Study Finds Guns Don’t Deter Crime

© David McNew/Getty Images Guns are piled on the ground during the destruction of approximately 3,400 guns and other weapons at the Los Angeles County Sheriffs 22nd annual gun melt at Gerdau Steel Mill on July 6, 2015 in Rancho Cucamonga…
© David McNew/Getty Images Guns are piled on the ground during the destruction of approximately 3,400 guns and other weapons at the Los Angeles County Sheriffs 22nd annual gun melt at Gerdau Steel Mill on July 6, 2015 in Rancho Cucamonga…

A high-profile shooting, like the June 17 crime that left dead nine members of a historically black church in Charleston, South Carolina, is typically followed by calls for greater gun control, along with counter arguments that the best way to stop gun crimes is with more guns. 

“The one thing that would have at least ameliorated the horrible situation in Charleston would have been that if somebody in that prayer meeting had a conceal carry or there had been either an off-duty policeman or an on-duty policeman, somebody with the legal authority to carry a firearm and could have stopped the shooter,” presidential candidate Mike Huckabee said in a Fox News interview on June 19.

A new study, however, throws cold water on the idea that a well-armed populace deters criminals or prevents murders. Instead, higher ownership of guns in a state is linked to more firearm robberies, more firearm assaults and more homicide in general. [5 Milestones in Gun Control History]

“We found no support for the hypothesis that owning more guns leads to a drop or a reduction in violent crime,” said study researcher Michael Monuteaux, an epidemiologist and professor of pediatrics at Harvard Medical School. “Instead, we found the opposite.”

More guns, more gun crime

Numerous studies have found that gun ownership correlates with gun homicide, and homicide by gun is the most common type of homicide in the United States. In 2013, for example, there were 16,121 total homicides in the United States, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), and 11,208 of those were carried out with a firearm. (Gun suicides outpace gun homicides by far; in 2013, the CDC recorded 21,175 suicides by firearm, about half of all suicides that year. Contrary to popular belief, suicide is typically an impulsive act, psychiatrists say. Ninety percent of people who attempt suicide once will not go on to complete a suicide later, but a suicide attempt using a gun is far more lethal than other methods.)

Monuteaux and his colleagues wanted to test whether increased gun ownership had any effect on gun homicides, overall homicides and violent gun crimes. They chose firearm robbery and assault, because those crimes are likely to be reported and recorded in the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) Uniform Crime Report.

Along with that FBI data, the researchers gathered gun ownership rates from surveys in the CDC’s Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance System, an ongoing, nationally representative survey in which participants answered questions about gun ownership in 2001, 2002 and 2004. Using those years and controlling for a slate of demographic factors, from median household income, population density, to age, race and more, the researchers compared crime rates and gun ownership levels state by state.

They found no evidence that states with more households with guns led to timid criminals. In fact, firearm assaults were 6.8 times more common in states with the most guns versus states with the least. Firearm robbery increased with every increase in gun ownership except in the very highest quintile of gun-owning states (the difference in that cluster was not statistically significant). Firearm homicide was 2.8 times more common in states with the most guns versus states with the least. [Private Gun Ownership in the US (Infographic)]

The researchers were able to test whether criminals were simply trading out other weapons for guns, at least in the case of homicide. They weren’t. Overall homicide rates were just over 2 times higher in the most gun-owning states, meaning that gun ownership correlated with higher rates of all homicides, not just homicide with a gun. The results will be published in a forthcoming issue of the American Journal of Preventive Medicine.

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Source: LiveScience | Stephanie Pappas