State Gun Laws (or Lack Thereof)

I’ve been in Facebook feuds for the better part of the week with Libertarians, pro-gun supporters, and any other right-wing trolls willing to argue with me.  Of all their arguments that rankled most, it was when they say “States with the most draconian gun laws had the highest rate of gun crimes.”  This didn’t make any sense to me, as Ezra Klein had the exact opposite take in the Washington Post last week.

So, I tried to find out more information on gun laws by state, and for the most part, there aren’t any.  The wording of Ezra Klein’s infographic is interesting, it says “at least 1 gun law in place”.  This is because most states have NO restrictions on guns.  Here are the breakdown of states with gun laws:

  • Only 4 states have assault weapons bans (CA, MA, NJ, NY).  Another 5 have some restrictions on assault weapons, including Connecticut.
  • Only 9 states requires some registration for owning a firearm (AZ, CA, CT, HI, MD, MI, NE, NY, SD)
  • Only 5 states requires a permit to own a firearm (HI, IL, MA, NJ, NY)

So, clearly, there are no DRACONIAN gun laws in the United States, and 28 states have no restrictions to gun ownership (when looking at requirement for permits to purchase or own firearms, waiting periods for purchase, bans on any specific types of weapons, or required registration of firearms). Hawaii, the state with the most laws on gun control, has a gun homicide rate at 0.51 per 100,000 people.

Nevertheless, I wanted to look if there was a correlation between gun laws and homicide in any given state.  So, I came up with a scoring matrix, where lack of any measure gave a state 2 points, and half-measures (such as Illinois banning of assault weapons in Cook County only) would earn the state 1 point.  I then looked at six questions:

  1. Are you required to register your firearm?
  2. Do you require a permit to possess firearms?
  3. Do you require a permit to purchase handguns?
  4. Do you require a permit to purchase rifles?
  5. Has the state banned assault weapons?
  6. Is there a waiting period for acquiring a gun?

So, based upon these six questions, I came up with a scale from 0-12 (0 being most draconian, 12 being no gun restrictions), I determined the relationship between gun laws and homicides.

First, there was no relationship between gun laws and homicide rate, but if you broke down the data it gets more interesting.  If you look at percent of all homicides that are caused by guns compared to homicides caused by knives, you get this:

Data 26

Interestingly, as gun laws get more restrictive (i.e. they go to 0), gun homicide as a percentage of all homicides decrease, while knife homicide as a percent of all homicides increases.  These relationships are not statistically significant, likely due to the crudeness of my “gun law” metric.  But this is interesting because it implies that more restrictive gun laws lead to more knife crime and less gun crime.

This supports the argument from pro-gun people who say “If there weren’t guns, the same thing would happen with knives.”  The problem with that argument is that if you sum up the knife homicide rate in all the states that have some form of restriction (i.e. on the scale from 0-11) you have 7 people killed out of every million people.  However, if you sum the gun homicide rate in all the states with no restriction (i.e. 12 on the gun law scale), you have 38 people killed out of every one million people.  So, if banning guns leads to knife crime, you would still get a 5 fold decrease in all homicides with any laws restricting access to guns.

I noticed something interesting when looking at the overall homicide rate, it varied pretty drastically from state to state (see below):

Homicide Map US

Looking at that map, I was trying to see if there was any commonality between homicide rate and states.  I also read a recent post from Nate Silver in the New York Times, which basically said that more white people than minorities owned guns.  I was curious about that statistic, so I explored whether there was a relationship between the percent of the population in that state that was a minority (based upon 2010 Census data), and homicide rate.

Data 27

Not only is there a relationship, but there is a shockingly strong relationship if you look at just the 28 states with no restrictive gun laws.  I wanted to compare to a control to see if this is some population specific affect, and when you compare number of movie theaters in a state (based upon BoxOfficeMojo, a site affiliated with IMDB), you see this:

Data 28

A very weak correlation that is drawn out by the outliers of Pennsylvania and Texas.  So, the effect from before was not a population effect.  One conclusion that could be drawn is that white people, particularly in states with high minority populations, live in a constant state of fear.  This leads to a demand for guns to protect themselves, and attitudes against any measure to restrict their ability to protect themselves.

A Bureau of Justice Statistics report suggests that the majority of gun crimes is committed by ethnic minorities, which explains the strong association.  And these crimes are mostly black-on-black crimes.  A very small percentage of gun violence is committed interracially, though if it is, it is usually because the other race is a stranger.  So, the presence of minorities in a state means more gun violence, but most whites are pretty safe from this violence.

According to a Pew Research Center survey in 2011, it appears the most vocal gun supporters are white, with 54% demanding legislation protecting their right to own guns, while 30% of blacks and 21% of Hispanics asking for gun protection.  Most minorities requested more gun control measures (with 66% black and 75% Hispanics favoring this), compared to only 42% of white people who favor gun control measures. So, why are whites so vocal about owning guns if most gun homicides are committed within the black community, and most minorities don’t want as many guns in their community?

The problem with the gun debate is that there are two groups having two completely different debates.  Gun control advocates are saying “Guns are dangerous weapons and there should be some measures to control their access.”  Whereas, the NRA and their fringe supporters who fear any form of gun control say “Everyone is trying to kill me! I need a gun to protect myself before they get me! DON’T YOU DARE TRY AND STOP ME FROM GETTING GUNS!”

I don’t know how to reconcile the paranoia of the pro-gun advocates, but until we can convince them to calm down and put their guns away, we can’t have a serious discussion on guns in our society.  Gun control measures definitely reduce the number of gun homicides and overall homicides in states that have them.  And the measures I list as being restrictive, aren’t really that restrictive. I don’t see how having a registration for a firearm, or license to purchase a firearm can be seen as a draconian measure.  But again, I’m on the lunatic fringe that wants no guns in society.

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2 thoughts on “State Gun Laws (or Lack Thereof)

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