11 of top 14 states with “best” gun-laws fail to beat grade D jurisdictions

I’ve been taking another look at FBI crime stats. I’m interested in how they correlate with the kind of gun-laws that the “Demand a Plan” people have been advocating for the United States. Last time I looked at this I found that, in all areas rural and urban, the middle-of-the-road mediocre gun-laws were best, but overall there was really no strong correlation. Oh and to be clear I was looking at overall violent crime, not limited to just murders or just gun-crime. My focus is on what is safest, and for once I’m allowing myself to look through an unpricipaled strictly consequentialist lens.

Removing rural areas (and Minnesota, due to missing data) from the picture hasn’t improved matters at all, take a look.


FBI crime stats vs quality scores from smartgunlaws.org

The two states with D- laws (Florida and South Carolina) I’ll put aside, but looking at the 8 states with D grade laws, it’s clear that they usually have less violence than states with “better” gun laws. In fact 11 of very-top 14 states with “best” gun-laws fail to beat grade the average grade D jurisdiction, and overall it’s 11 states to 3. Those top states, by the way, include Massachusetts where a new gun law seems to have made matters worse. This is interesting because I think urban violence is something people care a lot about; and is more significant than the narrower measure of gun-homicides. Non-gun violence affects more people, though perhaps less seriously, and it is illogical to disregard the suffering of those victims if you are taking a statistical approach. It does seem that preventing access to firearms for self-defense can make violent crime worse.

Here is the league-table of jurisdiction-groupings, sorted by the strictness of gun-law:


Another interesting factoid here is that taking the “worst” 23 states – those with the least gun control – on average they have less violence than many of states with “better” gun-control laws. Gun-control does not always lead to safer or nicer places, far from it.

I don’t have much time to dedicate to this issue, I only did so tonight because the BBC had a very biased Panorama episode on it. I would like to look at this more, but it seems to me that naively making gun-laws stricter is not going to give people the safe environment they really want. It’s pretty clear that safety isn’t about taking guns away and imposing more laws. I think that to solve their gun crime problem the US has to look harder at itself.

Demand mediocre gun laws

Since the Newtown shootings I’ve been hearing a great deal, understandably, about murder and violent crime statistics. Richard compared UK and US homicide statistics and Michael looked at the media angle. It’s time to look at the two together.

You may remember that a variety of celebrities took to TV to demand that the people of the US demand a plan from their politicians to, well, demand criminals to kindly not commit the crime of murder again, please. A lot has been said already about how asking criminals to obey a law that takes guns away from them is unlikely to be ineffective, but lets not dwell on that. Let’s take at the laws the celebrities were, in effect, endorsing.

It turns out that the people behind the “Demand a Plan” video called the Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence (owners of smartgunlaws.org) have a plan of their own to sell. In fact they’ve been cataloguing and grading the gun laws of every US state (excluding, for some reason, the District) with a score from A- to F. They did not award any A or E grades. It’s their goal, as you may not be surprised, to reduce gun violence in a “smart” way using laws as a tool. Obviously, at least to you and me, the choice of murder weapon is of little consequence when you’re dead so I had a look at total homicides (inevitably combining non-negligent manslaughter) from the FBI crime statistics.

I wanted to know whether the states they graded highly had better overall homicide rates. The results are interesting:

Homicides by Law Quality

Law’s graded by SmartGunLaws.org. Crime stats by FBI.

The graph shows the mean rate per 100,000 people as calculated by the FBI, then averaged across states. The X axis is the grade assigned by gun-control advocates, listed alphabetically. The Y axis reflects the combined performance of all laws in the same grade-band in all the states awarded that grade by the Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence. As you can see, C grade laws tend to produce fewer homicides regardless of the perpetrator’s choice of weapon. Bizarrely, A-, B-, D, D- and F grade laws all produce more homicides.

What about other forms of violence. Frankly, I have no idea if it’s better to survive a gun shot wound or a beating with fists, I’d like to avoid both. So I wondered how does the “quality” of gun law impact overall violent crime? Most gun-ownership advocates would say that more guns means less violence, since guns are a force-leveller. Most gun-control advocates, I have noticed, don’t seem to care much if I get beaten with an iron rod for want of a firearm.

Violent Crime By Gun Law Quality

Law’s graded by SmartGunLaws.org. Crime stats by FBI.

A second time, it seems as though mediocre C and D grade laws produce better outcomes in terms of the amount of reported violent crime. Even A- states reported nearly 383 crimes compared to just over 362 in F grade states. Nearly 21 extra violent crimes, per 100,000, were caused by “better” gun laws. Wowser!

So what do I think is going on? Well, seriously, I don’t know. The case for gun-control is done no favours by the fact that A-, B-, C and D- states are all more violent that F graded ones, but the averages actually look random. I am not a US citizen and I don’t know enough about each state’s circumstances to speculate at why. The raw stats are there for others to work with and if you want my tabulated spreadsheet and pivot tables, write in, I’m happy to save you a couple of hours of making annoying formulas that I already made. Most likely there are a lot of better mathematicians too, for example, I would like to control for population density and poverty rates but I don’t have a grasp of the required mathematics.

My feeling about it is that actually gun laws are making no difference whatsoever. States have the problems they do for all manner of reasons, I am sure, and I am sure I don’t know how to untangle it. The eagle eyed among you will also notice that C, C- and C+ are not in grade order. I’m sure that were they in order the result would point even more clearly in favour of laws meaning nothing and saving no-one. A little factoid to call out is that D- states experienced 178 more violent crimes per 100,000 people than F graded states. If you were in an F graded state, would you really want your gun laws to score a D- instead? I mean, would you vote for it?

Instead, I look at things in a different way. If I have a right to be alive, and to be happy, then why is it right to limit my use of self-defence? I am responsible for my existence, I would not want to burden others with a duty to act as a white-knight; but if I did I would want them to be armed too so that they can do so safely. Frankly, even if my use of armed self-defence meant that there were more mishaps, then I am sure I would still possess the right to try and defend myself; if not the inclination.

And as for the 2nd amendment, I’m not sure it really does say that I get to use a gun to protect me from my Government, but just look at Syria.

Traumatised Indian females want guns

After the Delhi rape case, in which 23-year-old physiotherapy student Jyoti Singh Pandey was brutally and mortally wounded, females in the Indian capital are keen to own firearms. According to the Guardian:

Hundreds of women in Delhi have applied for gun licences following the gang rape and murder of a 23-year-old woman by six men in a bus in the city last month.

The news underlines the widespread sense of insecurity in the city, deep before the incident and deeper now, and the lack of faith in law enforcement agencies.

© Ivan McClellan

Thanks to the visitor who pointed out this story. He rightly said that libertarians should be shouting about this and ensuring that those opposed to the idea understand that they are effectively in favour of rape. Well said. Unfortunately the visitor used a fake email address to leave the comment, which I cannot encourage, though credit is deserved. It is perhaps a little extreme to call gun control advocates such names but they are putting the prevention of rare and emotive tragedies above the individual’s inalienable rights to life and to self-defence, and that’s the wrong judgement to make.

The Guardian, of course, places itself firmly in this “pro-rape” category stating that the “rush for firearms will cause concern”. Really? So what is the current position in India?

The Guardian reports that legal gun ownership (which is increasingly practiced in some areas) actually requires evidence of direct threat to life (a fact I double sourced) and that:

There are estimated to be 40m guns in India, the second highest number in the world after the US.

Licences are hard to obtain and most are illegal weapons, many manufactured in backstreet workshops. Official ownership levels remain low – three guns for every 100 people – but in recent years the number of women holding arms has risen. Most are wealthy and worried about theft or assault.

It is odd for the Guardian to editorialise that this is a cause of concern. They have reported in May 2012 and now again in January 2013 that Indian women want guns for self-defence and that they increasingly get them, they even posted an excellent video showing articulate middle-class Indian women with rifles, shot guns, pistols (and in one case, all three). They showed all the gun shops in the Punjab, but it is apparent that India does not have the same kind of gun problems as the US.  In fact, a little Googling reveals that although there are regular large-scale killings in India, especially in Uttar Pradesh (which, incidentally, has a reputation for corruption) but it is related to Hindu / Muslim religious tensions and has involved swords and bombs, as well as guns. That is not a comparable scenario. So why is it that the Guardian is reporting a desire for more lawful ownership of guns by women for self-defence with such studious yet concerned neutrality? Apparently it does not compute for them that this could be good news.

Privately manufactured guns

The fact that many of these Indian guns owned by the rich for self-defence, as well as the gun that killed British tourist Stephen Ashton in Thailand owned by a gang member, are being manufactured in low-key workshops is a challenge to advocates of disarmenent. In fact it is a sign that gun control will be impossible to implement in a country that respects freedom of speech and offers even a modicum of privacy. It does not take much privacy for engineering knowledge to be shared and put to work.

Think about it. The technology for manufacturing guns is centuries old and the tools available in normal hardware stores and from paces like the Axminster catalogue are increasingly sophisticated. The natural cause of economic and technical progress is that guns should be easier to manufacture at home. Gun control will not work outside of an Orwellian surveillance society with strict censorship and microphones in every room. Even if you think that gun ownership is undesirable, which I am increasing convinced is not the case, then the rational option would still be to plan for the reality of inevitable gun ownership and ensure as many as possible are in the hands of the right kinds of people.

Gun ownership and violent crime

From Cato’s David Lampo writing in May 2000:

© simonov

The 31 states that have “shall issue” laws allowing private citizens to carry concealed weapons have, on average, a 24 percent lower violent crime rate, a 19 percent lower murder rate and a 39 percent lower robbery rate than states that forbid concealed weapons. In fact, the nine states with the lowest violent crime rates are all right-to-carry states. Remarkably, guns are used for self-defense more than 2 million times a year, three to five times the estimated number of violent crimes committed with guns.