The idea that more guns = less crime is one of those deeply-held wingnut beliefs which any sensible person knows defies logic and common sense. After all, America has more guns per capita than any other country in the world but we also have one of the highest crime rates.
It’s notoriously hard to detach right-wingers from their cherished myths; remember, these are the same people who remain convinced that lowering taxes increases tax revenues, and “trickle down” is a real thing.
But the main newspaper in Alabama decided to take a look at that state’s number of gun carry permits and compared it to state and country crime statistics, looking to see if any conclusions could be drawn.
It’s an interesting piece. It seems Alabama has the largest number of concealed-carry permits in the country, once all of the out-of-state permits Utah issues are accounted for. Does this correlate with lower crime? Well, not so much:
AL.com gathered the number of active pistol permits for 63 out of 67 counties. (Four didn’t respond despite repeated requests). But a statistical examination of Alabama’s county-by-county permit rates does not turn up any correlation with rates of serious crime. These offenses consist of homicide, forcible rape, robbery, aggravated assault, burglary, larceny theft, motor vehicle theft and arson.
Higher rates of concealed carry don’t seem to make one Alabama county safer than another, nor do they make a county less safe.
On the pro-gun side, they interviewed the controversial John Lott of the Crime Prevention Research Center, dutifully noting that Lott is widely regarded as a crank among serious researchers (and if you want to know why, this is a good place to start). They also interviewed Alabama citizens with carry permits, some of whom had personal stories to share about that one time their gun saved them from being a crime victim. Mostly, though, it seems most Alabama CCWers simply repeated the NRA talking points they’ve been fed for years: good guys with guns vs bad guys with guns, criminals won’t mess with people they think are armed, etc.
That last bit is another one of those conservative beliefs taken on faith, absent any proof in reality. Stanford Law’s John Donohue, whose own research joins the increasing pile of data debunking the more guns = less crime theory, says you could just as easily make the opposite argument:
One of the central premises of the deterrence argument is that criminals are reluctant to take on victims they believe are armed. He said the opposite is just as plausible. Perhaps criminals are more likely to arm themselves – or pull the trigger – when they think the victims have guns.
“Probably, the criminal will shoot you quicker in Alabama than in New York City, where they’re not expecting you to have a gun,” he said. “The NRA tends to think of things in terms of checkers, but criminal will think in terms of chess.”
The issue, of course, is much bigger than, “do more guns equal less crime”? Clearly they do not. But they do mean more illegal guns — and the large number of Alabama guns which end up being used in crimes in Illinois, New York, Tennessee, Florida, Connecticut and California highlights something I’ve been saying forever, which is that our hodge-podge of state gun laws have national repercussions. To think guns aren’t being trafficked from easy-access states across state lines by criminal elements is an especially nefarious form of willful ignorance.
There’s also the issue of gun accidents, which this study doesn’t address. I’ve long maintained that we will see an exponential escalation in accidental gun injuries and deaths, what with the post-Obama era of inexperienced, irresponsible people running out to get guns. We shall see.
The American Journal of Medicine did look at the issue of gun ownership and all gun deaths and found a very clear connection:
The team looked at the fraction of people who owned guns across 27 developed nations, including the United States, Switzerland, Finland, Australia and Japan.
Gun ownership was lowest in Japan and highest, by far, in the United States.
Gun ownership rates were strongly correlated with higher death rates from firearms.
In contrast, the incidence of major depression was only weakly linked to firearms-related deaths. (Data on other conditions such as schizophrenia were not widely available.)
And crime didn’t seem to be correlated at all with gun ownership rates. That suggests purchasing a gun doesn’t have an effect on overall crime rates, which include both violent and non-violent crimes.
“We can show that guns don’t make a nation safer,” Bangalore told LiveScience.
The study “provides some very convincing evidence that firearms-related deaths are very strongly correlated with prevalence of guns,” said Dr. Eric Fleegler, a health services researcher at Boston Children’s Hospital, who was not involved in the study.
There’s still a lot more research to be done. Now that the CDC and NIH are no longer barred from funding gun violence research, maybe we’ll be getting some answers.
I don’t expect any right-wingers to change their mind. These are the same people who still deny climate change is real, all evidence to the contrary. They’re not operating from an evidence-based worldview, they’re operating from an emotional one. But for those who do use evidence, not emotions, in crafting policy and making important decisions? It’s the death of yet another cherished wingnut myth.