Note: This post is a follow-up to one written last week about guns and homicides.
Controlling and regulating gun ownership is for the purpose of
making society safer by reducing the rates of murder and violent crime.
Does this premise hold true? That is, do fewer guns per capita correlate
with a safer country?
Last week here on Newton, Alex Berezow analyzed
the correlation between the number of privately owned guns per capita
in a country and the rate of homicide by firearms. This is a sensible
first step to answer the question of whether reducing the number of guns
in a society makes it safer. However, the greater purpose of gun
control is not to reduce firearm homicide specifically, but to reduce
the overall rates of murder and violent crime in a country.
it is easy to concede that committing murder with a firearm is easier
than committing murder with a less powerful weapon, reducing the number
of guns might cause an increase or decrease in murder and violent crime
for other reasons. A few lines of thought pop to mind.
country which has high gun ownership might also have fewer robberies,
assaults and murders due to people defending themselves with firearms.
Gun control might reduce the number of firearm homicides but cause an
increase in non-firearm homicides. Countries with gun control might be
more developed, safer and have less violent crime for other reasons,
just as countries with high numbers of guns might have more crime due to
more guns. Robbery or assault rates might increase without private
citizens being able to use a firearm to protect themselves.
simple correlation analysis cannot tell us which of these ideas, if
any, are correct, but it can shed light, to some degree, on whether gun
control is associated with less violent crime. Let's look first to see
if there is a correlation between the number of guns per capita and the
number of intentional homicides, of all types, per capita in 172
The answer, clearly, is no. In fact, the statistically
insignificant trend is toward slightly (as inferred from the negative
slope of the line) less homicides as gun ownership increases.
we will follow Alex's lead investigating this correlation by
removing some countries. Let's remove all countries with very poor
development (e.g., some African, South and Central American states),
states with extremely high murder rates (nearly all of which have very
low gun ownership) and states currently involved in civil wars or major
domestic unrest. This leaves 72 more developed countries to analyze. Are
homicide rates higher in these countries with more guns?
The answer is still no. There is no reasonable way to cherry-pick
any sample of countries to arrive at a significant correlation, or even a
hint that reduced gun ownership lowers overall homicide rate.
is not the only violent crime that citizens have to fear. Robbery and
assault are also important to consider, and it's possible that firearms in the hands of law-abiding citizens might prevent them. There is reliable data on assault and robbery for about 35
countries, most of which we would consider well-developed and modern. Is
there a correlation between robbery and assault and gun ownership rate?
There is no correlation between lower gun ownership and lower rates
of assault and robbery, just as there is no correlation between lower
homicide rate and lower gun ownership. This statistical analysis
provides no explanations, but it does point out a surprising fact: you
are no less likely to be a victim of violent crime in a country with
What conclusions can we draw from this data?
there is no correlation between the number of guns per capita and the
overall homicide rate. So people who believe fewer guns will reduce the
homicide rate may be wrong.
Second, there is no correlation
between the number of guns per capita and the rate of assaults and
robberies. So people who believe guns make society safer by reducing
overall crime may be wrong, too.
Obviously, more research is needed.
Data sources: Gun ownership rate taken from 2007 world data compiled by smallarmssurvey.org. Homicide rate taken from 2008 UN data. Assault and robbery data compiled from 2006 UN data. This
work assumes that gun ownership did not significantly increase or
decline over the roughly twelve month period that separates this data
set from the other two data sets.