Don’t More Guns Equal Less Crime? Not Any More.

What’s going on?  After year-to-year declines in the violent crime rate going back twenty years, all of a sudden in 2015 things turned around and now violent crime rates are going back up.  Now the good news is that the overall violent crime rate – 372.6 per 100,000 – is well below what it was five years ago when it stood at 404.5.  It’s also about 20% lower than it was ten years ago and more than 70% lower than its alarming peak in 1994. So yes, we are a lot safer than we were twenty years ago, on the other hand, a two-decade drop in violent crime may have come to an end.

conference program pic            What’s more disturbing about the overall increase is that the biggest year-to-year increase occurred within the murder category which is, for most of us, the sine qua non of violent crime.  Every violent crime category – murder, rape, aggravated assault, robbery – showed an increase from 2014 to 2015, but rape was up 5%, aggravated assault increased by 4%, robbery was just slightly higher, but the homicide rate jumped by 10%, and that’s a lot more dead bodies, 1,532 more dead bodies to be exact. And although the difference was not all that great, you might as well know that the percentage of murders committed with guns also slid up from 69% to 71%.

Now according to Gun-nut Nation, as the number of privately-owned guns goes up and, in particular, the number of gun-owners who are allowed to walk around carrying a gun goes up, violent crime is supposed to go down.  The idea that more guns equals less crime is not only the title of a book written by one of Gun-nut Nation’s most cherished mouthpieces, it has been the watchword of the entire marketing scheme for guns since white suburbanites became afraid of crime and people stopped hunting, both of which became kind of obvious even to the gun industry back when Ronald Reagan was making room at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue for the first George Bush.

Remember Willie Horton?  Bush’s 1988 opponent, Mike Dukakis, had the bad luck of having supported the furlough program which let Horton out of slam for a weekend furlough whereupon Horton went down to Maryland, raped a young woman and then was arrested and thrown back into jail.  Maybe the Horton ad swung the election for Bush and maybe it didn’t, but the one thing it certainly did was to focus attention on the issues of race and crime.  And this was the same time that the NRA began ramping up the campaign to get states to issue concealed-carry licenses (CCW), with only a handful of states going along with the idea in 1987 but more than 30 states granting near-automatic CCW by 1995.

It was also in the mid-90’s that a serious increase in violent crime due primarily to the crack-cocaine epidemic began to abate with a ten-year cycle of increasing crime rates from the mid-1980s being replaced with annual declines of violent crime which continued for the next twenty years.  And what accounted for this year-after-year decline in violent crime?  The ‘fact’ that so many Americans owned guns and more and more Americans were carrying concealed weapons outside their home.  The argument was first made by a Florida criminologist named Gary Kleck, then refurbished and expanded by another ersatz academic named John Lott, and just before the FBI released the 2015 numbers the gun industry’s official broadcaster, the National Shooting Sports Foundation blared on its website: “Gun Crimes Plummet As Gun Sales Rise.”

But how will the NSSF explain away the increase in violent crime while gun sales and CCW permits continue to soar?  I’ve got it!  Just blame it on the possibility that Hillary might defeat Trump and then immediately ban all guns. No matter which way you cut it, you’ll always find someone who believes the Martians have established a colony at Area 51.

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Want To Do Something About Global Warming? Get A Gun.

I knew it would happen sooner or later.  Since global warming is being blamed for just about everything that has taken place in the last few years, it was just a matter of time until it would become the deus ex machina for explaining crime.  And since we’re talking about global warming, the news can’t be very good.  In fact, Matthew Ranson, the young scholar who has produced this research, is confident that by the end of this century, the general increase in temperatures will produce an additional 22,000 murders and millions of other additional violent crimes.  He bases this prediction on what he refers to as the “causal relationship between weather and crime,” data for which he has studied covering the last thirty years.

warmingAccording to Ransom, there is a correlation between higher temperature and more crime due to what he calls the “social interactions” that produce crime, many of which tend to increase as temperatures become warmer.  These interactions include such things as more people being outside when weather gets warm, and a greater degree of intolerance towards various social stress-points when hot weather leads to feelings of physical discomfort which then leads to more aggression which results in more crime.

Using crime data from the FBI’s Uniform Crime Reports, Ransom is able to neatly correlate crime rates with mean annual temperatures throughout the United States.  He identifies 4 temperature zones basically running East-West from the northern border where the mean annual temperature is less than 55 degrees, to the extreme southern part of the country where the mean is above 75 degrees, and two other belts of 55-64 and 65-74 degrees in between.  Turns out that the rates for such common crimes as burglary, larceny and assault were all roughly 20% higher in the warmest as opposed to the coolest parts of the country, and that in all four zones the monthly rate for these crimes increased substantially during the warmest months of the year. Using the change in crime rates relative to increases in temperature, Ransom is able to predict what would happen to crime trends if mean temperatures move upwards over the next 85 years.

I’m not going to get into a detailed analysis of Ransom’s statistical methods which are quite impressive and take into account some of the discrepancies and inaccuracies of the information which often escapes discussion when scholars use crime data from the UCR.  But I do find it interesting that Ransom would base this entire paper on an assumption about the causality of crime which, it seems to me, discounts or ignores other factors that need to be addressed.  It just so happens that in many locations where he finds correlations between higher crime rates and higher temperatures, one could also make many other correlations, in particular having to do with demographics and socio-economic circumstances of the populations that live in those zones.   Despite Ransom’s assertion that criminals operate most frequently at times and places where they can escape detection following commission of the crime, summer months also yield much greater periods of daylight which, in turn, is often correlated with higher rates of crime.

Ransom uses data covering the last 30 years to make predictions about a period ahead of us that’s three times as long.  But I would have felt a little more accepting of his method had he acknowledged the fact that during the period covered by his data it appears that mean temperatures increased and yet serious crime in every category underwent a significant decline. On the other hand, it will be interesting to see how the pro-gun partisans in the gun debate react to Ransom’s work.  Because most of the noise supporting the 2nd Amendment comes from groups that just as vociferously deny the threat of global warming at all.  But if Ransom is correct and global warming will result in millions of additional serious crimes, shouldn’t the NRA align itself with the global warming crowd and use their argument to promote the right of law-abiding citizens to carry guns and protect themselves against crime?