Sunday, September 1, 2013

Does gun control work?

This is the kind of thing that you won't typically hear on the nightly news, or whichever left wing media news source you care to name.  However, a fascinating study on gun control was just published.  Here is a summary of that study, from Breitbart:


Quoting most of the article from Breitbart, because the Breitbart article picks out many of the best parts of the system:
Because the findings so clearly demonstrate that more gun laws may in fact increase death rates, the study says that "the mantra that more guns mean more deaths and that fewer guns, therefore, mean fewer deaths" is wrong.
For example, when the study shows numbers for Eastern European gun ownership and corresponding murder rates, it is readily apparent that less guns to do not mean less death. In Russia, where the rate of gun ownership is 4,000 per 100,000 inhabitants, the murder rate was 20.52 per 100,000 in 2002. That same year in Finland, where the rater of gun ownership is exceedingly higher--39,000 per 100,000--the murder rate was almost nill, at 1.98 per 100,000.
Looking at Western Europe, the study shows that Norway "has far and away Western Europe's highest household gun ownership rate (32%), but also its lowest murder rate."
The murder rate in Russia, where handguns are banned, is 30.6; the rate in the U.S. is 7.8.
The authors of the study conclude that the burden of proof rests on those who claim more guns equal more death and violent crime; such proponents should "at the very least [be able] to show a large number of nations with more guns have more death and that nations that impose stringent gun controls have achieved substantial reductions in criminal violence (or suicide)." But after intense study the authors conclude "those correlations are not observed when a large number of nations are compared around the world."
In fact, the numbers presented in the Harvard study support the contention that among the nations studied, those with more gun control tend toward higher death rates. 

And, of course, the study itself, from Harvard:

by Don B. Kates and Gary Mauser

So much material in this report, I hardly know where to start.  I'll start at the beginning.
International evidence and comparisons have long been offered
as proof of the mantra that more guns mean more deaths and that
fewer guns, therefore, mean fewer deaths. Unfortunately,  such
discussions are all too often been afflicted by misconceptions and
factual error and focus on comparisons that are unrepresentative.
It may be useful to begin with a few examples. There is a com‐
pound assertion that (a) guns are uniquely available in the United
States compared with other modern developed nations, which is
why (b) the United  States has  by far the highest murder rate.
Though these assertions have been endlessly repeated, statement (b) is, in fact, false and statement (a) is substantially so. 
The study discusses the Soviet Union/Russia, and then England.
The same pattern appears when comparisons of violence to
gun ownership are made within nations. Indeed, “data on fire‐
arms ownership by  constabulary  area in England,” like data
from the United States, show “a negative correlation,” that is,
“where firearms are most dense violent crime rates are lowest,
and where guns are least dense violent crime rates are high‐
Stringent  gun  controls  were  not  adopted  in  England  and
Western Europe until after World War I. Consistent with the
outcomes of the recent American studies just mentioned, these
strict controls did not stem the general trend of ever‐growing
violent crime throughout the post‐WWII industrialized world
including the United  States  and Russia.

The authors are careful not to equate correlation with causation.  However, they do confidently state:
Although the reason is thus obscured, the undeniable result
is that  violent  crime,  and  homicide  in  particular,  has  plum‐
meted in the United States over the past 15 years. The fall in
the American crime rate is even more impressive when com‐
pared with the rest of the world. In 18 of the 25 countries sur‐
veyed  by  the  British  Home  Office,  violent  crime  increased
during  the  1990s.  This  contrast  should  induce  thoughtful
people  to  wonder  what  happened  in  those  nations,  and  to
question policies based on the notion that introducing increas‐
ingly more restrictive firearm ownership laws reduces violent
crime. Perhaps the United States is doing  something right in
promoting firearms for law‐abiding responsible adults. Or per‐
haps the United  States’  success in lowering its violent  crime
rate relates to increasing its prison population or its death sen‐
tences. Further research is required to identify more precisely
which  elements  of the United  States’  approach  are the most
important, or whether all three elements acting in concert were
necessary to reduce violent crimes.

The authors then go on to make a statement that, while blindingly obvious, seems to elude the clueless among us [emphasis mine]:
One reason the extent of gun ownership in a society does not
spur the murder rate is that murderers are not spread evenly
throughout  the  population.  Analysis  of  perpetrator  studies
shows  that  violent  criminals—especially  murderers—“almost
uniformly have a long history of involvement in criminal behav‐
ior.”  So  it  would  not  appreciably raise  violence  if  all  law‐
abiding, responsible people had firearms because they are not
the ones who rape, rob, or murder. By the same token, violent
crime would not fall if guns were totally banned to civilians.
the respective examples of Luxembourg and Russia suggest,
individuals who  commit violent  crimes will  either find guns
despite severe controls or will find other weapons to use.   
Startling as the foregoing may seem, it represents the cross‐
national norm, not some bizarre departure from it. If the man‐
tra “more guns  equal more death and fewer guns  equal less
death”  were  true,  broad  based  cross‐national  comparisons
should show that nations with higher gun ownership per cap‐
ita  consistently  have  more  death.  Nations  with  higher  gun
ownership rates, however, do not have higher murder or sui‐
cide rates than those with lower gun ownership. Indeed many
high gun ownership nations have much lower murder rates.

Consider, for  example, the  wide divergence  in murder rates
among  Continental  European  nations  with  widely  divergent
gun ownership rates.  
The non‐correlation between gun ownership and murder
is reinforced by  examination of  statistics from larger num‐
bers of nations across the developed world. Comparison of
“homicide  and  suicide mortality data for thirty‐six nations
(including the United  States) for the  period  1990–1995” to
gun  ownership  levels  showed  “no  significant  (at  the  5%
level) association between gun ownership levels and the to‐
tal homicide rate.” Consistent with this is a later European
study of data from 21 nations in which “no significant corre‐
lations [of gun ownership levels] with total suicide or homi‐
cide rates were found.”
More obviousness [again, emphasis mine]:
However  unintentionally,  the  irrelevance  of  focusing  on
weaponry is highlighted by the most common theme in the
more  guns  equal  more  death  argument.  Epitomizing  this
theme is a World Health Organization (WHO) report assert‐
ing,  “The  easy  availability  of firearms has  been  associated
with higher firearm mortality rates.” The authors, in noting
that the presence of a gun in a home corresponds to a higher
risk  of  suicide,  apparently  assume that  if denied firearms,
potential  suicides will decide to live rather than turning to
the numerous alternative suicide mechanisms. The evidence,
however,  indicates  that  denying  one  particular  means  to
people who are motivated to commit suicide by social, eco‐
nomic, cultural, or other circumstances simply pushes them
to some other means. Thus, it is not just the murder rate in
gun‐less Russia that is four times higher than the American
rate; the Russian suicide rate is also about four times higher
than the American rate.
There is no social benefit in decreasing the availability of
guns if the result is only to increase the use of other means of
suicide  and  murder,  resulting  in  more  or  less  the  same
amount of death. Elementary as this point is, proponents of
the more guns equal more death mantra seem oblivious to it.

Table 2 on page 16, which compares murder rates in neighboring countries with and without gun control, is enlightening [again, emphasis mine].
Once  again,  we  are  not  arguing  that  the  data  in  Table  2
shows  that  gun  control  causes  nations  to  have  much  higher
murder rates than neighboring nations that permit handgun
ownership. Rather, we assert a political causation for the ob‐
served correlation that nations with stringent gun controls tend
to  have  much  higher  murder rates  than  nations  that  allow
guns. The political  causation is that nations which have vio‐
lence problems tend to adopt severe gun controls, but these do
not  reduce  violence
,  which  is  determined  by  basic  socio‐
cultural and economic factors.
They go on to debunk the myth that a gun in the house is more likely to be used against the owner than to stop a crime.  First, they make yet another obvious point [emphasis mine].
The “more guns equal more death” mantra seems plausible
only when viewed through the rubric that murders mostly in‐
volve ordinary people who kill because they have access to a
firearm when they get angry.
 If this were true, murder might
well increase where people have ready access to firearms, but
the  available data provides no  such  correlation. Nations and
areas with more guns per capita do not have higher murder
rates than those with fewer guns per capita.
This is the fallacious argument made by gun control proponents:
Nevertheless,  critics  of  gun  ownership  often  argue  that  a
“gun in the closet to protect against burglars will most likely be
used to shoot a spouse in a moment of rage . . . . The problem is
you and me—law‐abiding folks;” that banning handgun posses‐
sion only for those with criminal records will “fail to protect us
from the most likely source of handgun murder: ordinary citi‐
zens;” that “most gun‐related homicides . . . are the result of
impulsive  actions  taken  by  individuals  who  have  little  or  no
criminal  background  or  who  are  known to the victims;” that
“the majority of firearm homicide[s occur] . . . not as the result
of criminal activity, but because of arguments between people
who know each other;” that each year there are thousands of
gun murders “by law‐abiding citizens who might have stayed
law‐abiding if they had not possessed firearms.”
The authors' response:
These comments appear to rest on no evidence and actually con‐
tradict facts that have so uniformly been established by homicide
studies dating back to the 1890s that they have become “crimino‐
logical  axioms.” Insofar  as  studies focus  on  perpetrators, they
show that neither a majority, nor many, nor virtually any murder‐
ers are ordinary “law‐abiding citizens.” Rather, almost all mur‐
derers  are  extremely  aberrant  individuals  with  life  histories  of
violence, psychopathology, substance abuse, and other dangerous
behaviors.  “The  vast  majority  of  persons  involved  in  life‐
threatening violence have a long criminal record with many prior
contacts with the justice system.” “Thus homicide—[whether] of a
stranger or[of] someone known to the offender—‘is usually part of
a pattern of violence, engaged in by people who are known . . . as
violence prone.’” Though only 15% of Americans over the age of
15 have arrest records, approximately 90 percent of “adult mur‐
derers have  adult records, with an average adult  criminal  career
[involving crimes committed as an adult rather than a child] of six
or more years, including four major adult felony arrests.” These
national  statistics  dovetail  with  data  from  local  nineteenth  and
twentieth century studies. For example: victims as well as offenders
[in 1950s and 1960s Philadelphia murders] . . . tended to be people
with prior police records, usually for violent  crimes  such  as  as‐
sault.” “The great majority of both perpetrators and victims of
[1970s Harlem] assaults and murders had previous [adult] arrests,
probably over 80% or more.”
They point out that the term "acquaintance homicide" is misleading.
Thus the term “acquaintance homicide” does not refer solely
to murders between ordinary acquaintances. Rather it encom‐
passes, for example: drug dealers killed by competitors or cus‐
tomers, gang members killed by members of the same or rival
gangs, and women killed by stalkers or abusers who have bru‐
talized them on earlier occasions, all individuals for whom fed‐
eral and state laws already prohibit gun possession.

More exploration of the relationship between guns and crime.  The authors appear to believe that sociological factors drive the crime rate, not gun ownership in and of itself [emphasis mine].
In sum, though many nations with widespread gun ownership
have much lower murder rates than nations that severely restrict
gun ownership, it would be simplistic to assume that at all times
and in all places widespread gun ownership depresses violence by
deterring  many  criminals  into  nonconfrontation  crime.  There  is
evidence that it does so in the United States, where defensive gun
ownership  is  a  substantial  socio‐cultural  phenomenon.  But  the
more plausible explanation for many nations having widespread
gun ownership with low violence is that these nations never had
high murder and violence rates and so never had occasion to enact
severe anti‐gun laws.
 On the other hand, in nations that have ex‐
perienced high and rising violent crime rates, the legislative reac‐
tion has generally been to enact increasingly severe antigun laws.
This is futile, for reducing gun ownership by the law‐abiding citi‐
zenry—the only ones who obey gun laws—does not reduce vio‐
lence or murder. The result is that high crime nations that ban guns
to reduce crime end up having both high crime and stringent gun
laws, while it appears that low crime nations that do not signifi‐
cantly restrict guns continue to have low violence rates.
Thus both sides of the gun prohibition debate are likely
wrong in viewing the availability of guns as a major factor in
the  incidence  of murder  in  any particular  society. Though
many people may still cling to that belief, the historical, geo‐
graphic, and demographic evidence explored in this Article
provides a clear admonishment. Whether gun availability is
viewed as a  cause or as a mere  coincidence, the long term
macrocosmic evidence is that gun ownership spread widely
throughout  societies  consistently  correlates  with  stable  or
declining murder rates. Whether causative or not, the consis‐
tent international pattern is that more guns equal less mur‐
der and other violent crime. Even if one is inclined to think
that gun availability is an important factor, the available in‐
ternational  data  cannot  be  squared  with  the  mantra  that
more  guns  equal  more  death  and  fewer  guns  equal  less
death. Rather, if firearms availability does matter, the data
consistently show that the way it matters is that more guns
equal less violent crime. 

So what should we do?  At the very least, the burden of proof rests with the gun control proponents.
Those who assert the mantra, and urge that public policy be
based on it, bear the burden of proving that more guns do
equal more death and fewer guns equal less death. But they
cannot  bear that  burden  because there  simply is no large
number  of  cases  in  which  the  widespread  prevalence  of
guns among the general population has led to more mur‐
der. By the same token, but even more importantly, it can‐
not be shown consistently that a reduction in the number of
guns  available to the general population has led to fewer
deaths. Nor is the burden borne by speculating that the rea‐
son  such  cases do not  appear is that other factors  always
The authors then state that gun control proponents also need to address the fact that their arguments are not plausible in light of the evidence presented in the study.

The study continues with a discussion about murder rates in periods without guns, and in periods where there was a glut of guns.  It shows that suicide rates are not dependent on gun ownership, "no statistical relationship."

The conclusion?
This Article has reviewed a significant amount of evidence
from a wide variety of international sources. Each individual
portion of evidence is subject to cavil—at the very least the
general objection that the persuasiveness of social scientific
evidence  cannot  remotely  approach  the  persuasiveness  of
conclusions in the physical  sciences. Nevertheless, the bur‐
den of proof rests on the proponents of the more guns equal
more death and fewer guns equal less death mantra, espe‐
cially  since they  argue public policy ought to be based on
that mantra. To bear that burden would at the very least
require  showing that a large number of nations with more
guns have more death and that nations that have imposed
stringent gun controls have achieved substantial reductions
in  criminal violence (or  suicide). But those  correlations are
not observed when a large number of nations are compared
across the world.