Does Gun Violence Affect Urban Economic Trends? The Urban Institute Says ‘Yes.’

Over the years, the Urban Institute has published some significant research on gun violence, I’m thinking, for example, of the study they published in 2014 which examined the medical costs of gun injuries.  And now they have come out with a new report which attempts to analyze the cost of gun violence with reference to business and employment trends in three cities – Minneapolis, Oakland and Washington, D.C.

urban            Trying to figure out the effects of gun violence by counting the number of people killed or injured with guns is easy; understanding how gun violence affects neighborhood quality of life is a much more difficult task, primarily because socio-economic changes in any community are influenced by so many variables that it’s always risky to assign primary cause to one issue like gun violence or anything else. And the authors of this study are aware of this problem and also note the degree to which studies about the impact of gun violence on the quality of life in any community are few and far between.

Notwithstanding these caveats, however, this new study appears to validate the general idea that there is an inverse relationship between economic activity and gun activity; as the latter goes up, the former goes down, and vice-versa, at least in the three cities covered in this review.  The authors are also aware of the limitations imposed on cause-and-effect arguments when measured through the use of regression analysis, but here again they try to be sensitive to these limitations both at the level of analysis as well as discussing the validity of their results.

I want to raise two issues with this report that in no way detract from its value or importance but nevertheless deserve to be discussed.  First, beginning the data collection in 2009 and running it through 2012 creates a significant problem because these years, particularly 2009 and 2010, marked the worst economic trough experienced by the American economy in the previous fifty years.  The fact that employment in all three cities began to expand in 2011 must reflect as much the beginnings of economic recovery from the Great Recession as from anything else.  I would have felt somewhat more confident in tying economic trends to gun violence had the report compared employment, business openings and so forth to levels in these communities prior to 2007-2008, if only because such a comparison would have at least given some perspective on whether what happened after 2010 was a real shift in economic activity or just a return to economic levels experienced prior to 2008.

The second issue that I want to raise goes beyond this report itself to the whole question of how gun violence is measured and, for that matter, defined. The authors define gun violence only with reference to gun homicides which, they admit, is the least typical form of violence caused by guns. What would have made this report more conclusive would have been a comparison of economic trends to general violent crime trends, in particular, other violent but non-fatal crimes committed with guns.

In this regard, an analysis of economic trends might have been more nuanced had the authors looked at hiring and sales figures versus armed robbery, if only because so much of the economic activity in census tracts with high crime rates tends to be street-level, retail services and sales.  These are not neighborhoods which support large numbers of skilled, white-collar jobs, and decisions to open small, retail or service establishments will bear much more heavily on quality-of-life considerations as they are experienced at the entrance to the store. In Minneapolis, for example, homicide rates remained fairly steady between 2010 and 2012, but robberies increased by 15%.

This is a good, serious and detailed report.  Support for this effort came from Everytown, you know, the Bloomberg bunch that wants to take all the guns away.  Do you believe that any small business owner who ever looked down the barrel of a gun would mind?

 

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2 thoughts on “Does Gun Violence Affect Urban Economic Trends? The Urban Institute Says ‘Yes.’

  1. Well, Mike, the fact that Bloomberg funded it suggests to me that as usual, the answer is that guns are bad, and then we can figure out the question.

    Having expressed my usual cynicism, this is a good blog post and thank you. My caveat is that we get into chicken vs. egg situations–crime is usually confined to parts of cities where the economy has tanked and thus, crime is about the only form of employment. Just as a carpenter needs tools, so do criminals. Further, as sociology is showing, gun crime must be studied in microcosm.

    I would hope that the authors of this study would look at this topic in more detail, looking at as you say longer time periods, control cities with better economies, and long term trends in joblessness vs, crime and include violent and non violent crime such as burglary, which also has to affect quality of life and commerce.

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