Gun Violence and Gun Control: What the Research Shows

Another week, another mass shooting.  As I’ve blogged recently, I am a hunter and gun owner.  I am not someone who believes the 2nd amendment should be repealed.  But I am someone interested in having a studied and generous national conversation about constitutional gun control measures that may decrease the number of gun-related deaths in this country.  I have also blogged on the issue of mental health and gun violence, sharing research that reveals past acts of violence to be far better predictors of future gun violence than is mental illness per se.

The ultimate purpose of those prior blog posts was to call for federally-funded research on how best to minimize gun violence.  In the absence of federally-funded research, the best we can do is rely on university and private-source research.  In the hope of furthering the conversation, here are some helpful studies for people of good will to consider:

Against the assertion that mass shootings have always been part of our societal life and are merely being more heavily reported today, there is this article on a 2014 FBI study, which demonstrates how such shootings have increased appreciably.  The article begs the question whether the types of weapons utilized in mass shootings should be considered, in Justice Scalia’s words, “unusual and dangerous,” and therefore restricted (which is constitutionally allowable).

Next are two studies that debunk a shibboleth commonly repeated by those opposed to all gun control, namely, that areas with the most stringent gun control laws have higher incidents of gun violence.  While this may be true in Chicago–related primarily to drug-related gang violence–it is not true overall.  The Huff Post piece looks specifically at gun homicide.  The Atlantic article article looks at gun deaths more generally, but it also hones in on the correlations between specific gun control measures and lower rates of gun violence, which is helpful (and also speaks to the question of whether restricting assault weapons might help reduce gun violence).  Richard Florida is a well-known urban researcher.  I’ve read his stuff over the years.

Then is a Stanford University study that concludes “right to carry” laws have contributed to an increase in the incidence of aggravated assault, gun homicide, and other violent crimes.

Finally, here is a Harvard study that compares the availability of guns with homicide rates.  While the researchers stop short of claiming a causal connection, they do control for the other primary contributory factors (the “usual suspects”), including poverty, unemployment, urbanization, and alcohol consumption.  The results make clear that the greater the pervasiveness of guns, the greater the homicide rate across all age categories.  The research was repeated to look at the years 2001-2003, with the same results.

Rather than merely repeating the mantra “gun control doesn’t work,” we ought, as a society, to consider the question on its merits through the best research possible.  Based upon that research, we should consider who ought not have access to guns, how best to prevent guns from falling into their hands, and what categories of guns are in every instance “dangerous and unusual” and therefore should be restricted from everyone.  And then we should ask ourselves the cost-benefit question: How many mass shootings are we going to accept before we pursue effective, constitutional firearm regulation?

4 thoughts on “Gun Violence and Gun Control: What the Research Shows

  1. This is the most measured, unbiased and common sense article that I have ever read on the subject. Continue on and push it Barkley. We are thankful for people like you. Bill

  2. Perhaps a starting point would be to update and pass a 2016 version of the Federal Assault Weapons Ban passed in 1994 with the support of Republicans Ronald Reagan and Gerald Ford and Democrats Jimmy Carter and Bill Cinton.

    This is a video made by a retired policeman and responsible gun owner:

  3. A new study by the US Centers for Disease Control has been completed in 2016. This was ordered by President Obama.

    Here are some key findings from the CDC report, “Priorities for Research to Reduce the Threat of Firearm-Related Violence,” released in June along with quotes:

    1. Armed citizens are less likely to be injured by an attacker:
    “Studies that directly assessed the effect of actual defensive uses of guns (i.e., incidents in which a gun was ‘used’ by the crime victim in the sense of attacking or threatening an offender) have found consistently lower injury rates among gun-using crime victims compared with victims who used other self-protective strategies.”

    2. Defensive uses of guns are common:
    “Almost all national survey estimates indicate that defensive gun uses by victims are at least as common as offensive uses by criminals, with estimates of annual uses ranging from about 500,000 to more than 3 million per year…in the context of about 300,000 violent crimes involving firearms in 2008.”

    3. Mass shootings and accidental firearm deaths account for a small fraction of gun-related deaths, and both are declining:
    “The number of public mass shootings of the type that occurred at Sandy Hook Elementary School accounted for a very small fraction of all firearm-related deaths. Since 1983 there have been 78 events in which 4 or more individuals were killed by a single perpetrator in 1 day in the United States, resulting in 547 victims and 476 injured persons.” The report also notes, “Unintentional firearm-related deaths have steadily declined during the past century. The number of unintentional deaths due to firearm-related incidents accounted for less than 1 percent of all unintentional fatalities in 2010.”

    4. “Interventions” (i.e, gun control) such as background checks, so-called assault rifle bans and gun-free zones produce “mixed” results:
    “Whether gun restrictions reduce firearm-related violence is an unresolved issue.” The report could not conclude whether “passage of right-to-carry laws decrease or increase violence crime.”

    5. Gun buyback/turn-in programs are “ineffective” in reducing crime:
    “There is empirical evidence that gun turn in programs are ineffective, as noted in the 2005 NRC study Firearms and Violence: A Critical Review. For example, in 2009, an estimated 310 million guns were available to civilians in the United States (Krouse, 2012), but gun buy-back programs typically recover less than 1,000 guns (NRC, 2005). On the local level, buy-backs may increase awareness of firearm violence. However, in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, for example, guns recovered in the buy-back were not the same guns as those most often used in homicides and suicides (Kuhn et al., 2002).”

    6. Stolen guns and retail/gun show purchases account for very little crime:
    “More recent prisoner surveys suggest that stolen guns account for only a small percentage of guns used by convicted criminals. … According to a 1997 survey of inmates, approximately 70 percent of the guns used or possess by criminals at the time of their arrest came from family or friends, drug dealers, street purchases, or the underground market.”

    7. The vast majority of gun-related deaths are not homicides, but suicides:
    “Between the years 2000-2010 firearm-related suicides significantly outnumbered homicides for all age groups, annually accounting for 61 percent of the more than 335,600 people who died from firearms related violence in the United States.”

    8. Many are quoting the CDC’s finding that, “The U.S. rate of firearm-related homicide is higher than that of any other industrialized country: 19.5 times higher than the rates in other high-income countries.” However, if figures are excluded from major locations with the strictest gun control laws such as Illinois, California, New Jersey and Washington, D.C., “The homicide rate in the United States would be in line with any other country.”

  4. Thank very much for this, Brian. I’ll look forward to reading the study. More and more, I’m coming to believe–and the research is bearing out–that past history of violence (rather than mental illness) is the best predictor of future bad action using guns. I’m hopeful that this consensus may be a point upon which most people of goodwill can agree. Using it as a focal point for regulation would save lives and not infringe upon anyone’s 2nd Amendment rights.

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