Friday, December 07, 2012

More Legal Gun Ownership = Less Crime?

It is an unexamined assumption on the part of gun-control activists that the possession of a firearm by a law-abiding person will almost axiomatically cause that person to fire it at another human being in a moment of stress. Dave Kopel, the research director of the libertarian-leaning Independence Institute, in Denver, posits that opposition to gun ownership is ideological, not rational. “I use gay marriage as an analogue,” he said. “Some people say they are against gay marriage because they think it leads to worse outcomes for kids. Now, let’s say in 2020 all the social-science evidence has it that the kids of gay families turn out fine. Some people will still say they’re against it, not for reasons of social science, but for reasons of faith. That’s what you have here in the gun issue.”

...Today, the number of concealed-carry permits is the highest it’s ever been, at 8 million, and the homicide rate is the lowest it’s been in four decades—less than half what it was 20 years ago. (The number of people allowed to carry concealed weapons is actually considerably higher than 8 million, because residents of Vermont, Wyoming, Arizona, Alaska, and parts of Montana do not need government permission to carry their personal firearms. These states have what Second Amendment absolutists refer to as “constitutional carry,” meaning, in essence, that the Second Amendment is their permit.)

Many gun-rights advocates see a link between an increasingly armed public and a decreasing crime rate....Crime statistics in Britain, where guns are much scarcer, bear this out. Gary Kleck, a criminologist at Florida State University, wrote in his 1991 book, Point Blank: Guns and Violence in America, that only 13 percent of burglaries in America occur when the occupant is home. In Britain, so-called hot burglaries account for about 45 percent of all break-ins. Kleck and others attribute America’s low rate of occupied-home burglaries to fear among criminals that homeowners might be armed. (A survey of almost 2,000 convicted U.S. felons, conducted by the criminologists Peter Rossi and James D. Wright in the late ’80s, concluded that burglars are more afraid of armed homeowners than they are of arrest by the police.)

From Jeffrey Goldberg's article in The Atlantic.  Discuss.


Squarely Rooted said...

Alternate theory: crime is largely driven by non-gun factors, but gun-ownership is largely driven by crime. Ergo - crime goes up, guns go up. But there may be a lag between when crime goes down and guns go down, because existing owners don't discard guns or continue to replace their gun for reasons relating to loss aversion or other factors. Therefore:

Crime goes up, guns go up, crimes go down, guns stay up, and there's your correlation without causation.

Notice that in this story guns do not cause crime, either. They are basically a spurious variable.

Squarely Rooted said...

An additional question - why would guns ameliorate crime but not cause it? To rephrase: if guns are sufficiently distinct from other classes of weapons (knives, baseball bats, bow & arrow) to reduce the transaction costs of committing a violent act in self-defense, therefore causing a reduction in crime, why wouldn't the same gun effect reduce the transaction costs of committing acts of violence in the first place?

This leads to another alternate hypothesis in which, as the marginal cost of guns plummet relative to income, they are initially adopted only by criminals, which drives up crime, and subsequently adopted by the broader populace, which drives down crime.

Of course, if somebody had just tracked crime data v. gun ownership data by state over the past 50 years and controlled for other factors shown to have some relationship to crime then we'd have a much better study.

alternative investment said...

I subscribe to the old axiom - guns don't kill, people do.

Anonymous said...

My favorite axiom here is Heinlein: "An armed society is a polite society" dave.s.