Menus Subscribe Search

Follow us



Gun Ownership Neither Increases Nor Decreases the Crime Rate

• April 17, 2013 • 4:05 AM


You are no less likely to be a victim of violent crime in a country with fewer guns.

Editor’s Note: This post is a follow-up to Alex Berezow’s “The Correlation Between Gun Ownership and Homicide Rate.”

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?

Recently, 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) fewer 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 and 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 a 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 fewer 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 Homicide rate taken from 2008 United Nations data. Assault and robbery data compiled from 2006 U.N. data. This work assumes that gun ownership did not significantly increase or decline over the roughly 12-month period that separates this data set from the other two data sets.

This post originally appeared on RealClearScience, a Pacific Standard partner site.

Tom Hartsfield
Tom Hartsfield is a physics Ph.D. candidate at the University of Texas and a regular contributor to the RealClearScience Newton Blog.

A weekly roundup of the best of Pacific Standard and, delivered straight to your inbox.

Recent Posts

October 30 • 2:00 PM

How Dark Money Got a Mining Company Everything It Wanted

An accidentally released court filing reveals how one company secretly gave money to a non-profit that helped get favorable mining legislation passed.

October 30 • 12:00 PM

The Halloween Industrial Complex

The scariest thing about Halloween might be just how seriously we take it. For this week’s holiday, Americans of all ages will spend more than $5 billion on disposable costumes and bite-size candy.

October 30 • 10:00 AM

Sky’s the Limit: The Case for Selling Air Rights

Lower taxes and debt, increased revenue for the city, and a much better use of space in already dense environments: Selling air rights and encouraging upward growth seem like no-brainers, but NIMBY resistance and philosophical barriers remain.

October 30 • 9:00 AM

Cycles of Fear and Bias in the Criminal Justice System

Exploring the psychological roots of racial disparity in U.S. prisons.

October 30 • 8:00 AM

How Do You Make a Living, Email Newsletter Writer?

Noah Davis talks to Wait But Why writer Tim Urban about the newsletter concept, the research process, and escaping “money-flushing toilet” status.

October 30 • 6:00 AM

Dreamers of the Carbon-Free Dream

Can California go full-renewable?

October 30 • 5:08 AM

We’re Not So Great at Rejecting Each Other

And it’s probably something we should work on.

October 30 • 4:00 AM

He’s Definitely a Liberal—Just Check Out His Brain Scan

New research finds political ideology can be easily determined by examining how one’s brain reacts to disgusting images.

October 29 • 4:00 PM

Should We Prosecute Climate Change Protesters Who Break the Law?

A conversation with Bristol County, Massachusetts, District Attorney Sam Sutter, who dropped steep charges against two climate change protesters.

October 29 • 2:23 PM

Innovation Geography: The Beginning of the End for Silicon Valley

Will a lack of affordable housing hinder the growth of creative start-ups?

October 29 • 2:00 PM

Trapped in the Tobacco Debt Trap

A refinance of Niagara County, New York’s tobacco bonds was good news—but for investors, not taxpayers.

October 29 • 12:00 PM

Purity and Self-Mutilation in Thailand

During the nine-day Phuket Vegetarian Festival, a group of chosen ones known as the mah song torture themselves in order to redirect bad luck and misfortune away from their communities and ensure a year of prosperity.

October 29 • 10:00 AM

Can Proposition 47 Solve California’s Problem With Mass Incarceration?

Reducing penalties for low-level felonies could be the next step in rolling back draconian sentencing laws and addressing the criminal justice system’s long legacy of racism.

October 29 • 9:00 AM

Chronic Fatigue Syndrome and the Brain

Neuroscientists find less—but potentially stronger—white matter in the brains of patients with CFS.

October 29 • 8:00 AM

America’s Bathrooms Are a Total Failure

No matter which American bathroom is crowned in this year’s America’s Best Restroom contest, it will still have a host of terrible flaws.

October 29 • 6:00 AM

Tell Us What You Really Think

In politics, are we always just looking out for No. 1?

October 29 • 4:00 AM

Racial Resentment Drives Tea Party Membership

New research finds a strong link between tea party membership and anti-black feelings.

October 28 • 4:00 PM

The New Health App on Apple’s iOS 8 Is Literally Dangerous

Design isn’t neutral. Design is a picture of inequality, of systems of power, and domination both subtle and not. Apple should know that.

October 28 • 2:00 PM

And You Thought Your Credit Card Debt Was Bad

In Niagara County, New York, leaders took on 40-year debt to pay for short-term stuff, a case study in the perverse incentives tobacco bonds create.

October 28 • 10:00 AM

How Valuable Is It to Cure a Disease?

It depends on the disease—for some, breast cancer and AIDS for example, non-curative therapy that can extend life a little or a lot is considered invaluable. For hepatitis C, it seems that society and the insurance industry have decided that curative therapy simply costs too much.

October 28 • 8:00 AM

Can We Read Our Way Out of Sadness?

How books can help save lives.

Follow us

We’re Not So Great at Rejecting Each Other

And it's probably something we should work on.

Chronic Fatigue Syndrome and the Brain

Neuroscientists find less—but potentially stronger—white matter in the brains of patients with CFS.

Incumbents, Pray for Rain

Come next Tuesday, rain could push voters toward safer, more predictable candidates.

Could Economics Benefit From Computer Science Thinking?

Computational complexity could offer new insight into old ideas in biology and, yes, even the dismal science.

Politicians Really Aren’t Better Decision Makers

Politicians took part in a classic choice experiment but failed to do better than the rest of us.

The Big One

One town, Champlain, New York, was the source of nearly half the scams targeting small businesses in the United States last year. November/December 2014

Copyright © 2014 by Pacific Standard and The Miller-McCune Center for Research, Media, and Public Policy. All Rights Reserved.