The Facts About Guns and Violence

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One of the
more widely read newspapers in the UK is the Metro.
Widely read because it is free and given out to commuters on their
ways to work. Anyway, in the letters page of the Metro Monday,
April 23rd H. Goodeve questions American's disbelief
that their high rate of gun crimes is due to their more liberal
gun laws. He claims that there are 30,000 gun related deaths in
the US last year compared to the UK's 60, and points to this as
self-evident proof that gun controls, which are stronger in the
UK than in the US, reduce gun crime. The sad thing is that this
is a widely held assumption in the UK: The UK has fewer guns and
fewer gun crimes, therefore gun crime occurs because the laws are
not strong enough and guns are too easy to get hold of. However
the connection between liberal gun laws and a high gun crime rate
is very questionable.

The US does
have a high murder rate, that is true. There are 5.9 murders per
100,000 people a year in the US. What Mr. (or Mrs.) Goodeve neglects
is the fact that this number varies widely throughout the US, as
do gun laws and the percentage of the people who own guns. The five
states with the highest murder rates are Washington D.C. 35.8, Louisiana
12.7, Maryland 9.4, New Mexico 8.9, Missouri 7.8. This gives an
average murder rate in the worst five states as 14.92. The five
best states are North Dakota 1.4, New Hampshire 1.4, Iowa 1.6, Utah
1.9, Wyoming 2.2, yielding an average murder rate in these five
best states of 1.7.

The percentage
of the population owning guns in the five states with the worst
murder rates are Washington D.C. 3.8%, Louisiana 44.1%, Maryland
21.3%, New Mexico 34.8%, Missouri 41.7%. The first thing to note
is that these figures vary wildly, from the state with the worst
murder rate, DC, having only 3.8% owning guns to the second worst
having as many as 44.1%, This in itself serves to cast doubt on
the correlation of lots of guns to lots of murders. However, the
average percentage of the population owning guns in these five states
with the worst murder rates is 29.4%. The percentage of the population
owning guns in the states with the lowest murder rates is North
Dakota 50.7%, New Hampshire 30%, Iowa 42.8%, Utah 43.9%, Wyoming
59.7%. This yields an average percentage population of the five
states with the lowest murder rates in the US as 40.2. In other
words the States of the US that have the lowest murder rates have
a higher percentage of the population owning guns than the states
with the highest murder rates. There is definitely no correlation
between high murder rates and lax gun laws or high numbers of guns
from the American evidence, then.

In fact, these
five states with the lowest murder rates, in which, on average 40.2%
of the population own a gun or guns, have an average murder rate
of 1.7 per 100,000 people. The average murder rate in England and
Wales is 1.5 per 100,000, scarcely lower. In Scotland it is 2.2
per 100,000, much worse than in these five gun-toting states. Meanwhile
the US suffers, on average, half as many burglaries than the UK,
and in the US 12% of burglaries occur whilst the victim is at home,
whilst 53% of burglaries in the UK occur whilst the victim is home.

Take a look
at what percentage of the population owns guns in the five most
heavily armed states. That's Wyoming, at 59.7%, Alaska, at 57.8%,
Montana 57.7%, South Dakota 56.6% West Virginia 55.4%. That's an
average of 57.44% of the population in these five most heavily armed
states owning guns. The murder rates per 100,000 people in these
states are, Wyoming 2.2, Alaska 5.6, Montana 3.2, South Dakota 2.3,
West Virginia 3.7. That's an average murder rate in these most heavily
armed states of 3.4 people per 100,000. Violent crimes per 100,000
in these states are, Wyoming 229.6, Alaska 634.5 (Alaska suffers
from a shockingly high number of rapes compared to other states),
Montana 293.8, South Dakota 171.5, West Virginia 271.2. The average
total of all violent crimes in these states, then, is 320.12.

Now compare
this with the least heavily armed state's and districts. The percentage
of the population who own guns in Washington DC is 3.8%, in Hawaii
its 8.7%, New Jersey 12.3%, Massachusetts 12.6%, Rhode Island 12.8%.
So the average percentage of the population owning guns is 10.04%.
Murder rates per 100,000 in these least heavily armed states are:
Washington DC 35.8, Hawaii 2.6, New Jersey 4.5, Massachusetts 2.6,
Rhode Island 2.4. That's an average of 9.58. If we exclude Washington
DC's supernormal level of murders (which perhaps we shouldn't, but
since it is so far above the average it may not be representative),
that's an average of 3.025. Violent crimes per 100,000 people is
Washington DC 1,371.2, Hawaii 254.4, New Jersey 355.7, Massachusetts
458.8, Rhode Island 247.4. That's an average of 537.5. Excluding
Washington DC, that's an average of 329.075.

So, lets summarise.
The five with the largest percentage of the population owning guns
average at 57.44%. The average percentage of the population owning
guns in the least heavily armed states is 10.04%. However, the average
murder rate per 100,000 people in the most heavily armed states
is 3.4. The average murder rate in the least heavily armed states
is 9.58, nearly three times as high. Even if we adjust for Washington
DC's supernormal murder rate, and exclude it, that's 3.025, fairly
comparable. The average rate of violent crimes per 100,000 in the
most heavily armed states is 320.12. In the least heavily armed
states, it is 320.12. In short, the five most heavily armed states
have a lower average murder rate than the five least
heavily armed states. Even on the more favourable measure it is
comparable. And the five most heavily armed states have less
violent crime and the five least heavily armed states.

Further support
for American skepticism that high gun related deaths correlate with
high rates of gun ownership can be derived from Europe. In Switzerland
27% of homes contain at least one gun. Yet the rate of homicides
in Switzerland is only 1.1 per 100,000 people which is lower than
in Britain. A third of homes in Norway have a gun. And the murder
rate is fewer than one per 100,000, far lower than in Britain.

In fact, just
look at what has occurred since the handgun ban in the UK. The BBC
reports that the number of recorded gun crimes in the UK rose to
more than 21,500 last year compared to just under 14,000 in 1998.
That’s a more than fifty percent increase. Meanwhile the number
of gun related homicides has barely altered at all from the year
in which the handgun ban was introduced. The number of people injured
by firearms in England and Wales has more than doubled since 1998.
The number of recorded firearm crimes in 2005/2006 was 11,084 —
up 0.12% on previous year. Likewise, in 1976 Washington DC introduced
some of the strictest gun controls in the US, and now only 3.8%
of the population own guns. The murder rate rose 134% whilst the
murder rate for the whole US fell 2%.

There is, therefore,
little evidence from the US supporting a correlation between high
rates of gun ownership and high rates of gun crime. In fact, a greater
percentage of the population in the states with the lowest murder
rates own guns than in the states with the worst murder rates. Moreover,
those states which have the best murder rates, where on average
40% of the population own at least one gun, have a murder rate comparable
to that of the UK and about three quarters that of Scotland. Norway
and Switzerland have similar rates of gun ownership as the US and
a lower murder rate than the UK. And gun crime has got worse as
gun laws have got stricter in the UK. There is no evidence of a
positive correlation between the rate of gun ownership and the rate
of murder, on the contrary, it seems negative; and there is no evidence
that stricter gun laws either reduce the supply of guns or reduce
the number of gun crimes.

Sources

May
3, 2007

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