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graphics matter, year the third, part two

Hot on the heels of the CDC updating their information for 2008, the Federal Bureau of Investigation has finalized their 2010 Uniform Crime Report, and I am happy to announce the below update to last year’s "Graphics Matter, Part Two" post, including some changes to standardize the "graphics matter" series:

And now for the standard round of disclaimers:

1. Intellectual property: While all of this data is publicly available from the sources listed below, it takes time and effort for me to collate it all together and present it in a (barely) understandable format. All of the images in this post are my original works and copyrighted by me. If you want to use any of these images, you are more than welcome to do so; however, I must formally request that you link back to this specific page and give full credit to me, the originator, when doing so.

2. Fitting it all together: 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" exercise. 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).

3. Where the numbers came from: 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 upon which we will be totaling murders, assaults, and robberies committed with firearms* to give us a total number of "any recorded crime committed wherein the aggressor was armed with a firearm".

4. Conclusions: Obviously both the population of America and the number of firearms in America have been steadily increasing over the past 16 years; additionally, the number of firearms has been, very slightly, increasing faster than the population.

On the other hand, crimes committed with firearms have fallen from their high point in the late ’90s to reach something of an uneasy equilibrium, especially given the new 2010 datapoint. Likewise, crimes committed per person and crimes committed per firearm appear to have leveled out, with slight variations up and down due to other forces at play.

This post graphically shows that the hypothesis that more firearms result in more crimes committed with firearms is historically and demonstrably false.

5. Verification: Unlike "gun control" extremists, I have used facts and figures to make my point. Additionally unlike "gun control" extremists, I will make those facts and figures, as well as my methods, publicly available (last year’s spreadsheet is available here). Feel free to download the spreadsheet (I promise it is clean) and take a look at the numbers for yourselves. If I did something wrong, please correct me. If you can find better counts of the number of firearms in America (or anything else), please provide them. I know that the facts are the only things that matter, again, unlike the "gun control" extremists, and anything that can give us a better look at those facts is something we should pursue.

6. Controlling for variables: In short, I did not. Countless "gun control" extremists, including none other than Paul Helmke, have fielded the argument that more guns invariably lead to more "gun violence". Their argument never progresses past that point, so this post makes no attempt to do either, and instead focuses on the core hypothesis contained within it. Obviously, the firearm-related crime numbers in America are influenced by far more things than simply the number of firearms present, but I lack the wherewithal and data to adequately address all of those various factors, nor is it really necessary to adequately make my point.

So what does the above graph tell us about the hypothesis "more guns = more ‘gun violence’"? Like I said, 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 the last post, 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 -0.39664, which indicates that there is a weak, negative correlation. By way of reminder, last year’s ‘r’-value (based on updated data from the Census Bureau and FBI) was -0.36183.

Looking at the firearm ownership and crime rates, and again solving by hand and by Excel, we find that their ‘r’ value is -0.60454, which indicates a strong (though not very strong), negative correlation. Last year’s ‘r’-value (again, based on updated information) was -0.59509.

Not to belabor the point, but negative correlations, especially strong ones, completely preclude the possibility of firearms causing firearm-related crimes.

So where do we stand?

1. The hypothesis "more guns = more ‘gun violence’" is demonstrably false over the past 16 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, and this negative correlation seems to grow stronger the more data we have.

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, and this negative correlation also seems to grow stronger the more data we have.

Is that not interesting?

As always, the spreadsheet documenting all of the number-crunching I performed is freely available. If, however, you decide to use the above graphic, please see Disclaimer 1.

However, while all of these pretty pictures do a fairly handy job of demolishing a childish argument far too repeatedly parroted by "gun control" extremists, none of it really matters – our rights are not subject to any statistics anyone can dredge or dream up. Or, to put it another way:

Where the hell do you get off thinking you can tell me I can’t own a gun? I don’t care if every other gun owner on the planet went out and murdered somebody last night. I didn’t. So piss off.

So, please, feel free to use these charts and this data to address the specious arguments of "gun control" extremists, but make sure never to buy into the basic premise that if, one day, the statistics were to turn against us, it would be "appropriate" to abridge our rights. It would not be, no matter how much other people might want it to.

(* – 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 presumably the FBI could include those instances under the appropriate headings of "murder" or "assault". )

6 comments to graphics matter, year the third, part two

  • Suggestion, if you can: add a line for violent crimes per capita committed without a firearm, so that it’s apparent if the trends are similar.

  • Dan

    “…additionally, the number of firearms has been, very slightly, increasing faster than the population.” That’s because I finally woke up to my responsibility, and bought everyone in my household a gun. They are all trained and we are all happier!

  • Thanks for the update, and the info. It makes comparing the data so much easier at a glance.

  • @ John Hardin: Given the complaints I have received about these charts already being too busy, I may just break that out onto some other graphic… Rate of violent crimes with firearms, rate of violent crimes without firearms, S&P 500, and… unemployment rates? Hm.

    @ Dan: Good to hear! I know I am making up for more than a few anti-rights cultists my own self ;).

    @ Terriligunn: Not a problem – strange though it may sound, I actually have fun doing this kind of thing.

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