Do guns deter crime and violence?

Many people believe that owning a gun makes them safer. That having a gun in their home or carrying a gun deters potential criminal acts and makes it less likely they will become a victim of violent crime.

This belief rests on an assumption that individuals considering a criminal act take into account the possibility that their intended victim has a gun and, then, see that as a deterrent.

There is no consistent evidence to support those connected assumptions.

Also, if owning a gun is to be a deterrent to crime and violence, what happens then when everyone has a gun. As of 2018, it was estimated that there are more than 400 million guns in circulation in the United States–more than one gun for every woman, man, and child. If laws and regulations allow anyone to buy virtually any kind of firearm at any time, then gun ownership itself is no longer a deterrent. Both the “law-abiding citizen” and “the criminal” could easily have guns–and it may well be a semi-automatic weapon.

Ironically, any deterrence attributed to owning a gun is only potentially effective when gun ownership is selective and regulated, when everyone does not have the potential for gun ownership, when I have a gun and you don’t.

If owning a gun does not deter crime and violence and does not keep you safe, then the frequent calls and legislation to promote and expand gun ownership must have a different goal–such as increasing the profits of firearm manufacturers, gun accessory and ammunition producers and distributors, and gun-promoting organizations, or to use fear of crime and violence often based on racism and bias to achieve political gain.

Think about it …

Featured articles:

*Fortunato, D. (2015). Can easing concealed carry deter crime? Social Science Quarterly, 96(4), 1071-1085. [PDF] [Cited by]

“Objective: Laws reducing hurdles to legally carrying concealed firearms are argued to have a deterrent effect on crime by increasing its perceived costs. This argument rests on the assumption that these policies will either directly or indirectly increase the perceived distribution of firearm carriers, an assumption that is as yet untested. This article tests this assumption and, in so doing, suggests testing the necessary conditions of policy can be useful when assessing outcomes is difficult.

Methods: I collect survey data on the perceived number of firearm carriers across the United States and then use a hierarchical regression model to assess the impact of concealed carry policies on these perceptions, controlling for several contextual and individual‐level factors.

Results: The data suggest that there is no statistically discernible relationship between concealed carry policies and the public’s perceptions of the number of firearm carriers. Indeed, the data suggest that the perceived density of firearm carriers is similarly uncorrelated to the number of active concealed carriers.

Conclusion: The link between concealed carry policy and people’s beliefs about the number of firearm carriers in their community is unidentifiable in the data. The rationale for concealed carry deterrence, however, depends on such a link existing: it assumes that potential assailants are aware of the distribution of firearm carriers in the potential victim population, but the empirical evidence presented here suggests that that assumption simply does not hold. Because beliefs over the distribution of firearm carriers are impervious to permitting policies and do not respond positively to the true distribution of carriers, the data suggest easing concealed carry cannot deter crime.”

*Hamill, M. E., Hernandez, M. C., Bailey, K. R., Zielinski, M. D., Matos, M. A., & Schiller, H. J. (2019). State level firearm concealed-carry legislation and rates of homicide and other violent crime. Journal of the American College of Surgeons, 228(1), 1-8. [Cited by]

“Background: Over the last 30 years, public opinion and state level legislation regarding the concealed-carry of firearms have shifted dramatically. Previous studies of potential effects have yielded mixed results, making policy recommendations difficult. We investigated whether liberalization of state level concealed-carry legislation was associated with a change in the rates of homicide or other violent crime.

Study Design: Data on violent crime and homicide rates were collected from the US Department of Justice Uniform Crime Reporting Program (UCR) and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) over 30 years, from 1986 to 2015. State level concealed-carry legislation was evaluated each study year on a scale including “no carry,” “may issue,” “shall issue,” and “unrestricted carry.” Data were analyzed using general multiple linear regression models with the log event rate as the dependent variable, and an autoregressive correlation structure was assumed with generalized estimating equation (GEE) estimates for standard errors.

Results: During the study period, all states moved to adopt some form of concealed-carry legislation, with a trend toward less restrictive legislation. After adjusting for state and year, there was no significant association between shifts from restrictive to nonrestrictive carry legislation on violent crime and public health indicators. Adjusting further for poverty and unemployment did not significantly influence the results.

Conclusions: This study demonstrated no statistically significant association between the liberalization of state level firearm carry legislation over the last 30 years and the rates of homicides or other violent crime. Policy efforts aimed at injury prevention and the reduction of firearm-related violence should likely investigate other targets for potential intervention.”

*Stroebe, W. (2016). Firearm availability and violent death: The need for a culture change in attitudes toward guns. Analyses of Social Issues and Public Policy (ASAP), 16(1), 7-35. [Cited by]

“There are two conflicting positions toward gun ownership in the United States. Proponents of stricter gun control argue that guns are responsible for 32,000 gun‐related deaths each year and that the introduction of stricter gun control laws would reduce this death toll. Gun rights advocates argue that the general availability of guns reduces homicide rates, due to deterrence and because guns are effective means of self‐defense. Based on a review of the evidence, I draw the following conclusions: Gun prevalence is positively related to homicide rates. There is no evidence for a protective effect of gun ownership. In fact, gun owners have a greater likelihood of being murdered. Furthermore, gun ownership is associated with an increased risk of serious injuries, accidental death, and death from suicide. The evidence on the effectiveness of gun control measures has not been encouraging, partly because the influential gun lobby has successfully prevented the introduction of more effective measures. A federal registration system for all firearms would address many limitations of present gun control measures. To mobilize public opinion, a culture change in attitudes toward firearms is needed.”

These articles have been added to the Gun ownership and violence bibliography.

Questions? Please let me know (engelk@grinnell.edu).

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