Do Guns Protect Us From Crime?

              Now that the reaction to last week’s mass shootings has become yet another Twitter battle between Trump and the Democrats, the real issue behind the gun-control debate has receded into the background but I’ll try to put it front and center again. The real issue is not whether Americans should be able to own guns. The real issue is what kinds of guns should they be able to own.

              We suffer more than 125,000 fatal and non-fatal gun injuries each year because we are the only country with a gun-regulatory system which allows people to own weapons which were designed to do one thing and one thing only – kill human beings. You don’t shoot a bird out of a tree with a Glock. You don’t shoot Bambi with an AR.  But the guy who comes into my gun shop and buys some rusted, old shotgun to shoot a squirrel that’s eating his tomato plants jumps through the same legal hoops as the guy who walks in and buys a Glock 19 and a couple of high-capacity mags. And if he also buys an AR with some 30-round mags, we still do only one, 30-second background check.

              The reason that this absurd regulatory system continues to be seen as the cornerstone upon which we can somehow create policies that will reduce gun violence is because a majority of Americans are convinced that they need to own one of these man-killing guns in order to protect themselves from something, whatever that something happens to be. Is your home safer with or without a gun? The public opinion surveys indicate that the most frequent answer to that question will be ‘yes.’ 

              Another indication of the consensus about the value of gun ownership has been the growth of concealed-carry licenses, as well as the number of states which let people walk around with a gun without having to undergo any licensing procedure at all. There are now 15 states where anyone who can pass the FBI-NICS background check can walk around with a concealed gun. As for concealed-carry licenses, or what is usually referred to as CCW (concealed-carry weapon), the number is now somewhere above 17 million, and if we assume that there are (for the sake of argument) that there are at least 20 million gun owners in the ‘Constitutional-carry’ states, this means that probably somewhere around 40 million Americans can wander the highways and byways toting a gun.

              Our friend John Lott has calculated the per-capita number of CCW licenses and you can see a list of the 13 states where at least one out of every 10 adult residents has a license to carry a gun. I have compared the per-capita number of CCW-holders in those 13 states with the gun-homicide rate in those same 13 states and the results are here:

              Note that of the 13 states with the highest per-capita rate of  CCW, seven of them also have a gun-violence rate which is higher than the national gun-violence rate of 4.46. With the exception of Washington and Iowa, the states with lower gun-violence than the national average are all Western states whose CCW numbers obviously reflect a long history and tradition of personal gun ownership. On the other hand, the high rates of gun violence in states like Alabama, Indiana, Pennsylvania, etc., all reflect the overwhelming incidence of gun violence in inner-city zones within those states.

              To me, these numbers may indicate that Americans who consider owning a gun for personal protection may not just be buying into some clever marketing scheme (read: scam) of the gun industry. Many live in states where gun violence is more of a daily event than what is covered in the national media, and the opinions of these folks might be more sensitive to local news reports that hit closer to home.

              Thinking about guns as a response to fear may strike some as odd but we need to understand those fears if we are really committed to talking about gun violence with people who own guns.

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Do Guns Make It Easier Or Harder To Commit Crimes? Donohue Versus Lott.

In the wake of a massive, unprecedented social media campaign by a bunch of high school kids, all of a sudden the gun industry finds itself facing a storm of protests over whether or not its products should be made or sold. Well, maybe not all of its products, but certainly the products whose use continues to produce enough multiple killings and injuries to ignite a debate about whether such guns should be around at all.

lott2Behind the argument about owning high-capacity, semi-automatic weapons is another debate which has been going on for nearly 20 years about what I call the social utility of guns, namely, do guns make us more or less safe, or to put it another way, do guns protect us from crime or increase crime?

This debate got started in 1998 with the publication of John Lott’s book, More Guns Less Crime, the title of which says what the book is all about. One of the early reviews of this book was by an academic, John Donohue, who also collaborated with Steven Levitt on a controversial study linking legal abortions to the post-1990’s decline in crime.

Over the years, Lott’s book has become something of a Holy Grail to the gun-rights movement, Donohue’s multliple critiques of this book serving in the same fashion for the gun violence prevention crowd, a.k.a, the GVP.

What I have always found interesting in this debate is the degree to which the criticisms of both Lott and Donohue flow directly from where the critics stand on the issue of guns. I have yet to read a single critique of Lott’s book by anyone who considers themselves to be a proponent of guns. Ditto, I have never found a single critique of Donohue’s work emanating from anyone who supports more controls over guns.  In other words, what we have here is an academic argument in which neither side can find a single, critical word to utter about the work with whose conclusions they agree.

This isn’t an academic debate. Frankly, it’s  nothing more than the same, old, tired and hackneyed argument about guns that has been going on for more than twenty years. It’s not driven by evidence-based work, it’s driven by emotions and advocacy that both sides always make.

What you can download here is a detailed paper I have posted on SSRN.  It is not an attempt to prove that Lott is correct and Donohue isn’t, nor the other way around. It is also not an attempt to come up with yet another statistical model which can be used to provide yet another regression analysis linking crime rates to guns.

Frankly, I have absolutely no interest in proving either Donohue or Lott to be correct. My interest is simply to take this long-standing, academic argument and look at it from the only perspective that really counts, and that perspective happens to be what I know about guns.  Which is something that neither Donohue nor Lott know very much at all.