Given the numerous calls for the gun control legislation after the multitude of mass shootings this past year alone and the subsequent debates across the country taking shape now, it goes without saying many a gun control proponent has found themselves in an elongated back and forth with a pro-gun advocate. Much the rhetoric from the pro-gun side includes claims that “They’re taking away our guns” or “Obama is violating the 2nd Amendment, impeach him” or “Gun laws don’t work”. Much of this rhetoric sprouts from any number of right-wing blogs or Fox News opinion page and of course from the current leader of the National Rifle Associate, Wayne LaPierre whose recent comments have yet to endear him in the minds of American public.
The debates many of us find ourselves entrenched in may seem daunting given the support the pro-gun individuals appear to have, especially for those who claim gun laws are not effective. They will launch into a flurry of copied and pasted statistics with many focusing on Chicago since that is Obama’s hometown which serves a poster child for how these laws don’t work given the city’s high crime rates. But in response it’s worth pointing out that the Supreme Court ruled against a city-wide handgun ban in 2010. In response city officials sought to tighten registration requirements. This is also used as an apparent argument supporting the pro-gun side since gun-related violence continues in high numbers. But there’s a caveat to this. One in ten of the guns used in shootings within the city of Chicago were either bought outside of the city limits are across state lines, in places like Mississippi which has less restrictive terms for the purchase of firearms. The city’s gun laws are circumvented in this way beyond the jurisdiction of the Chicago’s laws. This is also the case with other cities and states with tighter gun restrictions.
Now, when the debate moves into the broader realm of “Gun laws don’t work,” then here are a few references to lob over an opponent’s head, a few scientific, peer -reviewed sources that may just be of use.
From the Harvard Injury Control Research Center:
1. Where there are more guns there is more homicide (literature review).
Our review of the academic literature found that a broad array of evidence indicates that gun availability is a risk factor for homicide, both in the United States and across high-income countries. Case-control studies, ecological time-series and cross-sectional studies indicate that in homes, cities, states and regions in the US, where there are more guns, both men and women are at higher risk for homicide, particularly firearm homicide.
Hepburn, Lisa; Hemenway, David. Firearm availability and homicide: A review of the literature. Aggression and Violent Behavior: A Review Journal. 2004; 9:417-40.
2. Across high-income nations, more guns = more homicide.
We analyzed the relationship between homicide and gun availability using data from 26 developed countries from the early 1990s. We found that across developed countries, where guns are more available, there are more homicides. These results often hold even when the United States is excluded.
Hemenway, David; Miller, Matthew. Firearm availability and homicide rates across 26 high income countries. Journal of Trauma. 2000; 49:985-88.
3. Across states, more guns = more homicide
Using a validated proxy for firearm ownership, we analyzed the relationship between firearm availability and homicide across 50 states over a ten year period (1988-1997).
After controlling for poverty and urbanization, for every age group, people in states with many guns have elevated rates of homicide, particularly firearm homicide.
Miller, Matthew; Azrael, Deborah; Hemenway, David. Household firearm ownership levels and homicide rates across U.S. regions and states, 1988-1997. American Journal of Public Health. 2002: 92:1988-1993.
4. Across states, more guns = more homicide (2)
Using survey data on rates of household gun ownership, we examined the association between gun availability and homicide across states, 2001-2003. We found that states with higher levels of household gun ownership had higher rates of firearm homicide and overall homicide. This relationship held for both genders and all age groups, after accounting for rates of aggravated assault, robbery, unemployment, urbanization, alcohol consumption, and resource deprivation (e.g., poverty). There was no association between gun prevalence and non-firearm homicide.
And from Kanuk, a blogger who has done a significant amount of research on this topic;
1) Hidden Homicide Increases in the USA, 1999-2005. Journal of Urban Health Jul2008, Vol. 85 Issue 4, p597-606:
Abstract: Prior to 1999, dramatic fluctuations in homicide rates were driven by changes in the rates of firearm homicide among men aged 15-24. Since 2000, the overall homicide rate has appeared stable, masking any changes in population subgroups. We analyzed recent trends in homicide rates by weapon, age, race, gender, state, and urbanization to determine whether the risk of victimization increased substantially during 1999-2005 for demographic subgroups. The analysis of WISQARS (TM) data and Wonder data from Centers for Disease Control and Prevention revealed no trend in the homicide rate nationally between 1999 and 2005; this obscured large increases in firearm homicide rates among black men aged 25-44 and among white men aged 25-34. Between 1999 and 2005, for ages 25-44 combined, the increase for black men was 31% compared with 12% for white men. Significant increases among men aged 25-44 occurred in Alabama, California, Michigan, Minnesota, Nebraska, Nevada, New Jersey, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Texas, and Washington. The firearm homicide rate increased the most in large central metropolitan areas (+32%) and large fringe metropolitan areas (+30%) for men aged 25-44. We conclude that the recent, unrecognized increases in firearm homicide among men aged 25-44, especially black men, in large metropolitan areas merit the attention of policymakers.
2) Hoskin, A. (2011) Household gun prevalence and rates of violent crime: A test of competing gun theories. Criminal Justice Studies 24 (1), 125-136:
This study analyzes the reciprocal relationship between a direct measure of gun availability and three types of violent crime across the 120 most populous counties in the USA. Survey data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance System are used to construct a measure of household gun prevalence. Hypotheses derived from four competing perspectives concerning the role of guns in the production of violence are tested. Strong support is found for the view that easy access to guns raises the risk of serious violence by giving the perpetrator the power to inflict greater victim injury. By contrast, no support is found for the argument that widespread legal gun ownership lowers violent crime by deterring prospective offenders.
3) Gun control and suicide: The impact of state firearm regulations in the United States, 1995–2004. Health Policy, Volume 101, Issue 1, June 2011, Pages 95–103:
Objective: To empirically assess the impact of firearm regulation on male suicides.
Method: A negative binomial regression model was applied by using a panel of state level data for the years 1995–2004. The model was used to identify the association between several firearm regulations and male suicide rates.
Results: Our empirical analysis suggest that firearms regulations which function to reduce overall gun availability have a significant deterrent effect on male suicide, while regulations that seek to prohibit high risk individuals from owning firearms have a lesser effect.
Conclusions: Restricting access to lethal means has been identified as an effective approach to suicide prevention, and firearms regulations are one way to reduce gun availability. The analysis suggests that gun control measures such as permit and licensing requirements have a negative effect on suicide rates among males. Since there is considerable heterogeneity among states with regard to gun control, these results suggest that there are opportunities for many states to reduce suicide by expanding their firearms regulations
4) Preventing suicide and homicide in the United States: The potential benefit in human lives. Psychiatry Research Sep2009, Vol. 169 Issue 2, p154-158
Abstract: In order to assess the potential benefit in human lives if all geographical regions in the US (Northeast, South, Midwest, and West) achieved the lowest suicide and homicide rates observed within these regions, age-, race- and gender-adjusted suicide and homicide rates for each of the four regions were calculated based on data retrieved using the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention database for 1999-2004. Data on known risk factors were retrieved from online sources. Overall suicide rates (10.42 per 100,000) exceeded homicide rates (6.97 per 100,000). Almost 27% (12,942 lives per year) of the 288,222 suicide and homicide deaths during the study period might have been avoided if all US regions achieved the mortality rate reported by the Northeast. A firearm was used in 55% of all suicides and 66% of all homicides. In the total estimate of avoidable deaths, firearm suicides (90%) and firearm homicides (75%) were overrepresented. The Northeast had the lowest access to firearms (20%) contrasted to almost double in the other regions, whereas greater firearms availability was related to unrestricted firearm legislation. Measures to restrict firearms availability should be highly prioritized in the public health agenda in order to achieve an impressive benefit in human lives.
5) Gun availability and violent death. American Journal of Public Health v. 87 (June 1997) p. 899-901:
The relationship between the availability of guns and violent death is discussed. In this issue, Cummings et al. report the findings of a case-control study to estimate the effects of handgun ownership on a family member’s risk of suicide and homicide in a large health maintenance organization population for the period 1980-92. The results, which agree with the findings of other epidemiological studies involving different populations and techniques, indicate that owning a handgun or having a family member who owns a handgun significantly increases the risk of violent death. When all the confounding factors are accounted for, the results of Cummings et al. indicate that although it may be in the interest of particular individuals to purchase a gun to protect their families, it may not be in the interest of society for every family to purchase a gun. Although epidemiology cannot settle the political, ethical, and philosophical dilemma between the individual and society, it can enhance our understanding of violent death and how to prevent it.
6) Rosenbaum, Janet E . Gun utopias? Firearm access and ownership in Israel and Switzerland. Journal of Public Health Policy Feb2012, Vol. 33 Issue 1, p46-58.
The 2011 attempted assassination of a US representative renewed the national gun control debate. Gun advocates claim mass-casualty events are mitigated and deterred with three policies: (a) permissive gun laws, (b) widespread gun ownership, (c) and encouragement of armed civilians who can intercept shooters. They cite Switzerland and Israel as exemplars. We evaluate these claims with analysis of International Crime Victimization Survey (ICVS) data and translation of laws and original source material. Swiss and Israeli laws limit firearm ownership and require permit renewal one to four times annually. ICVS analysis finds the United States has more firearms per capita and per household than either country. Switzerland and Israel curtail off-duty soldiers’ firearm access to prevent firearm deaths. Suicide among soldiers decreased by 40 per cent after the Israeli army’s 2006 reforms. Compared with the United States, Switzerland and Israel have lower gun ownership and stricter gun laws, and their policies discourage personal gun ownership.