Thursday, April 19 2007

Firearms Ownership and Crime Rates

[Seems that the tragedy at Virginia Tech has taken over my train of thought recently.  Don't worry, I'll be tying it all together.]

I had some thoughts in regard to the discussion of gun control and measures that could be taken to prevent a repeat of Monday's massacre, sparked by the discussion here, here and here.  The substance of the debate lies between two general positions, one which says that reducing the number of guns by increasing restrictions on gun ownership reduces violence and one which says that increasing the number of gun owners licensed to carry decreases violence.  Each position insists that it is correct and that the other is wrong.  My position is that both groups are correct, depending on circumstances outside the scope of the debate.  Note:  this is all speculative, as anyone can find the statistics to prove what they want anyways.


Let's imagine a hypothetical world with no guns in private ownership (it's easy if you try.)1  I'd say that in this hypothetical world, gun crimes would be next to nothing.  The problem is getting there from here.  Getting to such a state is impossible without some measure of enforcement, either massive amounts of government control or a massive change in the nature of American society.  If we were all to become Singaporean in terms of cultural values and mores (or other state with a high value on social cohesion and order) gun control would be easy.  There would also be little need for gun control in the first place in either situation.  So the gun controllers are right that with no guns, there would be less crime.

Now those prone to supporting increased restrictions on gun control tend to mischaracterize proponents of concealed weapons legislation as supporting cases where everyone has a gun.  Its not an unreasonable assumption to say that there would be more violence (both gun crimes and accidents) in such a situation than there is in our hypothetical hippy gun-free world.  There are numerous people that lack the responsibility to carry a deadly weapon.  I know people who consistently lose track of cellphones, keys, wallets, etc.  I know people with anger management issues.  I know people with alcohol abuse issues.  While none are bad people, or criminally negligent, there are probably millions of Americans like them out there and giving them all guns is a recipe for abuse.

So we draw a line from gun-free hippy paradise through our imperfect present to the new gun-filled wild, wild west and there it is.  Violent crime is at a minimum when there are no guns and maximum when everyone has a gun.  Simple?

No.  Whoever said that the correlation between guns and violence had to be linear?  Our three-point graph should be linear.  We start at no guns, and the change in the correlation of crimes and accidents to guns should be positive as the number of guns increases.  But is it?  We increase the restrictions on guns, so the number of gun owners decreases.  Are the guns leaving the system coming from across the spectrum of gun owners, or are the guns leaving the system coming from a particular class of gun owners?  My speculation is that the guns are coming from one particular class: law abiding gun owners.  What incentive to laws against gun ownership (taken separately) have over criminal gun owners?  The only change in psychology to the criminal gun owner is that his victim has less chance of owning a gun, making crime less dangerous.  More guns, more chance of having your criminal career cut short by an armed victim.  So under this theory the slope at our current point is in fact negative, more guns means less violent crime.

My theory is that in the absence of other factors, a graph of gun crime versus gun ownership would have four distinct points.  At one end, no gun ownership, the graph would be at a minimum.  At the other end, maximum gun ownership, the amount of violence would be at a maximum.  But there should be a local maximum near where the vast majority of guns in private hands are those in criminal hands, and a local minimum near where gun ownership is open to the point where most responsible non-criminal adults can carry and yet not so open that those prone to irresponsibility are carrying guns en masse.  Gun control measures would be counterproductive from a public safety standpoint if they can't get significantly past that local maximum without either prohibitive costs in money or civil liberties, and easing restrictions on gun ownership may be counterproductive if they cause an increase in gun ownership primarily among those not willing or able to bear the responsibilities of gun ownership.  Individual measures must be evaluated to see which group of gun owners is going to be most affected by the change in regulations.  If it primarily negatively affects law-abiding responsible gun owners, it's probably not a good restriction.

1- I am only looking at gun ownership from a public safety standpoint in a hypothetical world.  There are other reasons to appreciate gun ownership besides individual safety, such as protection from a tyrannical government.  The freedom to own a weapon, like other rights enshrined in the Bill of Rights is valuable even if it comes with some measurable loss in individual safety.  I personally support the right of private individuals to bear arms without undue restrictions, because the freedom to do so is in itself valuable.

Posted by: Civilis at 08: 25 PM | No Comments | Add Comment
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