Heller, McDonald, and Murder: Testing the More Guns = More Murder Thesis

By Kates, Don B.; Moody, Carlisle | Fordham Urban Law Journal, October 2012 | Go to article overview
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Heller, McDonald, and Murder: Testing the More Guns = More Murder Thesis

Kates, Don B., Moody, Carlisle, Fordham Urban Law Journal


I.   Falsehood: The Ordinary-Person-As-Murderer
II.  Correlations Between High Gun Ownership and Murder
III. Do Societies with No Firearms Have Low Murder Rates?
     A. Primitive Societies
     B. The Dark Ages and Afterward
 IV. Do Societies with Fewer Firearms Have Fewer Murders?
     A. England
     B. Continental Europe: Myths of Gun Control
        1. Europe Does Not Have a Low Incidence of
           Murder Compared to the United States
        2. Europe Does Not Have More Stringent Gun
           Controls than the United States
        3. The Anti-Gun Policies Prevailing in England and
           Some of the Smaller Nations of Continental
           Europe Cannot Be Responsible for Low European
           Murder Rates
  V. Gun Ownership and American Crime
     A. The Colonial Period
     B. Pre-Civil War United States
     C. The Civil War and Later in the Nineteenth Century
     D. Twentieth and Twenty-First Century America


In 2008, the Supreme Court recognized that the Second Amendment guarantees a right of law-abiding, responsible adults to own firearms for self-defense; it therefore struck down the District of Columbia's bans on keeping defensive firearms as violating that right. (1) It thereafter struck down Chicago's handgun ban, holding that the same right applies against states and localities. (2)

It is by no means our intention to minimize the Second Amendment legal issues, on which one of us has written extensively. (3) But it is fair to assume that the Heller Court gave at least some consideration to the criminological issues. The Court undoubtedly gave attention to the National Academy of Sciences' 2004 finding that, after exhaustive investigation, it could not identify any gun control measure that had reduced violent crime, suicide, or accidents. (4) The Justices also may have noted the same result that the Centers for Disease Control reached in an even more extensive study (5) as well as in the cognate results of other researchers. (6)

Such research notwithstanding, politicians and other laymen still widely hold the belief that more guns mean more murder and fewer guns would mean less murder. This widely held faith is the basis of the gun ban ordinances challenged in Heller and in McDonald

The purpose of this Article is to focus evidence on these widely held beliefs and to acquaint the legal community with that evidence. In that respect, it may be useful to recall the conclusion of the University of Massachusetts's Social and Demographic Research Institute from an exhaustive federally funded review of the extant gun control literature during the Carter Administration:

   It is commonly hypothesized that much criminal violence, especially
   homicide, occurs simply because the means of lethal violence
   (firearms) are readily at hand, and thus, that much homicide would
   not occur were firearms generally less available. There is no
   persuasive evidence that supports this view. (7)

Part I of this Article examines the misperception that murderousness is common among law-abiding people. Part II examines the illogic of the common error of assuming that if a high violence rate induces many people to buy guns, the number of guns is a cause of violence rather than a result of the violence. We examine examples of nations in which more guns have been associated with less crime. Parts III and IV establish that many societies with few or no firearms are far more afflicted with homicide than societies where guns abound. Finally, Part V traces the history of murder in America in relation to gun ownership.

We begin by examining two myths that may promote the belief that more guns mean more murder, and fewer guns less murder. One of these views involves a logical error, the other an outright falsehood.


The reason why many people perceive that more guns necessarily will mean more murder is that they are misled by a common falsehood.

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