Friday, May 04, 2007

THE FACTS ABOUT GUNS AND VIOLENCE


One of the more widely read newspapers in the UK is the Metro. Widely read because it is free and given out to commuters on their ways to work. Anyway, in the letters page of the Metro Monday, April 23rd H. Goodeve questions Americans' disbelief that their high rate of gun crimes is due to their more liberal gun laws. He claims that there are 30,000 gun related deaths in the US last year compared to the UK’s 60, and points to this as self-evident proof that gun controls, which are stronger in the UK than in the US, reduce gun crime. The sad thing is that this is a widely held assumption in the UK: The UK has fewer guns and fewer gun crimes, therefore gun crime occurs because the laws are not strong enough and guns are too easy to get hold of. However the connection between liberal gun laws and a high gun crime rate is very questionable.

The US does have a high murder rate, that is true. There are 5.9 murders per 100,000 people a year in the US. What Mr (or Mrs) Goodeve neglects is the fact that this number varies widely throughout the US, as do gun laws and the percentage of the people who own guns. The five states with the highest murder rates are Washington D.C. 35.8, Louisiana 12.7, Maryland 9.4, New Mexico 8.9., Missouri 7.8. This gives an average murder rate in the worst five states as 14.92. The five best states are North Dakota 1.4, New Hampshire 1.4, Iowa 1.6, Utah 1.9, Wyoming 2.2, yielding an average murder rate in in these five best states of 1.7.

The percentage of the population owning guns in the five states with the worst murder rates are Washington D.C. 3.8%, Louisiana 44.1%, Maryland 21.3%, New Mexico 34.8%., Missouri 41.7%. The first thing to note is that these figures vary wildly, from the state with the worst murder rate, DC, having only 3.8% owning guns to the second worst having as many as 44.1%, This in itself serves to cast doubt on the correlation of lots of guns to lots of murders. However, the average percentage of the population owning guns in these five states with the worst murder rates is 29.4%. The percentage of the population owning guns in the states with the lowest murder rates is North Dakota 50.7%, New Hampshire 30% , Iowa 42.8%, Utah 43.9% , Wyoming 59.7%. This yields an average percentage population of the five states with the lowest murder rates in the US as 40.2. In other words the States of the US that have the lowest murder rates have a higher percentage of the population owning guns than the states with the highest murder rates. There is definitely no correlation between high murder rates and lax gun laws or high numbers of guns from the American evidence, then.

In fact, these five states with the lowest murder rates, in which, on average 40.2% of the population own a gun or guns, have an average murder rate of 1.7 per 100,000 people. The average murder rate in England and Wales is 1.5 per 100,000, scarcely lower. In Scotland it is 2.2 per 100,000, much worse than in these five gun toting states. Meanwhile the US suffers, on average, half as many burglaries than the UK, and in the US 12% of burglaries occur whilst the victim is at home, whilst 53% of burglaries in the UK occur whilst the victim is home.

Take a look at what percentage of the population owns guns in the five most heavily armed states. That’s Wyoming, at 59.7%, Alaska, at 57.8%, Montana 57.7%, South Dakota 56.6% West Virginia 55.4%. That’s an average of 57.44% of the population in these five most heavily armed states owning guns. The murder rates per 100,000 people in these states are, Wyoming 2.2, Alaska 5.6, Montana 3.2, South Dakota 2.3, West Virginia 3.7. That’s an average murder rate in these most heavily armed states of 3.4 people per 100,000. Violent crimes per 100,000 in these states are, Wyoming 229.6, Alaska 634.5 (Alaska suffers from a shockingly high number of rapes compared to other states), Montana 293.8, South Dakota 171.5, West Virginia 271.2. The average total of all violent crimes in these states, then, is 320.12.

Now compare this with the least heavily armed state’s and districts. The percentage of the population who own guns in Washington DC is 3.8%, in Hawaii its 8.7%, New Jersey 12.3%, Massachusetts 12.6%, Rhode Island 12.8%. So the average percentage of the population owning guns is 10.04%. Murder rates per 100,000 in these least heavily armed states are: Washington DC 35.8, Hawaii 2.6, New Jersey 4.5, Massachusetts 2.6, Rhode Island 2.4. That’s an average of 9.58. If we exclude Washington DC’s supernormal level of murders (which perhaps we shouldn’t, but since it is so far above the average it may not be representative), that’s an average of 3.025. Violent crimes per 100,000 people is Washington DC 1,371.2, Hawaii 254.4, New Jersey 355.7, Massachusetts 458.8, Rhode Island 247.4. That’s an average of 537.5. Excluding Washington DC, that’s an average of 329.075.

So, lets summarise. The five with the largest percentage of the population owning guns average at 57.44%. The average percentage of the population owning guns in the least heavily armed states is 10.04%. However, the average murder rate per 100,000 people in the most heavily armed states is 3.4. The average murder rate in the least heavily armed states is 9.58, nearly three times as high. Even if we adjust for Washington DC’s supernormal murder rate, and exclude it, that’s 3.025, fairly comparable. The average rate of violent crimes per 100,000 in the most heavily armed states is 320.12. In the least heavily armed states, it is 537.5. In short, the five most heavily armed states have a lower average murder rate than the five least heavily armed states. Even on the more favourable measure it is comparable. And the five most heavily armed states have less violent crime and the five least heavily armed states.

Further support for American skepticism that high gun related deaths correlate with high rates of gun ownership can be derived from Europe. In Switzerland 27% of homes contain at least one gun. Yet the rate of homicides in Switzerland is only 1.1 per 100,000 people which is lower than in Britain. A third of homes in Norway have a gun. And the murder rate is fewer than one per 100,000, far lower than in Britain.

In fact, just look at what has occurred since the handgun ban in the UK. The BBC reports that the number of recorded gun crimes in the UK rose to more than 21,500 last year compared to just under 14,000 in 1998. Thats a more than fifty percent increase. Meanwhile the number of gun related homicides has barely altered at all from the year in which the handgun ban was introduced. The number of people injured by firearms in England and Wales has more than doubled since 1998. The number of recorded firearm crimes in 2005/2006 was 11,084 - up 0.12% on previous year. Likewise, in 1976 Washington DC introduced some of the strictest gun controls in the US, and now only 3.8% of the population own guns. The murder rate rose 134% whilst the murder rate for the whole US fell 2%.

There is, therefore, little evidence from the US supporting a correlation between high rates of gun ownership and high murder rates. In fact, a greater percentage of the population in the states with the lowest murder rates own guns than in the states with the worst murder rates. Moreover, those states which have the best murder rates, where on average 40.% of the population own at least one gun, have a murder rate comparable to that of the UK and about three quarters that of Scotland. Norway and Switzerland have similar rates of gun ownership as the US and a lower murder rate than the UK. And gun crime has got worse as gun laws have got stricter in the UK. There is no evidence of a positive correlation between the rate of gun ownership and the rate of murder, on the contrary, it seems negative; and there is no evidence that stricter gun laws either reduce the supply of guns or reduce the number of gun crimes.

Sources
Crime rate by State
Gun Ownership rates by State
James Bartholemew, "Banning guns is not the obvious answer it seems"
BBC, "PM's warning over gangs and guns"

9 Comments:

Blogger Matt Wardman said...

It seems to me that you have the wrong end of the statistical stick, and your argument is specious.

The original proposition you question:

>However the connection between liberal gun laws and a high gun crime rate is very questionable.

The final conclusion you draw:

>There is, therefore, little evidence from the US supporting a correlation between high rates of gun ownership and high murder rates.

You have refuted a different proposition from the one you claim to countering. You have switched from "gun murder rates" to "overall murder rates" at some point. No one asserted that there was a correlation between liberal gun laws and high OVERALL crime rates.

Looking at your stats, and using the rates for GUN crime - not overall crime - as these are the ones you set out to address, your argument proves the original assertion you set out to question.

4:27 PM  
Blogger Matt Wardman said...

A quick apology for the bluntness of my comment.

It reads rather impolitely. That was not intended - sorry.

5:45 PM  
Blogger Richard said...

No apology needed, Matt, these things are interesting.

The percentage of the population who own guns in the least heavily armed states are Hawaii 8.7%, New Jersey 12.3%, Massachusetts 12.6%, Rhode Island 12.8%.

The percentage of murders by gun in Hawaii is 43.5 %. In New Jersey it is 61 %. In Massachusets its 47.4%. In Rhode Island its 63.4%.

The four most heavily armed states the ones where the perecentage of population owning guns is highest, is Wyoming, at 59.7%, Alaska, at 57.8%, Montana 57.7%, South Dakota 56.6%.

The percentage of murders committed with a gun in Wyoming is 40%. In Alaska it is 52.9%, in Montana it is 50%, in South Dakota its 33%.

The average rate of gun ownership in four least heavily armed states is 11.6% The average murder rate in the four least heavily armed states is 3.025 people in 100,000. The average percent of the murders that is committed by gun in these least heavily armed states is 53.825%

The average rate of gun ownership in the most heavily armed states is 57.95%. The average murder rate in the most heavily armed states is 3.325 people in 100,000. The average percentage of these murders that is committed by gun is 43.975%.

So you are only very slightly more likely to be murdered in one of the states where gun ownership is most widespread than you are in one of the states where it is least widespread, but you are much less likely to be killed with a gun in states where gun ownership is most widespread than you are in states where gun ownership is least widespread.

Moreover, the figures I have used have been percentage of homicides committed by gun, not percentage of murders. Homicides can include lawful killings. This would make the actual percentage of murders committed by guns even lower.

Source, in addition to my article source

7:04 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Including DC in these figures introduces bogus statistics and ignores the reality of the ineffectiveness of legislation. Specifically, it is illegal for citizens to own a gun in DC (they also do not get government representation, but that's another story). Those who do own them are police officers of one sort or another.

The gun ownership rate in DC is actually quite a lot higher than the stats indicate because most people in the district own their guns illegally. Add to this, the fact that murderers are crossing state lines to/from Virginia and Maryland into the mix and you can see how completely useless that figure is.

So .. pull DC out of your argument and see if it makes any more sense.

I think you're better off looking at Canada for examples of why gun ownership is bad. About half the guns used in armed attacks came from private collections that were raided by thieves. The other half were imported from the US illegally.

Draw your own conclusions from there.

3:58 PM  
Blogger Richard said...

Anonymous,

I suspected that gun ownership was wider in DC than the official statistics due to illegal imports (just like here in the UK gun ownership is wide taking account of illegal ownership). However, given the slogan "when owning guns is outlawed, only outlaws will have guns," don't you think that this may effect the rate of gun crime? In other words, it is precisely because of the strict gun laws that means that guns are mostly owned by criminals, and also why criminals cross from Virginia and Maryland to victimise the disarmed non-criminal remainders, and that could account for the reason that gun crime is higher in this state where guns are owned primarily by criminals than they are in states where ownership is widespread and not just by criminals? Just a possibility.

However, I am puzzled that you think my inclusion of DC distorts the statistics and suggested that I try the excercise excluding it. But that is precisely what I did:

Now compare this with the least heavily armed state’s and districts. The percentage of the population who own guns in Washington DC is 3.8%, in Hawaii its 8.7%, New Jersey 12.3%, Massachusetts 12.6%, Rhode Island 12.8%. So the average percentage of the population owning guns is 10.04%. Murder rates per 100,000 in these least heavily armed states are: Washington DC 35.8, Hawaii 2.6, New Jersey 4.5, Massachusetts 2.6, Rhode Island 2.4. That’s an average of 9.58. If we exclude Washington DC’s supernormal level of murders (which perhaps we shouldn’t, but since it is so far above the average it may not be representative), that’s an average of 3.025. Violent crimes per 100,000 people is Washington DC 1,371.2, Hawaii 254.4, New Jersey 355.7, Massachusetts 458.8, Rhode Island 247.4. That’s an average of 537.5. Excluding Washington DC, that’s an average of 329.075.

Meanwhile I said, "That’s an average murder rate in these most heavily armed states of 3.4 people per 100,000" and "The average total of all violent crimes in these [most heavily armed] states, then, is 320.12."

Even excluding DC, then, the statistics still favour widespread gun ownership to reduce murder and violent crime.

Moreover, if you look at this more recent post on guns, you'll find that I specifically excluded DC because the stats I had on the percentage of homicides committed with a gun only concentrated on the states, not on districts. Again, the stats supported gun ownership.

4:40 PM  
Anonymous peterbr said...

Hey, I know this is almost a year old, but I was doing some searching for statistics myself and came across this post. Just wanted to say you did a great job, and thanks for doing all the legwork for me.

Peter

2:26 PM  
Anonymous Matt said...

Just to second what Peterbr said, this is an excellent article that makes very good use of statistics to disprove one of the greatest myths of crime prevention in the 21st century. Well done.

10:21 AM  
Anonymous Capt Bob said...

I find these kind of comparisons both interesting and not particularly relevant. I've lived both in DC and Montana, am currently a MT resident, and travel a lot in this region. I also lived a lot of my life in Europe, where gun control laws vary widely depending on the country/region.

The "gun ownership reduces crime" argument is as ludicrous as the "gun control reduces crime" argument. Crime, esp, violent crime, is not a one-dimensional, causative issue. Many factors come into play: social mobility, local culture (esp. family, religion, ethnic/national culture), environment, and economics (especially, the phenomenon of the "male youth buldge" where regions with higher percentages of unemployed males between 15-32 have far more direct correlation with violent crime than gun ownership. However, pair the two factors (bulge plus high levels of gun ownership) and I believe you'll find high levels of violent crime committed with guns. In Europe, if you look at areas that have higher percentages of the bulge, you'll see they generally have higher levels of violent crime, both with and without guns.

(Just FYI: DC is an odd duck and should automatically be thrown out in these studies because "official" gun ownership rates are incorrect and don't reflect the reality of living in DC. Anyone interested can acquire a handgun or automatic weapon at virtually any time if they can get to Virginia or West Virginia.)

I think what you've done here is illustrate that you can't directly correlate levels of gun ownership with violent crime. Thats all. It doesn't "prove" anything more than that.

11:46 PM  
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