Menus Subscribe Search

Follow us


gun-target-2

(ILLUSTRATION: AARROWS/SHUTTERSTOCK)

Gun Ownership Neither Increases Nor Decreases the Crime Rate

• April 17, 2013 • 4:05 AM

(ILLUSTRATION: AARROWS/SHUTTERSTOCK)

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 smallarmssurvey.org. 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 PSmag.com, delivered straight to your inbox.

Recent Posts

November 21 • 4:00 PM

Why Are America’s Poorest Toddlers Being Over-Prescribed ADHD Drugs?

Against all medical guidelines, children who are two and three years old are getting diagnosed with ADHD and treated with Adderall and other stimulants. It may be shocking, but it’s perfectly legal.



November 21 • 2:00 PM

The Best Moms Let Mess Happen

That’s the message of a Bounty commercial that reminds this sociologist of Sharon Hays’ work on “the ideology of intensive motherhood.”


November 21 • 12:00 PM

Eating Disorders Are Not Just for Women

Men, like women, are affected by our cultural preoccupation with thinness. And refusing to recognize that only makes things worse.


November 21 • 10:00 AM

Queens of the South

Inside Asheville, North Carolina’s 7th annual Miss Gay Latina pageant.


November 21 • 9:12 AM

‘Shirtstorm’ and Sexism in Science

Following the recent T-shirt controversy, it’s clear that sexism in science persists. But the forces driving the gender gap are still being debated.


November 21 • 8:00 AM

What Makes a Film Successful in 2014?

Domestic box office earnings are no longer a reliable metric.



November 21 • 6:00 AM

What Makes a City Unhappy?

According to the National Bureau of Economic Research, Dana McMahan splits time between two of the country’s unhappiest cities. She set out to explore the causes of the happiness deficits.


November 21 • 5:04 AM

Sufferers of Social Anxiety Disorder, Your Friends Like You

The first study of friends’ perceptions suggest they know something’s off with their pals but like them just the same.


November 21 • 4:00 AM

In 2001 Study, Black Celebrities Judged Harshly in Rape Cases

When accused of rape, black celebrities were viewed more negatively than non-celebrities. The opposite was true of whites.


November 20 • 4:00 PM

Women, Kink, and Sex Addiction: It’s Not Like the Movies

The popular view is that if a woman is into BDSM she’s probably a sex addict, and vice versa. In fact, most kinky women are perfectly happy—and possibly healthier than their vanilla counterparts.


November 20 • 2:00 PM

A Majority of Middle-Class Black Children Will Be Poorer as Adults

The disturbing findings of a new study.


November 20 • 12:00 PM

Standing Up for My Group by Kicking Yours

Members of a minority ethnic group are less likely to express support for gay equality if they believe their own group suffers from discrimination.


November 20 • 10:00 AM

For Juvenile Records, It’s ‘Justice by Geography’

A new study finds an inconsistent patchwork of policies across states for how juvenile records are sealed and expunged.


November 20 • 8:00 AM

Surviving the Secret Childhood Trauma of a Parent’s Drug Addiction

As a young girl, Alana Levinson struggled with the shame of her father’s substance abuse. But when she looked more deeply into the research on children of drug-addicted parents, she realized society’s “conspiracy of silence” was keeping her—and possibly millions of others—from adequately dealing with the experience.



November 20 • 6:00 AM

Extreme Weather, Caused by Climate Change, Is Here. Can Nike Prepare You?

Following the approach we often see from companies marketing products before big storms, Nike focuses on climate change science in the promotion of its latest line of base-layer apparel. Is it a sign that more Americans are taking climate change seriously? Don’t get your hopes up.


November 20 • 5:00 AM

How Old Brains Learn New Tricks

A new study shows that the neural plasticity needed for learning doesn’t vanish as we age—it just moves.


November 20 • 4:00 AM

The FBI’s Dangerous Misrepresentation of Encryption Law

The FBI no more deserves a direct line to your data than it deserves to intercept your mail at the post office. But it doesn’t want you to know that.


November 20 • 2:00 AM

Brain Drain Is Economic Development

It may be hard to see unless you shift your focus from places to people, but both destination and source can benefit from “brain drain.”


November 19 • 9:00 PM

Gays Rights Are Great, but Ixnay on the PDAs

New research suggests both heterosexuals and gay men are uncomfortable with public same-sex kissing.


November 19 • 4:00 PM

The Red Cross’ Own Employees Doubt the Charity’s Ethics

Survey results obtained by ProPublica also show a crisis of trust in the charity’s senior leadership.



November 19 • 2:00 PM

Egg Freezing Isn’t the Feminist Issue You Think It Is

New benefits being offered by Apple and Facebook probably aren’t about discouraging women from becoming mothers at a “natural” age.


Follow us


Sufferers of Social Anxiety Disorder, Your Friends Like You

The first study of friends' perceptions suggest they know something's off with their pals but like them just the same.

Standing Up for My Group by Kicking Yours

Members of a minority ethnic group are less likely to express support for gay equality if they believe their own group suffers from discrimination.

How Old Brains Learn New Tricks

A new study shows that the neural plasticity needed for learning doesn't vanish as we age—it just moves.

Ethnic Diversity Deflates Market Bubbles

But it's not in the rainbow and sing-along way you'd hope for. We just don't trust outsiders' judgments.

Online Brain Exercises Are Probably Useless

Even under the guidance of a specialist trainer, computer-based brain exercises have only modest benefits, a new analysis shows.

The Big One

One company, Comcast, will control up to 40 percent of Internet service coverage in the U.S., and 19 of the top 20 cable markets, if a proposed merger with Time Warner Cable is approved by regulators. November/December 2014

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