“ Gun violence is decidedlyuncontroversial among scholars: more guns cause more suicides, homicides…
WuzYoung OnceToo

I largely concurred with the message and purpose of this article (that being the [admittedly very sharp] criticism of a prominent gun rights activist and the work he and his colleagues have produced), and after seeing the generally negative reception this article has garnered in the three dozen or so comments that have been posted on it so far, I wanted to respond to at least one and offer my defense of the piece. Most of the comments here don’t appear particularly substantive to me (the currently most recommended one stands out quite a bit), but you made an empirical claim, so I’d like to address yours.

It’s not in dispute that there are far more guns in the United States today there were twenty years ago, but this conceals a more relevant statistic: while precise numbers are hard to come by, this much seems to be clear: the percentage of households in possession of a gun hasn’t increased since the 90s, and it may have decreased significantly. Here’s the polling data I found (one contradicts the two others to a fair extent, but none of them indicate an increase). I think that this number is more important to the debate — it seems intuitive that, all else being equal, a neighborhood with ten households each owning one gun will be more prone to gun violence than a neighborhood with one household owning ten guns.

If the surveys are to be believed, then you can’t really draw a significant correlation between gun ownership rates and violent crime (unless gun ownership is actually down, instead of stagnant). In my understanding, if one variable remains essentially the same over time, and another one decreases significantly, no correlation can be determined (again, there might be a positive correlation between rates of household gun ownership and violent crime, where the case opposite yours could be made).

In any case, the background I’ve given really just leads me to my main point: regardless of the rates of gun ownership, and whether or not it correlates to any substantial degree with the rates of violent crime, this rather narrow focus on the subject is largely meaningless.

What I mean by this, is that, while you may be able to meaningfully analyze the relationship between two distinct variables in a vacuum, attempting to do this in the real world, where there are countless other relevant factors that haven’t been controlled for, would be deeply misguided. You just can’t effectively scrutinize the effect B has on A without considering the influence C, D, and E might also have on A.

In terms of practical application, using two trends appearing to relate to each other in one country (the US) to make an argument is not a methodologically sound means to arrive at a reasonable conclusion about a particular phenomenon.

I would also like to directly contradict the claim you made in your comment with one of my own — that is, that gun ownership correlates positively with violent crime.

The data seem to bear this out: generally, the more relaxed a state’s gun laws, the more likely someone in that states is to die as a result of a firearm injury. This statistic doesn’t just count homicides, and includes suicides and accidents. However, I think that this caveat actually gives a more comprehensive view of the issue, and given that more than half of both suicides and homicides in the United States are committed by a firearm, the argument is not weakened by the detail. Additionally, for an even broader picture, our country has a relatively high rate of murder among developed countries, almost all of which have stricter gun laws.

In short, it doesn’t appear that, with the recent decline in rates of violent crime in the US, rates of gun ownership are rising in a way particularly relevant to the debate at hand. And if there is, in fact, any correlation between gun ownership and violent crime, the numbers appear to suggest that it goes the other way.

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