By now, even irregular readers of my weblog should be more than aware of my yearly posts documenting how the hypothesis “more guns = more deaths” is demonstrably false over recent American history, but today we are going to go a slightly different direction.
In a recent post, Joe Huffman positively shredded this asinine quote from Paul Helmke:
More guns mean more gun violence, sometimes intentional or sometimes accidental.
… and I pointed out, just for the record (since Paul was referring to overall crime and not just fatalities), that there is effectively no correlation between the raw numbers of firearms and firearm-related fatalities, and a negative correlation between firearm ownership rates and firearm-related fatality rates, but the above blockquote got me to thinking (always a bad thing) – what about crime, rather than just fatalities?
To begin with, we are going to have to define the problem, which Paul Helmke, in his usual weasel-worded fashion, did a very poor job of – what is “gun violence”? For the purposes of this post, we will arbitrarily take that phrase to mean, “any recorded crime committed wherein the aggressor was armed with a firearm” – crimes committed with firearms, or CCwF for short. Alright, so the question is, “Do firearms, or firearm ownership, cause CCwF?” since “means” in that context is just another word for “causes”.
Great, so where are we going to get our information? As with previous years, the American population numbers will come straight from the Census Bureau; the number of firearms in civilian hands will be constructed off a combination of the Small Arms Survey of 2003 and the BATFE Annual Firearms Manufacturers and Export Report; and the number of shall-issue carry states was cribbed from this helpful graphic at Radical Gun Nuttery. However, this year we will discard the CDC’s WISQARS system (since we are not interested in fatalities), and instead turn to the best clearinghouse of information pertaining to crimes in America that I am aware of: the Federal Bureau of Investigation’s Uniform Crime Reports.
Based on that source, we will be totaling murders, assaults, and robberies committed with firearms* between the years of 1995 and 2009**, and comparing those numbers against the number of firearms in civilian hands, and the overall population of the country… kind of like this:
As with every time before, it is important to understand that I adjusted the various orders of magnitude in order to get everything to fit on the same graph, and while the two images may look similar, it is also important to understand that this graph is a full order of magnitude higher than the previous “graphics matter” exercises. In short, the line “Crimes Committed with Firearms” is left entirely unadjusted; however, both the “American Population” and “Number of Firearms” lines must be multiplied by 1,000 in order to get their “real” numbers. Additionally, the rate lines are presented in magnitudes of “100,000,000 firearms”, “100,000,000 people”, and “100,000 people”, as explained by the graph’s legend and annotations. These changes do not affect the accuracy of the information presented (especially since I kept all the digits of each relevant data point, despite moving those numbers’ decimal points around) – the important thing on this graph is trending, not specific numbers (although once you multiply by the appropriate order of magnitude, the numbers are still correct).
So what does the above graph tell us about the hypothesis “more guns = more ‘gun violence’”? Pretty obviously false. But how false?
As we all know, “correlation does not imply causation“, but the rest of that phrase continues as, “… but causation requires correlation,” so is there any correlation at all (and thus the possibility of causation) between the number of firearms in civilian circulation and the number of crimes committed with firearms?
Well, unlike last time, I will not bore you with the full barrage of equations, charts, and whatever else, though I will provide this reminder: “‘r’-values can range from -1 to +1, with +1 meaning that all data points lie perfectly on a line, with Y increasing as X increases, and -1 means the same with Y decreasing and X increasing. 0, logically enough, means no correlation at all.”
Looking at the raw numbers of firearms and crimes, and solving for linear (Pearson) correlation both by hand and by way of Excel’s onboard linear regression tools, we find that their ‘r’-value is -0.35744, which indicates that there is a weak, negative correlation.
Looking at the firearm ownership and crime rates (both on a “per 100,000,000 people” scale), and again solving by hand and by Excel, we find that their ‘r’ value is -0.59499, which indicates a strong (though not very strong), negative correlation.
If, however, you are genuinely interested in those equations, charts, explanations, and numbers, and actually want to delve into the nuts and bolts of this analysis, you are certainly free to dig through the entire, updated spreadsheet available here – unlike anti-rights nuts, I have absolutely no problems maintaining my integrity and honesty by showing my work and making it available for constructive criticism, error-checking, and examination. Likewise, do remember that all root numbers on that spreadsheet come from such authorities as the FBI, the Census Bureau, and the BATFE, and all calculated numbers are generated from only the information provided by those sources.
So what are our conclusions?
1. The hypothesis “more guns = more ‘gun violence’” is demonstrably false over the past 15 years of American history, based off the information available to us. The number of firearms in civilian circulation has been steadily increasing over that time period, and the number of crimes committed with firearms has not been equivalently increasing – in fact, it has been fluctuating in a fashion that might be described as “wildly”. However, again, since there seems to be some confusion on the concept, proving “more guns = more ‘gun violence’” to be false does not necessarily prove “more guns = less ‘gun violence’” to be true. Doing so would require accounting for far more variables than I did, and involve far more interesting math than I employed.
2. When comparing raw numbers, there is a weak, negative correlation between the number of firearms in America, and the number of crimes committed with firearms. This negative correlation completely precludes any possibility firearms causing crimes committed with firearms.
3. When comparing rates, there is a strong, negative correlation between the number of firearms per person in America, and the number of crimes committed with firearms per person. This negative correlation also completely precludes any possibility of firearm ownership causing crimes committed with firearms.
Is that not interesting?
One final conclusion is that Paul Helmke lied (again), this time by way of omission – by not doing the relatively simplistic work (so easy I could do it) of crunching numbers that are freely and publicly available to anyone with an internet connection, Paul expressed a falsehood as truth… which is kind of sad, considering that verifying your statements before you say them is only common sense. I do not know if, like a disturbing number of anti-rights nuts, he simply does not know the difference between fact and fiction, or if he simply did not care to make the distinction – in either case, Paul lied, and in a blatant, easily-disprovable fashion at that.
Oh, and what the hell is “accidental” violence?
As always, the spreadsheet documenting all of the number-crunching I performed is freely available, and you are certainly welcome to use the above graphic however you like – I would, of course, appreciate a linkback were you to repost it anywhere.
* – For whatever reason, the FBI only keeps track of weapons employed for those three crimes – murder, assault, and robbery. I am fairly certain that rapes, motor vehicle thefts, home invasions, and whatnot else are committed with firearms as well, but the FBI could include those instances under the appropriate headings of “murder” or “assault”.
** – Those are the only years that the UCR documents the specific weapons used for crimes. If anyone knows of any sources going farther back than that, I would certainly appreciate the information – the more years we have, the more-accurate this analysis can become.