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Guns Neither Increase Nor Decrease Crime Rate

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.


While

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.

 
A

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.


A

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

countries:


all homicide vs gun ownership all nations small.png

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.


Further,

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?


all homicide vs gun ownership selected nations small.png

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.


Homicide

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?


Assault Robbery vs Gun Ownership v3.png

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

less guns.


What conclusions can we draw from this data?

First,

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.


Tom Hartsfield
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