Do More Guns Mean More Homicides?
This simple point—that America is awash with more guns than ever before, yet we are killing each other with guns at a far lower rate than when we had far fewer guns—undermines the narrative that there is a straightforward, causal relationship between increased gun prevalence and gun homicide. Even if you fall back on the conclusion that it's just a small number of owners stockpiling more and more guns, it's hard to escape noticing that even these hoarders seem to be harming fewer and fewer people with their weapons, casting doubt on the proposition that gun ownership is a political crisis demanding action.
In the face of these trend lines—way more guns, way fewer gun murders—how can politicians such as Obama and Hillary Clinton so successfully capitalize on the panic that follows each high profile shooting? Partly because Americans haven't caught on to the crime drop. A 2013 Pew Research Poll found 56 percent of respondents thought that gun crime had gone up over the past 20 years, and only 12 percent were aware it had declined.
Do Gun Laws Stop Gun Crimes?
Another of National Journal's mistakes is a common one in gun science: The paper didn't look at gun statistics in the context of overall violent crime, a much more relevant measure to the policy debate. After all, if less gun crime doesn't mean less crime overall—if criminals simply substitute other weapons or means when guns are less available—the benefit of the relevant gun laws is thrown into doubt. When Thomas Firey of the Cato Institute ran regressions of Isenstein's study with slightly different specifications and considering all violent crime, each of her effects either disappeared or reversed.
Is Having a Gun in the Home Inherently Deadly?
Stroebe notes that the two major post-Kellermann studies most often used to demonstrate an association between gun ownership and risk of homicide shared one of Kellermann's fatal flaws: They offer no information about whether the gun used to kill the gun owners was their own. And despite Kellermann's finding that living alone was very risky, one of the follow-ups, a 2004 study by Linda Dahlberg and colleagues, found that it was only those with roommates who faced a higher risk of a specifically gun-related homicide.
While most of the articles in the Preventive Medicine issue were standard anti-gun material, one piece perhaps inadvertently undermined a popular argument for expanding background checks. "Sources of Guns to Dangerous People: What We Learn By Asking Them," by Philip Cook and colleagues, surveyed a set of jailed criminals in Cook County, Illinois. It found that they "obtain most of their guns from their social network of personal connections. Rarely is the proximate source either direct purchase from a gun store, or theft." So the go-to remedy for gun control advocates seeking to limit homicides might not have much impact on actual gun criminals.
How Often Are Guns Used Defensively?
The survey work most famous for establishing a large number of DGUs—as many as 2.5 million a year—was conducted in 1993 by the Florida State University criminologists Gary Kleck and Marc Gertz. Kleck says they found 222 bonafide DGUs directly via a randomized anonymous nationwide telephone survey of around 5,000 people. The defender had to "state a specific crime they thought was being committed" and to have actually made use of the weapon, even if just threateningly or by "verbally referring to the gun." Kleck insists the surveyors were scrupulous about eliminating any responses that seemed sketchy or questionable or didn't hold up under scrutiny.
Extrapolating from their results, Kleck and Gertz concluded that 2.2 to 2.5 million DGUs happened in the U.S. each year. In a 2001 edition of his book Armed, Kleck wrote that "there are now at least nineteen professional surveys, seventeen of them national in scope, that indicate huge numbers of defensive gun uses in the U.S." The one that most closely matched Kleck's methods, though the sample size was only half and the surveyors were not experienced with crime surveys, was 1994's National Survey of the Private Ownership of Firearms. It was sponsored by the U.S. Justice Department and found even more, when explicitly limiting them to ones that met the same criteria as Kleck's study—4.7 million (though the research write-up contains some details that may make you wonder about the accuracy of the reports, including one woman who reported 52 separate DGUs in a year).
The major outlier in the other direction, nearly always relied on for those downplaying the defensive benefits of guns, is the Bureau of Justice Statistics' National Crime Victimization Survey (NCVS), a nationally representative telephone survey, which tends to find less than 70,000 DGUs per year.
In the October 2015 special issue on "gun violence prevention," Preventive Medicine featured the latest and most thorough attempt to treat the NCVS as the gold standard for measuring defensive gun usage. The study, by Harvard's Hemenway and Sara J. Solnick of the University of Vermont, broke down the characteristics of the small number of DGUs recorded by the NCVS from 2007 to 2011. The authors found, among other things, that "Of the 127 incidents in which victims used a gun in self-defense, they were injured after they used a gun in 4.1% of the incidents. Running away and calling the police were associated with a reduced likelihood of injury after taking action; self-defense gun use was not." That sounds not so great, but Hemenway went on to explain that "attacking or threatening the perpetrator with a gun had no significant effect on the likelihood of the victim being injured after taking self-protective action," since slightlymore people who tried non-firearm means of defending themselves were injured. Thus, for those who place value on self-defense and resistance over running, the use of a weapon doesn't seem too bad comparatively; Hemenway found that 55.9 percent of victims who took any kind of protective action lost property, but only 38.5 percent of people who used a gun in self-defense did.
Could More Guns Mean Less Crime?
Do 'Common-Sense Gun Laws' Work?
Wednesday, January 06, 2016
You Know Less Than You Think About Guns - Reason.com