The Effectiveness of Gun Control Laws: Multivariate Statistical Analysis

Article excerpt

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Research Background

There are almost 20,000 laws and regulations in this country which attempt to contain the use of firearms. Nevertheless, the number of deaths associated with gun related activity reached almost 40,000 in 1992, almost surpassing the number of fatalities associated with automobile accidents (Ruffenach, 1994). The ever increasing numbers of firearm deaths have led to emotional pleas for stiffer gun control laws and regulations. Gun related fatalities have also led to reevaluations of the relationship of firearm deaths and medical implications by the members of the medical community. The concern of the medical community has helped to move the debate from a strict focus on the Second Amendment issue to health implications (Kellermann et.al., 1993).

In spite of charged emotional debates and passage of numerous laws and regulations, no empirical studies have been done to evaluate the effectiveness of gun control laws in this country. The debate on the Brady Bill could have been better informed by scientific research. Nevertheless, an investigation of the relationship between the number of deaths associated with firearms and gun control laws can be valuable as our society further attempts to fine-tune laws and social programs. The purpose of this study is to investigate the effectiveness of laws and regulations prior to the passage of the Brady Bill in 1992. A multivariate statistical technique is proposed to establish the relationship between the number of gun related deaths by states and sets of determinants including state laws and regulations on firearm use.

In spite of numerous laws and regulations on gun control, the results are relatively unimpressive (Wright, 1988). Kellermann et. al (1993) argues that the presence of a firearm in the home increases the likelihood of a gun fatality. They maintain that people who become gun fatalities also experienced alcohol, drug abuse and domestic violence at much greater rates than the national average. Their conclusion, that gun ownership increases the odds of being killed, may be debatable given these complicating factors.

Kleck and McElrath, for example, report that when firearms are present (they) "appear to inhibit attack and, in the case of an attack, to reduce the probability of injury (to victims), whereas, once an injury occurs, they appear to increase the probability of death." (1991:669). Their study, which uses a hierarchy of violence, concludes that the presence of a firearm has a deterrent effect and the availability of firearms does not increase one's likelihood of being killed.

One of the benefits often cited by those favoring waiting periods in buying a gun is that of reducing the incidence of so-called "crimes of passion." The prevailing logic is that a waiting period will deny irrational perpetrators access to the means (guns) for violent action and engender a "cooling off period." Under normal circumstances, people, especially those who would commit a crime out of passion, would not be willing to pay a price for the crime. In the heat of the moment, however, a perfectly inelastic demand curve for murder exists - the person is "in the market," at least momentarily (Hellma, 1980, 122).

Studies of the effectiveness of gun control laws and regulations must not ignore other pertinent variables that may contribute to committing crimes, especially socioeconomic variables. Excluding these important variables from the model building process, and claiming that gun control laws and regulations are solely responsible for any change in crime rates, is too simplistic. Mauser and Holmes (1992) investigated the effectiveness of the 1977 Canadian gun control law. The linear model which they developed included comprehensive socio-economic attributes such as the unemployment rate, immigration laws and alcohol consumption. Their findings suggest that the availability of firearms may not be as important a factor in homicide rates as many believe. …