    October 7, 2009

    No hard data, just personal experience. With one exception, everyone I know who shoots either had experience shooting or hunting when young, or first became acquainted with guns professionally. Sometimes both. An LEO is a law enforcement officer.

    With regard to all these politically competing studies, it’s useful to keep in mind that many of the seemingly conflicting claims could all be true. All of the following could be the case:

    * A gun is useful defense against robbery.

    * Those who own guns are more likely to be victims of robbery.

    * Much of the difference between England’s and US’s murder rates is due to the greater violence of American culture.

    * Much of the difference between England’s and US’s gun murder rate is due to the difference in availability in guns.

    * Ceteris paribus, increased legal gun ownership causes a decrease in certain kinds of crime.

    BTW, I very rarely see a registered handgun. I can say that with some confidence, because I live where private guns aren’t registered.

  15. #16 itzac
    October 7, 2009

    Something about this argument has always bothered me. Guns are inanimate objects. They don’t commit crimes, and they don’t stop them. They just kill whatever they happen to be pointed at.

    How is it that in the decades this debate has gone on, no one ever seems to notice that crime is highly correlated with poverty? And that a police force engaged in the community can make a huge difference?

    Can we encourage and enforce responsible ownership and get on with actually making a difference?

    /rant.

  16. #17 Russell
    October 7, 2009

    Greg Laden:

    Maybe we should just round up the guns and start fresh.

    I suspect you wrote that mostly in exasperation. It makes about as much sense as saying “maybe we should end the current religions and start fresh,” or “maybe we should eliminate the current set of recreational drugs and start fresh.” You’re kicking against one attribute you dislike in the larger culture. Culture changes, of course. But “start fresh”?

  17. #18 Donna B.
    October 7, 2009

    itzac – the argument that “guns don’t kill, people do” is almost a cliche. It’s a wonder you haven’t heard it before.

    I would go one step further and say that crime is highly correlated with poverty in urban areas where drugs are also a problem. The “war on drugs” has escalated much of the violence in those areas, in my opinion.

    That’s just my opinion and it seems there are very few people interested in legalizing certain street drugs to see if it has an impact on crime. I would think a slight increase in drug use would be preferable over a greater decrease in violent crime.

  18. #19 mark
    October 7, 2009

    (Lott was too modest to mention that one of the key studies is his own, discussed in his book, More Guns, Less Crime.)

    Lott’s book received some rave reviews. Lott was too modest to mention that several of these reviews were written by himself under an assumed name. See here.

  19. #20 Greg Laden
    October 7, 2009

    Donna: Would you care to discuss how the drugs got into the urban areas? This is a known thing and is quite interesting.

  20. #21 itzac
    October 7, 2009

    Donna, I have heard it before. I just always happen to hear it from people who think crime would miraculously stop if everyone had a gun. Which is an equally naive thing to believe. This whole argument is a distraction from the difficult work of building communities and actually dealing with poverty.

  21. #22 sailor
    October 7, 2009

    “Something about this argument has always bothered me. Guns are inanimate objects. They don’t commit crimes, and they don’t stop them. They just kill whatever they happen to be pointed at.”

    No Guns don’t kill people, people kill people, but guns do make the little holes

    Case in point man goes berserk with machete, maybe one killed and 7 injured.
    Man goes berzerk with semi automatic 9 dead (the 8 bystanders and the shooter killed after in shootout with police)

  22. #23 David
    October 7, 2009

    Ray #3: People with concealed-carry permits are less likely to be arrested because they are aware that the consequences for committing a crime while carrying concealed are much higher than they would be otherwise. As they say in spiderman: “with great power comes great responsibility.” CCP applicants are taught that once they are armed, they lose the right to get in a barfight and have it be no big deal. Also, the penalties for “brandishing” are severe, even when brandishing is defined as someone seeing a bulge under your clothing and thinking it could be a gun. Because of this, CCP holders are usually the most law-savvy and law-abiding of all gun owners.

    Russel #8: Do you have any evidence for your “too little bang” assertion? Or is it something you assumed to be true based on a possibly false characterization of gun owners? In my experience, many gun owners (including myself) are like this one:

    http://www.nydailynews.com/news/ny_crime/2009/08/14/2009-08-14_harlem_business_owner_charles_gus_augusto_opens_shop_day_after_fatally_shooting_.html

    I have a shotgun for home defense that is only secondarily a hunting tool. I wasn’t brought up in “gun culture” since I was a small child; the first time I touched a gun was when I was 18. Am I an anomaly? Maybe, but do you have any evidence to support the idea that I am?

  23. #24 Russell
    October 7, 2009

    David, Greg asked the same question, and I answered above that it is just personal observation. And so yes, it likely is skewed by my social circle. Nonetheless, the article you posted provides precisely another example of what I described: “Agusto.. learned how to handle a gun while serving in the Coast Guard.” Let me be clear: I’m not saying that few guns are bought and kept for defensive purpose. I’m saying that most gun owners acquired their familiarity with guns otherwise.

  24. #25 MattXIV
    October 7, 2009

    Methodologically, the Barnas study is a bad joke. It estimates the gun possession rate of people of people not involved with a shooting by a phone survey asking people whether they had a gun at the time of a recent shooting, which due to the legal status of handguns in Philadephia and the fact that there calling asking people if they had a gun on them at the same time and in the same city as a murder was committed was likely to vastly underestimate the fraction of the population carrying a gun at the time.

    They also make no attempt to account for the fact that people are likely to buy guns in response to being at risk for being attacked, especially in urban areas where hunting isn’t a major motivation. It’s like concluding that people who die jumping out of planes are disproportinately likely to have parachutes on, so banning parachutes will reduce deaths from jumping out of planes.

    It’s simple to construct a bad study methodology that will show whatever you want – that’s why the literature is crawling with them on both sides of the issue.

  25. #26 wrpd
    October 7, 2009

    I just saw a commercial on MSNBC for a rifle. The rifle is hanging over the guy’s mantle. Shouldn’t it be locked up instead of being on display?

  26. #27 Matt Springer
    October 7, 2009

    “I wonder how the crime statistics compare to jurisdictions with strict gun control and almost no (legal) access to handguns. Canada comes to mind as an example. The crime rate there is not higher because of a lack of guns to defend ourselves”

    Indeed the crime rate is not different at all. Cross-border studies have been done with “twin towns” on either side of the border where the only real difference is gun laws – massively permissive in (say) Montana, massively restrictive in Canada. The end result on crime rates? Zero difference.

    The “guns don’t kill people…” is a cliche, but a true one nonetheless.

  27. #28 Greg Laden
    October 7, 2009

    Ah… Matt… I can’t believe you just said that. Do you want to retract it before I kick your ass all the way from here to Data Hell?

    I’ll give you a few minutes to think about it. In the meantime, enjoy the cherries.

  28. #29 teach
    October 7, 2009

    Haunting words indeed…

    … the crime rate is not different at all. … ……. the crime rate is not different at all. …… … the crime rate is not different at all. …… … the crime rate is not different at all. ……

  29. #30 Matt Springer
    October 8, 2009

    I’m always happy to be corrected. If I’m wrong, it won’t have been the first time.

    Still, the data is fairly convincing. The overall Canadian homicide rate is substantially lower than the US as a whole, but comparisons between demographically and socioeconomically similar areas reveal very little difference. Non-gun crime rates tend to scale similarly, which makes it even less likely that gun availability is a major causal factor in crime rates. Further, homicide rates in the US and Canada have both been declining while guns per capita have trended strongly in opposite directions. The causal link between guns and crime just isn’t there.

    Now I’m also pretty sure “more guns = less crime” is a relatively small effect if indeed it makes any difference at all. Doesn’t really matter to me – my pro-gun stance is much more idealistic than pragmatic.

  30. #31 Donna B.
    October 8, 2009

    Yes, Greg, I would be interested in discussing how drugs got into the urban areas. I agree that it is interesting, but I’m not sure that how is all that well-known… other than such drugs being arbitrarily made illegal, as alcohol was.

    itzac — I certainly do not subscribe to the philosophy that if everyone had guns, life would be fair… and crime would cease to exist. What I meant to convey is that the criminal activity of dealing drugs makes the possession of a firearm more desirable… AND that the legalization of drugs would lessen the desirability of firearm ownership.

  31. #32 Greg Laden
    October 8, 2009

    Matt: You said “Indeed the crime rate is not different at all. ”

    Homicide rates in Canada are lower than in the US. The fact that the two have changed in a similar direction is not important and is not what you said. Many property crime rages are higher in Canada than in the US. Violent crime rates in general are higher in the US than in canada. If you look at certain crimes in both the Canada and the US, you find them increasing as one moves away from the border for a number of reasons. Many border towns are shared cultures with lots of people moving back and fort across the towns and sharing an economy, and we already know that local economic conditions predict crime rates to a very large degree. So, picking matched across the border crime is an utterly invalid test.

    From the very study you cite, “It should be noted, however, that this kind of comparative analysis generally allows for a low level of statistical inference.” This is because the study is statistically utterly bogus. It does not compare US vs. Canadian crime rates.

    So, when you said “Indeed the crime rate is not different at all.” and then you said “I’m always happy to be corrected” and “The overall Canadian homicide rate is substantially lower than the US as a whole” that was a nice bit of backpedaling, but when you said “but comparisons between demographically and socioeconomically similar areas reveal very little difference. ” you perhaps did not know about statistical independence. That’s basic, Matt. But it is never to late to learn.

    Putting it more broadly, if you have two huge data sets, it is often possible to select several pairings of data, one from set A and one from set B and compare them, and when you don’t get the result you throw it out. Then you pick a different paring, and another, and another, until you get what you want in two or three parings. Then you chose, amomg them, the pairing that you can best make up some winged monkey expiation for. That is called cherry picking. That is another statistical flaw.

    By the way, gun ownership rates in Canada are higher, not lower, than they are in the US, as I understand it. It’s just that the Canadahoovians tend to pack long guns.

    Read this and report back:

    http://www.google.com/url?sa=t&source=web&ct=res&cd=5&url=http%3A%2F%2Fwww.statcan.gc.ca%2Fpub%2F85-002-x%2F85-002-x2001011-eng.pdf&ei=qfDNSp7fMZHONZuu0P8C&usg=AFQjCNHRKOOrPhkRZgYjkTUSBUVjpW4m9w&sig2=BLJw-vwXZbw2AQuxVYg19g

  32. #33 Russell
    October 8, 2009

    Thinking more on this, it strikes me that the gun prohibitionists are making some of the same mistakes as the alcohol prohibitionists of the last century. The core of their argument is the risk to the activity, and the overall damage done, the starkest measure of which is lives lost. What they miss is people’s unwillingness to give up an enjoyable activity and social practice that is passed on from generation to generation. The prohibitionists typically don’t engage in the activity they would ban. The division between those who value the activity and those who would prohibit it extends to families and social circles, reinforcing and hardening individual viewpoints. The teetotaler cannot imagine why anyone would drink a couple of fingers of scotch, the very idea repulsing him to his core. Those who would ban guns cannot imagine why anyone would want to own one. In both cases, the prohibitionist also fails to see the variance in risk, or wants to lump together the practitioners who cause harm and those who don’t. Which generates incensed rebuttal from the latter. Just as the individual who enjoys a glass of beer or wine with dinner sees no reason to stop drinking, because some people are drunks and, worse, some people drive drunk, the hunter or target shooter knows the danger he presents to others and the risk he takes from gun ownership is negligible compared to the drug dealer or gang member. The prohibitionist wants to ban the substance or object, because so long as it is available to one group, it will be accessible by those who would abuse it. But there are no “fresh starts” when it comes to culture.

  33. #34 Greg Laden
    October 8, 2009

    Russell: I think you have, probably inadvertently, created a straw man. If one were to parse out a description of people who are asking for increased control over gun use and ownership on these discussion threads from your description, your description would not be even close to reality. There are people talking here about increased gun control who own and play around with guns, for instance.

  34. #35 Matt Springer
    October 8, 2009

    I think we disagree on statistical method, then.

    “Many border towns are shared cultures with lots of people moving back and fort across the towns and sharing an economy, and we already know that local economic conditions predict crime rates to a very large degree. So, picking matched across the border crime is an utterly invalid test.”

    In fact the opposite of your last sentence follows from your first. The whole point of the comparison is that when all other things are equal (shared economy, etc), gun ownership rates and gun laws don’t do squat. When other things aren’t equal, neither are crime rates. Quelle suprise, as they say in Quebec. (If I gave the impression I thought overall Canadian crime rates were lower, well, that would just be silly. The variable of interest is the rates among otherwise similar populations – we want guns to be as close to the only variable as possible.)

    Think of it like a medical study. You need two similar sets of patients, and you give one the placebo and one the drug. See if there’s any statistical difference. Here there isn’t. What you’re saying is effectively “The drug works” when you’ve made sure to add in a bunch of medical basket cases to the placebo group but not the drug group.

    The “more guns in Canada” statement is probably not right. There probably as many guns in the US as people, with somewhere north of 4 million a year added to the market.

  35. #36 Greg Laden
    October 8, 2009

    Matt, having the data variates that you are comparing be independent is baby statistics. In a “medical study” say of allergies one would draw controls from a very similar demographic set, but not from the same home. And, it is still cherry picking. The overall comparisons show dramatic differences between the US and Canada. Plain and simple. A specially chosen set of data fail to show the differences. That is interesting, but one does not throw out the larger data set. Rather, one seeks explanations for why the smaller data set is different from the overall data set.

    In this case, I strongly suspect it is what I said it is … These cross border communities are not different communities to the extent you might think. They are one community united by a border that people have traditionally crossed, worked across, visited across, shopped across, married across, committed crimes across, and so on.

    This would be like arbitrarily dividing a region within the US by a particular meridian, looking for differences between those within miles on either side of the meridian, finding none, and stating that “being on opposite sides of 32 degrees north has NO EFFECT!!!!”

    Which would be really dumb and uninteresting.

  36. #37 Matt Springer
    October 8, 2009

    Actually, the particular study I linked is not focused on comparing individual cross-border communities. It compares the Canadian prairie provinces with their bordering US states, in view of the fact that their populations are very similar. Of course there is going to be direct interconnection, but it shouldn’t matter. In fact this is one of the most powerful reasons to think that guns are not determinitive in crime rates. This interconnection and their other demographic and economic similarities – and wildly divergent gun laws – gives an ideal comparative arena. Very little is different but the guns, and yet crime rates are unaffected.

    Let me try to be more clear by considering this objection:

    This would be like arbitrarily dividing a region within the US by a particular meridian, looking for differences between those within miles on either side of the meridian, finding none, and stating that “being on opposite sides of 32 degrees north has NO EFFECT!!!!”

    It would make a huge difference if the laws were completely different on opposite sides of that line. To take a silly example, say the speed limit on one side was 55 MPH and on the other it was 70 MPH. Other than that, the populations on either side are identical. If there were a difference in the average speeds of driving on each side, that would be an indication that speed laws affect the speed people actually drive. If there weren’t a difference, it would be an indication that it didn’t.

    Which is what we see with respect to gun laws. I can strap a Glock to my hip and walk around in public in northern Montana with zero legal consequences. A few miles north in Canada, I’d go to prison. The gun laws, ownership and carry rates are very different on either side of the border. Little else is – and that includes crime rates.

  37. #38 Greg Laden
    October 8, 2009

    Matt: Actually, the particular study I linked is not focused on comparing individual cross-border communities.

    Yes, I know. I had noticed that but did not bother mentioning that additional flaw in the study . The earlier study, supposedly being “replicated” by this later one was across towns.

    Regarding the rest of your argument, I objected to one thing you said: That crime rates in the US and Canada were identical, and that this was proven by the study you cited. They are not and it is not.

    Regarding further arguments about gun use, gun laws, gun ownership, and crime, those arguments are all very interesting but the key point there is that the US and Canada are vastly different cultures (despite the tendency of Americans to think of Canada as a mere northward extension). The very fact that Canada has a pretty good national health care system and we don’t will impact on this issue, the fact that in both countries poverty is very serious among Native populations but that population is relatively much much larger in Canada than the US does interesting things to the crime data, and the fact that the US was a slavery country for so long and Canada was not is very important.

  38. #39 Greg Laden
    October 8, 2009

    By the way, if you have not seen it, the scene where Michael Moore, who totally agrees with Matt Springer on this, goes to Canada in Bowling for Columbine, is wonderful.

    It reminds me so much of where I grew up. Not too far from the Canadahoovian border.

  39. #40 Webs
    October 9, 2009

    Even though conceal carry laws make sense to me, it also makes sense there would be a saturation point. Where so many law abiding, drug taking, and depressed folks in our society get too antsy and shoot at the wrong person.

    With something like guns comes great responsibility and I would like to see mandatory training and possibly some kind of testing for the right to conceal carry. Maybe even a mental health exam or test. If you want to conceal carry you should prove at least some level of responsibility.

Current ye@r *