GUN CONTROL AND HOMICIDE RATES
by Julian Heicklen
February 18, 2013

Currently, in the United States, there is considerable discussion about increasing gun controls or banning gun ownership to reduce homicide.  There are those that argue that countries that have low ownership of guns by the public have lower homicide rates.  On the other side, there are those that argue that gun ownership reduces homicide rates.  Which ones are correct?

HOMICIDE RATES IN 5 COUNTRIES

Here is a Table 1 showing what occurs in five countries:
Data from: http://www.huppi.com/kangaroo/L-switzerland.htm

TABLE 1: Homicide Rate by Country
Homicide Rate
Percent of Households              (per 100,000)
Country         with a handgun, 1991       Handgun(1)   Total(2)
--------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
Switzerland                    14                     1.42              0.7
Sweden                           ?                      0.42             1.0
Australia                         2                      0.07             1.0
United Kingdom              1                      0.06            1.2

Handgun murder rate is for 1992.
Total murder rate is for 2012: Total murder rate from: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_countries_by_intentional_homicide_rate#By_country

Sure enough, as the percent of households with a handgun drops by a factor of 14, the murders by handguns drops by a factor of almost 24. There is no doubt that fewer people with handguns will reduce the murders by handguns. However the overall murder rate remains nearly unchanged or may even have a slight increase.

HOMICIDE RATE IN THE UNITED STATES

What about the situation in the United States?  In 1991, 29% of households had a handgun (http://www.huppi.com/kangaroo/L-switzerland.htm).  In 1992, the handgun murder rate was 5.28 per 100,000, much higher than elsewhere.  From these statistics, there are 3 possible conclusions:

High handgun possession causes a high murder rate.
High murder rate causes high handgun possession.
Both high rates are caused by some other event.

Which of these possibilities is correct?  From the analysis in other countries, it is clear that possibilities 1 and 2 are not the reason. Thus I looked for other parameters.  Perhaps high handgun possession and high murder rates do not influence each other, but some other factor does.

In the United States there are about 29,000 gun deaths each year.  Of these, about 12,000 are suicides, mainly by old White men. About 800 are accidents.  This leaves about 16,200 that are homicides.

Table 2: Homicide Offenses in the United States by Age Group:
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gun_violence_in_the_United_States#Homicides
 AGE GROUP, YRS % POPULATION %KILLED #/100,000 17–19 4.3 11.2 1814 20–24 7.1 17.7 2867 13–16 6 3.8 616

TOTAL KILLED by 13–24-year olds = 5297 of 16,200
10,903 killed by others
75% of homicides occur to people with criminal records

These homicides primarily are committed by young Black and Hispanic men in the ghettos.  There are 2 reasons for this: 1) They are engaged in criminal activity, principally selling and using illegal drugs; 2) They do not trust the police or the courts to deliver justice.

In the United States the sale or possession of marijuana, cocaine, heroin, Methamphetamine, and some other drugs are illegal.  Trafficking in these substances amounts for about 40% of the U. S. prison population, which is the number 1 prison state in the world, with only Russia as a serious competitor.  The United States has 4.7% of the world’s population, but 25% of the world’s prisoners. In the late 1990s in the United States the Federal Bureau of Investigation estimated that 5% of murders were drug-related (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Illegal_drug_trade).

Gun possession and homicides in the United States vary from state to state.  The data are available at:

Gun possession by state: http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-srv/health/interactives/guns/ownership.html

Homicides per 100,000 in 2011: http://www.deathpenaltyinfo.org/murder-rates-nationally-and-state#MRalpha

Table 3: Homicide Rates and Gun Ownership by State in the United States
STATE % Gun Owners,
2001
Homicides/
100,000, 2001
Homicides/
100,000, 2011
District of Columbia 3.8 40.26 17.5
Hawaii 8.7 2.6 1.2
Massachusetts 12 2.3 2.8
New Jersey 12 4 4.3
Rhode Island 12.8 3.7 1.3
New York 18 5 4.0
Illinois 20.2 7.9 5.6
California 21.3 6.4 4.8
Maryland 21.3 8.3 6.8
Florida 24.5 5.3 5.2
New Hampshire 30.0 1.4 1.3
Ohio 32.4 4 4.4
New Mexico 34.6 5.4 7.5
Texas 35.9 6.2 6.2
Michigan 38.4 8.7 6.2
Minnesota 41.7 2.4 1.4
Missouri 41.7 6.6 6.1
South Carolina 42.3 6.3 6.8
Iowa 42.8 1.7 1.5
Utah 43.9 3 1.9
Louisiana 44.1 11.2 11.2
Alabama 51.7 8.5 6.3
Idaho 55.3 2.3 2.3
Mississippi 55.3 9.9 8.0
Montana 57.7 3.8 2.8
Wyoming 59.7 1.8 3.2
% Gun Owners, 2001 from: http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-srv/health/interactives/guns/ownership.html

Homicides/100,000 from: http://www.deathpenaltyinfo.org/murder-rates-nationally-and-state#MRalpha

Homicide data for DC from: http://www.disastercenter.com/crime/dccrime.htm
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Table 4: Average Number of Homicides/100,000 in the United States
% Gun Owners      # of States        2011 Homicide Average/100,000
50-60%                6                        4.43
40-50%                6                        4.82
30-40%                5                        4.76
20-30%                4                        5.60
8.7-18%               5                        2.72
3 abnormalities are District of Columbia, (Louisiana–Alabama–Mississippi), and New Hampshire.

DEATH RATES IN THE UNITED STATES

The United States had a handgun murder rate of 5.28/100,000 in 1992, a high-crime year, higher than any other advanced country.  However other causes of non-natural death were even higher.  The total accidental death rates were 38.1/100,000 in 2005: (http://www.nbcnews.com/id/19080118/ns/health-health_care/t/accidental-death-rate-creeping-higher-us/#.USM0EY6UBao).
From hospital infections the yearly rate is at least 16/100,000 and may be as high as 79/100,000:
(Hospital acquired infections: http://www.louisville-injury-lawyers.com/2011/03/high-number-of-us-hospital-deaths-owe-to-medical-errors.shtml).
Dr. Iran Beilin, who is working on methods of corrections for these accidental hospital deaths, estimates the rate at about 24/100,000 (private communication).

From the gun death rates in other countries, it is clear that reducing handgun ownership decreases handgun deaths, but it does not decrease the overall homicides.  In the United States the homicide rates are not changed once handgun possession reaches over 20% of households.

CONCLUSION

Keeping handguns legal or banning them will have not much, if any, effect on accidental death rates, and likely not on homicide rates either.  The reason for not infringing on the right to bear arms is stated clearly in the 2nd Amendment to the U. S. Constitution: “A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed.”  Gun ownership is necessary  to keep government officials afraid of their public.