A new statistical analysis of 33 U.S. states could be a game-changer for the argument that more guns on the street would help reduce violent crime.
The debate over whether more guns leads to more or less crime harkens back to the 1998 book More Guns, Less Crime, by John Lott Jr. of the Crime Prevention Research Center. Since its publication, 11 states have loosened their right-to-carry laws, and more than 30 states allow the open carrying of a gun with no permit necessary.
In those same states, violent crime increased 13%-15% in the decade after right-to-carry laws were adopted.
Which is one why, argues the study’s lead author John Donohue, adopting them could be a “dangerous mistake to make.”
“The important takeaway is that more guns seem to lead to more crime. So it is probably wise to think in terms of appropriate controls and it would be very unwise to push the 2nd amendment too far.”
The team behind the study looked at violent crime rates in all states, controlling for policing, incarceration rates, poverty, and other demographic issues to estimate the impact of the right-to-carry laws on the books.
3.1 million people were victims of violent crimes in 2017, according to the Bureau of Justice Statistics, and jailing everyone responsible would double the prison population in most states.
Donahue says that even he and his team were surprised at what the data presented.
“It was really only after we had 13 more years of data and 11 additional adoptions of RTC laws that a clear picture emerged that RTC laws increase violent crime.”
And not by a little – by a lot.
In 23 of the 31 states with right-to-carry laws, violent crime increased by as much as 24% (PA) in the last decade.
Incidents of gun violence related to road rage disputes, bar fights, police shootings of armed civilians, and everyday disagreements explain increases, as the study did not find a statistically significant change in rates of homicide or property crimes.
Other researchers, like Daniel Webster of the Center for Gun Policy and Research at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, told Buzzfeed News he’s thrilled to have more numbers.
“I have read the study and consider it to be the most rigorous of studies of right-to-carry laws to date. This is a very important piece of research.”
Mr. Lott – the author of the original pro-gun argument – is keen to dismiss the emerging numbers.
“Basically, poor areas are more likely to be affected by violent crime, so lowering barriers to permits has a bigger effect in states that do so.”
Criminologist Philip Cook from Duke University, though, argues that new studies often trump old research and topple old data. That’s just how science often works.
“The scientific process does not always get the answer right the first time, but if it’s working well, then important findings are reviewed and tested and the truth becomes clearer.”
The new study, which encompasses 33 states and an extra decade of data, should be the beacon going forward – unless another study as rigorous effectively challenges it sometime in the future.
Until then, these numbers should give everyone – including the Supreme Court – something to think about.