Thursday, December 26, 2013

Do Legally Owned Firearms Increase The Number Of Murders?

If you read the national mainstream media, you have seen the claim over and over again - more guns equals more murders.  Anyone who dares to question this "fact" is accused of lying.  In big cities, government and private left wing groups sponsor gun "buy backs" or exchanges - the aim being to reduce the number of guns in the community and thus reduce violence.  However, one thing they never do is compare the rate of LEGAL firearms ownership to the murder rate - and that is exactly what we are going to do here and now.

Murder rates are easy to obtain from FBI reports.  Since the U.S. does not have national gun registration, there are no figures for legal gun ownership.  There is, however, a way to approximate the legal gun ownership rate: The number of FBI background checks run on guns purchased.  This is done through the National Instant Check System, or NICS for short.  It isn't a perfect gauge of gun ownership because NICS checks are also done for CCW permits and some states require them on private sales while others do not.  In some states, many legal sales are done without checks.  Furthermore, a few illegal purchases by prohibited persons will slip through.  Never the less, it is a good indicator of legal gun ownership - in fact, it is the best we have.

If there is a relationship between the rate of legal gun ownership and the rate of homicides, then there should be a somewhat consistent ratio between legal sales and the number of homicides.  If there is no such relationship, than it is clear that the rate of legal gun ownership has no bearing on the murder rate.

First, let's look at the national, 50 state figures.  The homicide rate in the U.S. is 4.7 per 100,000 population.  The average of all 50 states background checks is 8245 per 100,000 population (Utah and Kentucky were excluded because they do recurring checks on CCW holders - boosting their NICS check totals.)  

So, we can index the number of NICS checks and homicides:

NICS Checks/Murder rate = number of NICS checks per murder

Nationally, it looks like this:

8245 NICS Checks per 100k/4.7 Murders per 100k = 1755 NICS Checks per Murder

Of course the number of legally owned firearms per murder is much, much higher because people don't replace their guns every year.  I have a legally owned handgun that hasn't been sold at retail in over 100 years.  Still, it's a good indicator of the level of firearms ownership in a state.

So, if more legal guns equals more murders than we should see a fairly consistent ratio of murders to NICS checks - except that is not what the data shows.

For instance, New Hampshire has a very low murder rate of 1.1 per 100k - and a very high rate of firearms ownership, resulting in a ratio of 9598 NICS checks per murder.  At the other end of the spectrum, New Jersey has a murder rate slightly below the national average (4.4 per 100k) and the lowest NICS rate in the nation, resulting in a ratio of 234 NICS checks per murder.

Consider these charts - if the anti-gun rights activists are correct and more guns cause more murders, than the bars should be close together.

Number of NICS Checks per Homicide
All states above have slightly lower than average homicide rates of 3.1 - 4.5 per 100k

What about states with high murder rates?  Is there a relationship there?

Number of NICS Checks per Homicide
All states above have higher than average homicide rates of 6.0 per 100k or above

Again, no relationship is seen between legal gun ownership and homicides - even in states with the highest murder rates.  There is, however, one area of consistency:

Number of NICS Checks per Homicide
All states above have lower than average homicide rates of 1.8 per 100k or below

When we look at states with the lowest murder rates - we find a very high rate of NICS checks per murder - every state in the bottom six has a high rate of legal firearms ownership.  In fact, comparing the states with the highest homicide rate to those with the lowest rates, every state with a high homicide rate has a low rate of legal gun ownership. In fact, they have an index ratio of below 2,000 and in 6 of 9 cases the ratio was below the national average - meaning there are actually fewer, not more legal guns in these states.  In contrast, as a result of very high legal gun ownership rates, all but one of the low homicide rate states has a ratio of above 4,000!

The bottom line: If there is any relationship between murder rates and legal gun ownership it is the reverse of the anti-gun rights claims - more legally owned guns are associated with lower, rather than hugher murder rates.

John Lott is right: More guns does equal less crime.

Full data is below:

State 2012          NICS per 100k                NICS per Homicide
Utah 1.8 46898 26054.44
Kentucky 4.5 78703 17489.56
New Hampshire 1.1 10557 9597.27
Montana 2.7 16888 6254.81
Wyoming 2.4 13986 5827.50
Idaho 1.8 10261 5700.56
Iowa 1.5 8524 5682.67
Minnesota 1.8 9730 5405.56
Vermont 1.3 6728 5175.38
Maine 1.9 8629 4541.58
South Dakota 3 13624 4541.33
West Virginia 3.9 15718 4030.26
Alaska 4.1 14616 3564.88
North Dakota 4 13952 3488.00
Oregon 2.4 8287 3452.92
Colorado 3.1 10208 3292.90
Kansas 2.9 9176 3164.14
Washington 3 8785 2928.33
Wisconsin 3 8676 2892.00
Nebraska 2.9 5758 1985.52
Oklahoma 5.7 11279 1978.77
Massachusetts 1.8 3500 1944.44
Connecticut 4.1 7906 1928.29
Arkansas 5.9 11150 1889.83
Indiana 4.7 8691 1849.15
Tennessee 6 10889 1814.83
Illinois 5.8 9831 1695.00
Virginia 3.8 6387 1680.79
Pennsylvania 5.4 8781 1626.11
Texas 4.4 7060 1604.55
Missouri 6.5 10228 1573.54
Alabama 7.1 11070 1559.15
New Mexico 5.6 8589 1533.75
Nevada 4.5 6583 1462.89
Ohio 4.3 6274 1459.07
Mississippi 7.4 10035 1356.08
North Carolina 4.9 6178 1260.82
South Carolina 6.9 7765 1125.36
Arizona 5.5 5934 1078.91
Georgia 5.9 5934 1005.76
Florida 5.2 5212 1002.31
Louisiana 10.8 9500 879.63
Michigan 7 5596 799.43
Rhode Island 3.2 2496 780.00
California 5 3611 722.20
Hawaii 2.1 1359 647.14
Delaware 6.2 3876 625.16
New York 3.5 2172 620.57
Maryland 6.3 2738 434.60
New Jersey 4.4 1030 234.09

NICS check data obtained from this article
Murder rates from FBI stats for 2012

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