Wednesday, October 30, 2013

GUN OWNERSHIP vs GUN REGULATIONS vs VIOLENT CRIME vs NEEDLESS DEATHS

IN MY OTHER FORUM ON HUBPAGES, I have written a series of articles delving into a statistical study of the relationship between how the regulation of guns does or does not modify the rate at which guns are legally possessed in America and the relationship between the rate of legal gun ownership and the rate of deaths by gun, in general, and violent crime, specifically. I am not going to recreating the mathematics here; I am new at blogging and don't want to scare potential readers away, but I will offer some interesting facts and figures to help support my points.

This topic interests me due the number of needless deaths, approximately 85,600 in total and 2,568 kids since starting counting with the completion of a hub on Gabriel Giffords on 1/1/2011 and Sandy Hook Elementary on 12/14/2012, respectively until 10/31/2013 and the ease our society chooses to let these happen without significant, or even insignificant, changes to the laws regulating access to firearms.  Many of these might have been prevented with sensible gun regulations (unfortunately, Sandy Hook isn't one of them, but the Colorado Theater Massacre is).  All of the kids and most of the adults that have died from gunshots were senseless deaths and many of them happened only because many states have poor to very poor laws regulating legal gun ownership.  (Just yesterday, 10/21/2013, a toddler found a loaded gun under her father's couch in North Carolina and killed herself with it! North Carolina is tied for 9th in strictest gun regulations and has a special childrens provisions; the father is being charged with 2nd degree manslaughter.) 


What my hubs, that is what they these types of blogs are called in Hubland, prove beyond a shadow of a doubt is that 1) better, not onerous, gun regulations reduce the rate of gun ownership in a state and 2) fewer legal guns in circulation, per capita, means fewer deaths by guns, per capita.  The obvious conclusion, then, is that if those states with poor gun regulations improved them, say to the level of South Carolina, Nevada, or Utah, then fewer people would die from being shot than would otherwise be the case.


For this blog, instead of taking six parts to walk the reader through the reasons why and the statistics behind those reasons, I will cut to the bottom line; which has two parts itself, given the make-up of the current debate about it, 1) the relationship of gun ownership with violent crime and 2) the effect of regulation on gun ownership and the rate of overall deaths from those firearms.  The conclusions are: 

  1. One average, the degree a State regulates its guns, the lower the rate of legal firearm ownership per capita in that State (2)
  2. The lower the per capita rate of legal firearm ownership rate, then the lower the per capita rate of death by gun (2)
  3. The per capita rate of legal gun ownership has no statistically significant bearing on the rate of violent crime (1)
  4.  The higher the per capita rate of legal gun ownership rate, the higher the homicide rate component of violent crime. (1)
  5.  The higher the per capita rate of legal gun ownership rate, the lower robbery rate component of violent crime (1)
  6. Most guns possessed by criminals are obtained through legal means without background checks being required (1)
  7. There is a strong correlation between the rate of legal gun ownership and 1) the rate of overall suicides and 2) the rate of suicides by gun. There is not a 1 for 1 trade off between lack of access to a firearm and killing oneself by other means. (2)
Current statistics suggest more than 30,000 people, 3000 of whom are children, die each and every year of gunshot wounds, and it is currently on the increase; only a small percentage of whom are criminals or the police chasing them.  The rest are regular civilians, primarily suicides.  Facts (from the CDC):

  • Less than half, 49%, of violent crime related deaths are from firearms
  • 59% of gun deaths are from non-homicide or legal intervention causes
  • Of the 59%, 52% are suicides leaving 7% for all other causes such as accident or "undetermined reasons"
  • Only 2% are from legal intervention, mainly police, but sometimes civilians protecting themselves.
  • 39% of gun deaths are homicide related; of these only 41% were related to criminal activity ... that is only 16% of total deaths by gun! 
These statistics are presented to establish important points in the debate surrounding the regulation of firearms.  The pro-gun lobby, mainly the NRA leadership make the following arguments:

  1. The "pro-regulation" politicians and citizens want to "ban" guns altogether in contravention to the 2nd Amendment
  2. That the more legal ownership of guns there is the less violent crime there will be
  3. That if guns are banned or overly regulated, then only criminals will have guns
  4. That banning or overly regulating guns will drive up crime
  5. That making guns harder to obtain for those who have a potential for suicide will do no good, they will simply commit suicide by other means
  6. That death by guns should not be part of the conversation and is just smoke-and-mirrors being used by those who oppose guns.
Let me take these on one-by-one.  

ARGUMENT 1:The Political Goal is to Ban Guns Altogether
This is an obvious misdirection by the NRA and gun-advocates to scare the unthinking public.  While there is a certain a subset of politicians and citizens who wish firearms of one type or another (or all of them), they are living a pipe-dream.  Obtaining there objective is next to impossible in America, for exactly the reason the NRA cites, the 2nd Amendment.  The only possible way for the ban-the-gun lobby to achieve their dream is another Constitutional amendment; not a likely event.
In any case, the largest group of "anti-gun" advocates by far are those who support gun rights but believe they need to be regulated more, or in places like Arizona or Louisianna, much more.  They know, but the NRA denies, that statistics prove better gun regulations DO SAVE LIVES, lots of them; and that is what the series of six Hubs are all about, proving this statistically.  Rather than fight this group, the NRA and its members ought to be working with them to find the best set of  regulations that protect lives yet minimize the interference with firearm ownership; something the 2nd Amendment does allow.
CONCLUSION: This is a truly bogus argument.
ARGUMENT 2:  More Legal Guns = Less Violent Crime
A nice thought, and I wish it were true, but my research suggests that it isn't.  Violent crime is made up of four components: Murder and non-negligent manslaughter (criminal homicide), Robbery, Forcible Rape, and Aggravated Assault.
Before going on, I need to describe the statistical study that went into the articles posted on Hubpages. There is quite a bit of State-by-State data available (although the NRA has successfully suppressed some of it which is related to guns, they know facts will destroy their arguments) regarding gun ownership, gun regulation, and the many factors that may influence violent crime and suicide; the two main activities where firearms are used.

In my former life, I was a Cost Analyst for the Department of Defense, which, to be successful, required that we be adept in many fields; statistics being one of them.  It is this background which gave me the tools necessary to analyze the data that was available.  Granted, it wasn't a full-blown academic type study with citations and hard to understand jargon and such, but it was robust.  It also looked across more variables than did any study I found in my research.  In the Hubs, I lead the reader step-by-step on how I reached my conclusions hoping to remove all doubt as to their validity (except for those who don't believe in statistics and data).  It is the results of this analysis that I present here.


Neither Forcible Rape nor Aggravated Assault have a statistically significant relationship with rate of legal gun ownership.  While I did find a model for Forcible Rape that included gun ownership (as well as population and age factors), the result did a very poor job at explaining the variations in the data.  With Aggravated Assault, however, I found a great model based only on "Mean State Temperature" and "Average Age".  
On the other hand, gun ownership did play a significant role in Murder/Non-negligent Homicide and Robbery, just not quite what you would expect.  There are three factors which will decrease the rate of Robberies if you increase their level; 1) education, 2) wealth (as measured by % of White/Asian population, and 3) the rate of legal gun ownership.  Increasing the Urban Population, however, will increase the rate of Robberies.
On the flip-side, Murders increase as the rate of legal gun ownership goes up; to me that makes sense.  One reason is that the main source of weapons is from legal owners; another reason is the simple fact that the more weapons there are laying around the house, the more likely one will be picked up by a toddler to kill herself with (NC), or a son to steal guns from locked cabinet to kill school kids (Newtown), or for  spouses to easily kill each other (everywhere).  The bottom line is that in addition to the access to legal firearms, the other factors which increase the murder rate are: 1) decreases in wealth (as measured by % of White/Asian population, 2) decreases in the percentage of males in the population, 3) an increase in mean state temperature, and 4) larger states vs smaller states; each of these variables proved to be significant but the model as a whole barely qualifies as predictive.
Cutting to the chase then, the NRA's ( as well as the anti-gun lobby's) contention that firearm ownership somehow decreases or increases the rate of violent crime simply doesn't hold water.
CONCLUSION: This is not a bogus argument, as is Argument 1, it has logical merit; nonetheless, Argument 2 is wrong when the dust settles.
ARGUMENT 3:  More Regulations => Only Criminals Will Have Guns

Again, this argument sounds good, as a sound bite and, on the face of it, makes sense; but, when you dig a little deeper, the opposite is actually true.  I have yet to find data on where criminals procure their weapons on a state-by-state basis nor on the percentage of criminals who possess firearms in each state, so I must rely on logic and a few national facts.  Some of those facts are:


  • 38% of firearms which end up in the hands of criminals come from family, friends, or were borrowed.
  • 23% come from retail stores, gun shows, flea markets, and pawn shops
  • 33% come from some criminal activity
  • 6% are obtained from unknown sources.
Of these sources, only retail stores currently perform background checks, some better or much better than others, depending on the state.  Another fact, according to an April 2013 CNN report, is that since its inception in 1998, 2.1 million purchases of guns have been denied from background checks; this represents about 2% of all transactions.  Ironically, denying 2.1 million sales to criminals, or others who should not have firearms, is considered too small a number by the NRA rationalize this intrusion into gun rights; the NRA would rather these 2.1 million sales to have gone through and entered the criminal netherworld!!
Now, consider that criminals obtain only 15% of their guns from retail sales.  Try to imagine how many firearms would have been denied weapons if background checks were performed for the other 46% of the legal sources? How about another 6 million, it could be; is it true the NRA wants 6 million guns in the hands of criminals?  It certainly looks like it, doesn't it.
Enough numbers, now to common sense.  If all firearm sales, regardless of the source, were subject to background checks, wouldn't it follow, using just an iota of brainpower, that this would make a very serious dent in the availability of weaponry to criminals?  Fully 35% of all guns possessed by the bad guys come from being bought from family and friends (another 3% are borrowed, so I don't count that).  How likely is it that a family or friend is going to legally stick their neck out selling a gun to a criminal when they know there is a very real chance it may come back to bite them and possibly land them in jail?
So, where are criminals going to get their guns, some will turn to crime to gain possession, but many others will simply do without.  Granted, many criminals will still end up with firearms but to think burglary, drugs, or fencing, the three main sources for illegal guns can absorb the increased demand is ludicrous.  They only account for 33% right now and the NRA will try to make you believe the 6 million guns denied through legal means can somehow be found through illegal means; the math simply doesn't add up.
CONCLUSION: The NRA is Wrong, More Regulations => Less Guns in Criminal's Hands. 
ARGUMENT 4:  Banning or Overly Regulating Guns Will Drive Up Crime
There is actually truth to this argument, as was suggested in the discussion for Question 3.  It is one of those unintended bad consequences that goes with the good; sort of like the price you pay for freedom is higher crime rates.  While all crime is of concern, the one which would affect you and me the most is the increase in burglaries and thefts from those who do not secure their weapons and premises adequately enough as criminals attempt to find a new source of supply.
What won't increase and will probably decrease is the number of death by gun in violent crimes (except those where guns are the target).  The reason is simple, there will be less guns in criminal hands.
 CONCLUSION: The NRA is Right and Wrong.  There will be increases in certain types of crimes but probably decreases in others.
ARGUMENT 5:  Suicides by Gun Will Simply Become Suicides by Some Other Means
Hub# 4, More Guns = More Violent Crime and More Homicides by Gun, Is It As Simple As That? - Part 4: Regulations, is devoted in part to discussing suicides.  One topic is just this question, "Will a person who wants to kill themselves via gun, will simply turn to some other method if denied access to a weapon?"  The answer, I found, was a statistically sound conclusion that, on average, they won't; they simply won't die if a gun is not available.
What this means is that if ten people who had intended to commit suicide by gun were denied the firearm, only 4 would find another way to end their life (the numbers are for illustration only).  This was established by looking at suicide rates from all causes and guns only across all 50 states.  The evidence is very clear there is not a 1-for-1 trade-off between gun and non-gun methods of kicking the bucket.
CONCLUSION:  The NRA's assertion is false.
ARGUMENT 6:  Death by Gun Should Not be Part of the Conversation.
This hardly deserves a reply, it is so self-serving, especially when it is in reference to suicides; but, reply I will.  If you count all diseases as a single category, then death by gun, at 30,000 per year, is the 4th leading cause of death in the United States; right behind 1) disease, 2) accidents (of which some are by gun), and 3) suicides (some of which are by gun);  If you count each disease separately, then death by gun ranks 13th, according to the CDC; right between "chronic liver disease" and "essential hypertension".  
To focus solely on violent crime is the actual "smoke-and-mirrors" in this debate, since gun deaths in violent crimes constitute a small percentage of total deaths.  It is like considering only the top of the ice burg and ignoring the beast underneath the water.
CONCLUSION:  Bogus, bogus, bogus. 
There are simply no good reasons not to do a better job regulating and monitoring the ownership of firearms and every good reason to do so ... it saves lives.  Not to regulate firearms is just as idiotic as not to require people to were seatbelts when they drive, or don't drink and drive; you come to the same outcome, more deaths on the highways and byways in those examples.

There are those who object, very loudly lately, that government has no right to legislate our actions and, if fact, do nothing more than provide for the common Defense.  Well, the way I read it, the Constitution's preamble contains a few more relevant clauses than that one.  In particular, for this debate is the one that says "... promote the general Welfare ..., has particular import.  Most philosophers on benevolent governments agree that protecting its citizens from external and INTERNAL threats to their life, liberty, and property falls well within the purview of the federal government.  It seems like an easy jump in logic to think that "promote the general Welfare" includes protecting citizens from needlessly being killed by people (or themselves) who shouldn't have guns or from those who don't use or take care of their firearms properly.

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