The Gun Grabbers of January

By James Harrigan; Antony Davies | Tribune-Review/Pittsburgh Tribune-Review, January 13, 2013 | Go to article overview

The Gun Grabbers of January


James Harrigan; Antony Davies, Tribune-Review/Pittsburgh Tribune-Review


Emotional responses to the Sandy Hook massacre made many Americans more receptive to gun control arguments -- and understandably so. But emotion is a poor basis for public policy.

No matter what emotional response the events in Newtown elicit, public policy must be rational to be effective.

It is no surprise that reasonable discourse has been nowhere in evidence; the event was catastrophic. Add to this a tone-deaf response from the National Rifle Association, national media seemingly capable only of fanning the emotional flames and politicians clamoring to get out in front and "just do something" and it's no wonder that deliberative voices were all but drowned out.

It is time now to consider the matter soberly and dispassionately.

The premise behind gun control is that it minimizes criminal gun use. Data from the FBI Uniform Crime Reports, the Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance System and Gallup enable us to examine this claim.

According to these sources, the rate of gun ownership has not changed in the past decade. Both in 2001 and in 2011, 41 percent of U.S. households reported owning guns. Broken down by region and in both years, 52 percent of households in the South, 48 percent of households in the Midwest and 29 percent of households in the East reported owning a gun.

And these data are remarkably consistent over time.

Using 2011 data, we can split the 48 states that reported crime data into two groups (Florida and Alabama do not provide data and are thus excluded) by gun ownership.

In the 24 states with the lowest gun ownership rates, 28 percent of households reported having access to a firearm versus 48 percent for the 24 states with the highest gun ownership rates. This is a very significant difference. And one might naturally expect the group with the higher ownership rates to have decidedly higher rates of gun violence as well.

So what do the gun violence statistics look like for these two sets of states?

The firearm murder rate was slightly higher in the states with higher gun ownership rates (2.9 per 100,000 population) than in the states with lower gun ownership rates (2. …

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