Guns & crime

Guns are bad, ok? If you see a gun, shoot it quickly!

Perhaps, perhaps. Back in 1997 an identity-challenged and yet statistically-smart chap in America worked out that more guns had lead to less crime. Specifically, he looked at states that had introduced “shall-issue” laws for concealed carry (CC) handguns and found that the laws had lead to less crime.

This started a big academic debate, which is well summerised at the beginning of the latest contribution by Moody & Marvell (The Debate on Shall-issue Laws, Econ Journal Watch, Vol 5, No 3, Sept 2008, pp269-293). This is a quick summary of the story so far…

A year after the 1997 article by Lott & Mustard (L&M) showed “more guns, less crime”, two other academics by the name of Black & Nagin (B&N) came out with a different conclusion. By doing state-by-state analysis (instead of aggregate analysis) they found that the outcomes were mixed, with no significant effect in either direction. Lott responded quickly, showing that the B&N averages missed the trends. Specifically, L&M suggested that crime may follow an inverted-V with crime increasing before the CC laws and decreasing afterwards, so that an average of before and after might show no difference.

In 2000 Lott updated his study and in 2001 various other studies came out supporting the “more guns, less crime” hypothesis in the Journal of Law and Economics. Lott updated his study yet again in 2002, which again supported the original idea. At this stage, Lott was winning the debate.

Enter… Ayres & Donohue (A&D), who in 2003 did another study which adjusted for when the laws were introduced. And they criticised L&M for not controlling for the crime-spike caused by crack-cocaine. L&M had modelled the impact of crack-cocaine and found it to be insignificant… but given the A&D criticism, this became an issue that needed to be explicitly addressed in future studies.

A&D looked at the five years after the introduction of the laws in each State, and found different outcomes in different States. They concluded that there were more States were the “shall-issue” laws created a bad outcome, with an “overall small increase in crime”.

Moody & Marvell (M&M) have done two things to update the A&D study. First, they are using more recent data, which is always nice. But more importantly, they are extending their time-frame beyond 5 years. This is important. A&D found that the CC laws created a negative effect for the first few years and then a positive effect each year after that. So if you study the laws over 5 years it gave a negative result. But if you studied the laws over 6 years you get a positive result. If you put the impacts into dollars and then discount the future impacts at 5% per year, after 7 years you get a positive result. Generally, policy cost-benefit analysis is done over 20 or 30 years. M&M were conservative and chose only 10 years, and found a benefit from the CC laws.

M&M also look at the academic score-card. They mention significant papers on the issue, of which 14 say “more guns, less crime”, 8 say “dunno” and 3 say “more guns, more crime”. All of the “more crime” studies are in non-refereed journals. A meta-study done by the National Research Council (NRC) concluded that they could make no conclusion, though some of their own reserach supported the “less crime” scenario.

Personally, I feel most comfortable with NRC conclusion that we don’t have enough information to make strong conclusions in either direction. On balance, the evidence is for “more guns, less crime” but as will all new areas of study, it is reasonable to be modest about how much we really know.

As a person who believes that freedom is a good thing, I think that the burden of proof is on the person who wants to take away freedom. Given the lack of evidence that “guns are bad” then the only reasonable conclusion is to not introduce excessively burdonsome gun laws. Of course, this will run against the polite opinion of the gentrified chattering classes. I can only offer my apologies. I wish I could tell you what you want to hear, but unfortunately that’s just not where the facts lead.

41 thoughts on “Guns & crime

  1. I didn’t think we had excessively burdensome gun laws in Australia — I thought, for example, if I wanted, say, a rifle for shooting ducks, it would be fairly easy for me to get one — or are you saying that I should be able to get a handgun too, which I can’t get easily now?

  2. Handguns or rifles, the current laws are inappropriate. Living in a more regional town so I can attend university, I have met many young people who are hunters who simply cannot comply with the burdernsome storage and transfer regulations. If you don’t have a driver’s licence forget about it, you will never be a shooter. If you rent, forget about it, unless you’re willing to avoid seeking permission from your landlord and install a safe illegally.

    I think another point Temujin is making is that conventional knowledge on guns and self defence is often far from reality. People should be able to make their own choices as to what is appropriate to their defence. Obviously background checks are necessary but the value of licencing and registration is questionable.

    Ultimately, as Temujin wrote, seeing as there is little evidence that more liberal gun laws lead to more crime, why not? There must be a genuine proven need to violate property rights or impede individual negative liberty.

  3. Gun laws are the sincere effort by ‘liberals’ to defang and declaw whom they believe to be the world’s worst predator: humanity. To be opposed to guns, one must have a personal psychology which believes the worst about human beings. The ‘liberal’ is frightened by human nature, so liberals constantly want to control it.

    The ‘trust’ in government is the fear of the human…and vice versa.

  4. Conrad — the studies references above are in reference to being able to carry a concealed handgun.

    With regards to the current laws — even if you don’t want to consider handguns or CC laws, I still think the laws are excessively strict. Indeed, if you go through the laws (and chat with shooters and anti-shooting groups) you are left with the distinct impression that the laws are designed NOT to protect the public, but simply to make life difficult for shooters. Anti-gun groups admit this is their goal, and they want to eventually get rid of shooting as a sport.

    Just some of the most obviously stupid laws are the need to wait a month in NSW before being able to buy a second firearm. The supposed justification is to prevent a “crime of passion”… but the person already has one (or more) firearms! And licences go for 5 years, but nobody tells you when you need to renew… so if you’re not careful it’s easy to suddenly be unlicenced and a “dangerous criminal”. As Seb references, storage & moving requirements make many people criminals by necessity. Various firearms have been banned for no other reason than they “sound” dangerous, while not actually being more dangerous than other legal firearms. To get a licence for hunting you need two written affidavids from farm owners… but many people go and hunt on farms owned by people they don’t know.

    Another point of contention is the reasons for owning a firearm. I believe that “self-defence” should be a legitimate reason, but currently it is not.

    But perhaps more importantly in Australia, there is a wide-spread misunderstanding about what the laws currently are. Several times I have been in conversations with anti-gun people, and I ask them what they think the law should be. When they name their preferred laws, they are actually more liberal than the current laws. And yet they were arguing for stricter gun laws! People seem to only think “guns are bad… do something” and then move on to the next problem. That’s fine for them… but not for the group who is victim of this bigotry.

  5. Duoist… I am a “liberal” in one sense of the word.

    I think you’re referring to a “social democrat” or a “socialist” or perhaps just the catch-all “leftist”… or at least say “American liberal”. Though in Australia you could equally be talking about a “conservative”, who tend also to be anti-gun. Sigh.

  6. Tem, that waiting period for second and subsequent firearms has been removed thanks to the work of The Shooters Party. I believe it comes into force in October…

  7. Actually for NSW Seb is correct.

    http://www.parliament.nsw.gov.au/prod/parlment/nswbills.nsf/0/0ba2807bb3509b2fca25744a000791d4/$FILE/b2008-050-d12-House.pdf

    On page 6 of the amendment it says:-

    Item [9] restates the 28-day waiting period currently in section 31 of the Act but provides
    that it does not apply if the applicant already has registered in his or her name a firearm
    of the same kind as the firearm that is the subject of the permit application.

  8. Thanks — I wasn’t sure sure what the laws were, although it doesn’t surprise me they are convoluted given the nature of the situation.

    One problem is that if there is still a V-curve (should that really be U, otherwise it isn’t a curve ;), then it obviously means you will get an initial increase in gun deaths from the current situation. The other problem is that it’s surely culturally specific — the number of gun deaths varies considerably across countries, so it’s not clear to me what would happen in Australia. In this respect, are we more like Switzerland or the US? My bet is that it’s the second of these based on current crime rates (the highest in the OECD), which means we’d end up with numerous more gun deaths (note that the US figures about gun ownership are from a high baseline — the Aus baseline is currently low — so there’s only one way it can go).

  9. What makes you think gun ownership in Australia is particularily low? Last I heard it was something like 1 in every 12 adults in NSW have a gun. Although I think it is comparably higher in the USA and extremely high in Switzerland.

  10. Conrad…. Mate- you are so far in left-field to be right out of it!

    A ‘rifle for shooting DUCKS’….c’on – pull the other one!

    Firstly duck hunting is severely quota-ed and licenced. Secondly you also have to do a special extra test before you even start! If you tried to shoot ducks with a rifle you could go to jail for 10 years and be severely fined. I could go into just how many regulations you would have broken, but won’t, so just don’t even think of it!

    If you don’t have around $3K available and still want to be a NSW licenced shooter – don’t even start is my advice!

    Expect to have to take $90 test/pass clearance from police and then fill in many police application forms and pay at least $200 in fees. Then you will need an approved safe+inspection- say $600 cost and a lot of bother +6 months of your time at least. Then if you are approved, you will need a $35 PTA for your ‘duck-rifle’ purchase and also costs for ammo, all gear, permits and accessories, say another $2,200?

    The police can re-inspect your safe ‘at any reasonable time’ and enter your home legally.You have given them permission!

    [Just don’t get me started on licencing/costs etc for target pistols, the only ones most people can have in Aus, it was never “like USA” – they are really complicated and will cost far far more in time and money.]

    ooroo!

  11. I don’t think rifles would much difference, given that I imagine almost anyone can get one now, despite the administrivia involved (which doesn’t look much worse than that for cars incidentally — also, you can change ducks to rabbits if you want, I just said duck since they were animal on my mind). It was more the effect of handguns I was thinking of.

  12. To be honest Conrad, if you compared the incidence of accidents while driving to accidents in shooting you will see there is no comparison. Also, the risk of a learning shooters killing someone or himself must be considerably lower than a learner driver hitting the road.

    Ultimately, the point is that this bureacracy has not been shown to make anybody safer, so why have it?

  13. Seb — I don’t think we have the evidence on handguns. My bet would be to get the US figure for handguns (which I can’t find right now), and divide it by 15 (for population), and then multiply by about 1.5 (for the additional crime Australians create).

    As for does bureacracy make you safer — at least with cars, the evidence is certainly yes — Australia has some of the safer roads on Earth thanks to speed cameras, low speed limits etc. However, I think that would be the case if we didn’t have this vast and complicated system for registering cars, getting your license etc. I don’t think that part makes much difference, and nor do I think it does for non-concealed weapons — but most of that is there for political reasons in any case.

  14. When I was a child it would have been the rare household that didn’t have a gun yet guns were rarely involved in crime or accidental death. They were tools for gathering game and for controlling feral pests.

    There is ample evidence that the anti-gun lobby was strongly boosted by feminists who see guns as the tools of ‘violent’ men and boys and used the State to disarm them. The political correct mantra that guns = bad, masculinity = bad and masculinity + guns = domestic violence is taught in schools. The politics of gun control provide many examples to prove that such feminist inspired political correctness is aimed at taking away individual freedom and subverting the democratic processes.

  15. Conrad, you will have to supply some evidence that safer Australian roads is down to speed cameras, low speed limits etc. Here is a lot of numbers showing that good road design is a major contributor to road safety:
    http://www.ausrap.org/ausrap/library.htm

    Looking at something different, yesterday saw the report of another toddler drowned in his parents’ backyard pool. While our hearts go out to the parents in their hour of need, no-one will call for the banning of pools, nor of the nappy buckets, baths and so on that contribute to the awful loss of toddlers’ lives.

    Firearms however have been made into the bete noir of the chatterati through the sensationalism of of the media of some very rare, terrible events. In Port Arthur a man who was known to be a risk to society was able to wander at large and through being wealthy was able to get black market firearms (and petrol). The awful outcome proved he would use anything, including guns and petrol to commit his crimes. An incendiary device at a major event could have been much more costly.

    However this case study says much more about the failure of the State to be proactive and provide a safe place for Bryant, where he could not harm himself or others. But PM Howard and others had already sold off mental institutions and returned the mentally ill to the community with the blessing of the Left.

    Government bureaucracy, like a politician’s spin, only make you feel safe, whereas it could most likely be concealing a much higher risk (and failure).

    The prestigious Time magazine recently ran a well researched article that arrived at the conclusion that there is no evidence that Howard’s billion dollar gun buy-back and the expensive gun registries that tie up police in needless bureaucratic paperwork, have delivered any value for money at all.

    So there were freedoms lost and huge monies spent for no appreciable returns at all. That should be news were it not for the political correctness of editors.

  16. Personally, I feel most comfortable with NRC conclusion that we don’t have enough information to make strong conclusions in either direction. On balance, the evidence is for “more guns, less crime” but as will all new areas of study, it is reasonable to be modest about how much we really know.

    There’s no need to be quite so equivocal.The NRC (Centre for Disease Control actually) has a well known anti-gun bias that led to its government funding being stopped at one point. For it to be neutral says a lot.

    Apart from M&M I’ve studied these papers and others too (including Australian ones) and in my view Lott shows pretty clearly a relationship between concealed carry and reductions in certain types of crime. He’s careful to nominate which ones they are though, being mostly muggings and public mass shootings.

    Whether gun control laws have any difference on crime in general is more moot. Despite perceptions, the US has a substantially lower rate of crime than the UK or Australia, except for murder. If guns were responsible for the higher murder rate, they couldn’t also be responsible for the lower rate of other crimes. Clearly there are bigger factors operating.

    Israel also allows concealed carry, with a far higher percentage of the population actually doing it than the US. Its murder rate is very low. Switzerland doesn’t allow concealed carry but has very high gun ownership. Its murder rate is even lower, if I recall correctly. Malaysia has the death penalty for illegal gun ownership, but has a higher murder rate than either of them. I think it’s safe to say that guns do not account for the difference.

    Just to reinforce the point, a 2001 study of crime and gun control laws across a broad range of countries found a lack of evidence to link gun control or availability with rates of violence. It suggested that differences in the enforcement of drug prohibition were important in explaining such differences. Details here:
    http://www.journals.uchicago.edu/doi/abs/10.1086/340507

  17. Good to see a few knowledgeable people discussing things here.

    This particular US debate is focused on ocncealed carry by ordinary citizens. Lott did his work and any conclusions are clearly able to be tweaked by weighting or fudging to support either viewpoint – because the bigger truth is being missed. The bigger truth is that CCW appears to make no significant difference! The strategic implication is important – it means the activist/media hysteria over it is completely wrong-headed.

    The relevance to Australia is as follows:
    1) Concealed carriage by the public is and hopefully will remain pretty much irrelevant.

    2) Our laws are focused on hampering and obstructing legitimate people from doing legitimate things. They threaten legitimate hobbyists with penalties up to 14 years jail for breeches of victimless laws, which are never enforced against actual criminals.

    3) If the hysteria over CCW was a pointless exercise in moral posturing, how much more so the smug, self-righteous Australian media and Government campaign against the legitmate shooter.

  18. Concealed carriage by the public is and hopefully will remain pretty much irrelevant.

    The point of this post was that the burden of proof falls on those who seek to deprive us of our freedom.

    Since the right to self defence is about as fundamental to freedom as there is, the burden is on you Chris. Assuming you are not into base appeasement, what benefit can you nominate from keeping concealed carry “irrelevant” that the statistics fail to demonstrate?

  19. Conrad — the US does not have a high crime rate. The crime rate in gun-free UK is much higher. And if you want the closest cultural cousin in the world, it’s probably New Zealand… a country which seems to manage fine with relatively more liberal gun laws.

    I don’t think the car/gun analogy is appropriate. In driving you are directly impacting everybody else every time you go out on a public road. With shooting you do not generally impact on other people. Of course, both can be mis-used… but that’s a different point.

    Also, surely the point of regulation is to improve the situation. If any regulation (car, gun or otherwise) is not making Australia better then we shouldn’t have it.

    Btw, there is some evidence that increased speed cameras in Australia (and the UK) have NOT lead to lower deaths on the roads. An initial glance at the stats can be misleading. There has been a long term downward trend in road-deaths, so if you look at the introduction of anything (GST, Playstation II, etc) they will appear to be linked to a reduction in road deaths. But that’s a separate issue.

  20. As for does bureacracy make you safer — at least with cars, the evidence is certainly yes — Australia has some of the safer roads on Earth thanks to speed cameras, low speed limits etc. However, I think that would be the case if we didn’t have this vast and complicated system for registering cars, getting your license etc

    As the commenters above point out, the facts don’t support that. However, in some respects the idea of applying car laws to guns is appealing.

    Road laws do not apply to private property to which the public has no access. Thus you can build a race track on your own land, own a very fast unregistered car and do any speed you like without a seatbelt or a licence. Unless you take the car onto the public roads, no law is broken.

    If you have an unregistered gun without a licence on your own land, you don’t even have to shoot it to get your door kicked in by a SWAT team.

  21. Here is a good site for no-nonsense factual data on Australia’s gun laws post 1996.

    http://www.ic-wish.org/

    See report by McPhedran, S., & Baker, J. (2008) on the Impact of Australia’s 1996 Gun Laws

    The report proves that all of the political spin about Australia’s gun laws being needed or being effective is all baloney. That is a sickening lack of government accountability when one considers what good uses a spare billion dollars could have been put to, including heal and education – or even better pensions for the aged.

  22. DavidLeyonhjehn, Sept 21.

    Thank you for the link to the Lee and Suardi paper.

    Scanning it quickly I am astounded that the findings, which are of significant international interest, have not received broad coverage in the media.

    Hopefully those who read this blog might have ways to give the report some of the circulation it deserves.

  23. “the US does not have a high crime rate”

    Yes, I realize that — that’s why I think if you want to estimate likely handgun deaths in Australia, you need to estimate higher per head than the US.

  24. Oh… I see what you’re saying. Except that there is some reason to believe that more handguns in Australia would decrease our violent crime rates. I would suggest that they might go lower than the USA as Australia is generally a more socially harmonous place.

  25. if you want to estimate likely handgun deaths in Australia, you need to estimate higher per head than the US

    It’s possible that if carrying a concealed handgun was legalised in Australia (ie in addition to police, security guards etc), there’d be a few more murders with handguns. However, that would be due to method substitution. Some people would use a handgun instead of a steel pipe, for example. The victim would be dead in either case.

    The overall rate of murder would not increase, based on experience in the US and Israel, and certain types of crime may actually decrease. Australia’s violent crime rate is around double that of the US (except for murder), so there is plenty of scope for improvement.

  26. I agree that it would be hard to work out what is substitution versus plain old additivity — but I think to convince the general public that handguns are fine, then you need good arguments that they can understand about this versus just the suggestion (off hand, it’s really hard for me to think of any substitution arguments that have ever been used along these lines, excluding harm minimization ones in health areas — but even these don’t seem to go down well with the general public).

  27. I think to convince the general public that handguns are fine, then you need good arguments that they can understand about this versus just the suggestion

    I agree the public won’t accept the idea initially. Even in the US there is resistance in the few remaining states that don’t allow it.

    It would be a huge step forward if we simply had the right to carry something for self defence, even if it wasn’t a gun. Pepper spray, Taser, knife, etc. Australians are not even permitted to have these for self defence in their own home. The public would support that being changed, I’m quite sure.

  28. Temujin, Perhaps you could persuade ‘Policy’ to compare Australia and New Zealand, re guns. That would make a fascinating article!
    I read a book about Britain, called “Guns and Violence”. It looks at the history of firearms and ownership in the UK, and the author concludes that the recent tightening up of guns laws (and the romantic spin put on shootouts by movies!) has caused an increase in violent crimes.

  29. Temujin, I know the American activists like to say that stuff, but you and I know that almost no-one in the UK had guns for self-defense before the bullshit law changes anyway. The Americans are picking unrelated social change and blaming gun laws for it, because it reinforces their own situation.

    Gun laws biggest effect is harassing decent people, not impeding criminals. We could have the same crime control for half the restrictions. Give back our rabbit and duck rifles! 😉

  30. no-one in the UK had guns for self-defense before the bullshit law changes anyway.

    Bullshit Chris. Guns for self defence were quite common in Britain in the latter part of the 19th century and early 20th century. And stop being such a Quisling. The argument is unwinnable on sport and hunting grounds.

  31. David, you used the words ‘base appeasement’ in regard to my suggestion that I hoped CCW would remain pretty much irrelevant. You know who I am and that I have been an activism for gun owners for the long term. Take a Bex, mate.

    CCW is irrelevant to most Australians because most of us live at astonishingly low risk of violence. A few should be able to have arms in public – for instance, publicans, jewellers, gun dealers, women (and men) who are escaping violent partners – but there is no need to make it a big issue, it should just quietly be arranged.

    Thats what I mean – it should stay irrelevant to most of us.

    In addition, our ideological opponents get away with a lot of bullshit because they promote the false idea that we want every idiot on the street to have a gun without restriction. We end up having to argue on ground where no-one needs to win anyway. I want air pistols on A class, Ruger 10/22 on B and sensible rules for handgun target shooters. These are things we have no chance of getting because the debate is played out on the wrong ground. It does us no good when f***wits, give a false idea that plays into the hands of the opposition.

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  33. Thats what I mean – it should stay irrelevant to most of us.

    I don’t oppose success by stealth but if by irrelevant you mean illegal, we could not disagree more Chris. Neither compromise nor appeasement are appropriate on this issue.

    CCW is irrelevant to most Australians because most of us live at astonishingly low risk of violence.

    Australia’s violent crime rate is double that of America’s. I don’t have figures for Israel but I understand it’s also lower. Americans and Israelis don’t think CCW is irrelevant.

    You might not want to carry Chris, but it’s not your right to decide on behalf of everyone else.

  34. Well, David, I thought I was making myself clear but it seems not. If you re-read my post 34 above, I hope you will see the kind of categories that imply a good reason people SHOULD be able to have CCW.

    I don’t try to decide for everyone, but I think I have a fair grasp of what SHOULD be politically possible even if it isn’t obvious how to get the law changed yet. We should not adopt everything-or-nothing as our approach, because it guarantees we get nothing.

    Your quislings-dont-want-CCW attitude is a bit like what the Greens and Leftists do: moral high ground based on ideological purity. Being perfectly right, and kicked out, becomes under that stance better than being almost completely right and part of an effective team. (Whatever happened to the Judaean People’s Front? Oh HE’s over there. SPLITTER!)

  35. We should not adopt everything-or-nothing as our approach, because it guarantees we get nothing.

    Chris, you may be confusing the objective with strategy. I hope so, because otherwise your denials are hollow.

    My objective is for any adult who wants a CCW permit to have a right provided they haven’t forfeited it due to criminal activity or mental illness. I don’t mind a basic training course as a prerequisite, but not proving a need.

    As a strategy, I’m happy to argue for home self-defence as a first step. Once that’s achieved, I would move on to self-defence outside the home.

    That’s a lot different from saying CCW “hopefully” will remain irrelevant, as you did in #19. My view is that CCW will “hopefully” become relevant to just about everyone. I don’t mind taking one step at a time as long as they are leading to the right place.

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