Do Fewer Gun Regulations Lead to Less Crime?

Hand Gun Constitution

According to The Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence’s 2011 Scorecard, the states with the fewest gun regulations are

  • Utah
  • Arizona
  • Alaska
  • Oklahoma
  • North Dakota

In most of these states, gun regulation is loose to, essentially, non-existent.


According to the Scorecard compiled each year by The Brady Campaign, a state can earn up to a maximum of 100 points in five categories: Curb Firearm Trafficking, Strengthen Brady Background Checks, Ban Assault Weapons, Child Safety, and Guns in Public Places and Local Control. Based on these categories, the above states earned the following scores, respectively: 0, 0, 0, 2, and 2.


What Do The Numbers Really Say

Basically, these five states don’t ban assault rifles, large capacity magazines, guns in public places, or bulk gun purchases. Licenses are not required to purchase and ammunition records are not checked. Child safety locks are not required, and not only are all of these states concealed carry states, in most of them you can carry your weapon unconcealed (as long as it is not loaded).

Given that there is such disparity between the states that have so few regulations and those that are heavily regulated (like California with a nationwide high score of 81), it is reasonable to ask whether fewer gun regulations result in more or less gun-related crime.

The problem with trying to tease out the relationship between gun laws and gun violence is that one can correlate instances of death by firearm with many different things and have everything but the kitchen sink thrown in – and many studies do.

Such studies include accidents, suicides, and self-defense shootings, thereby significantly inflating instances of so-called “gun violence.” Such studies will then include all kinds of “smoke and mirrors” variables, including unemployment, low rates of high school graduation, high poverty levels, instances of high school students carrying guns on school property (one wonders how the data for this variable could even be gathered, much less operationalized), stress levels, immigrant population, and a host of other irrelevant pieces of information.


Do Gun Regulation Lead to More Violence?

The problem is that when you throw all of these variables into a regression equation, you are going to come up with some correlations, or relationships, between some of these variables and instances of gun violence in a state. Those correlations don’t really tell you anything, though, and they certainly don’t imply causation.

When it comes right down to it, the only statistic that is relevant to an exploration of the question of whether more gun regulations leads to fewer violent gun deaths is the percentage of homicides committed with guns in those states with the most gun regulation, and the percentage of homicides committed with guns in those states with the least gun regulation.

According to the FBI, in general, nationwide violent crime in 2011 was down 15.4% over 2007 levels. To establish a baseline, it should be noted that firearms were used in 67% of the nation’s murders. It is, of course, not possible to report on the nation’s Brady Campaign score, as regulating gun laws has typically been within the purview of state governments (hence the great diversity in the state’s scores). Still, it is useful to know the percentage of homicides committed by firearm nationwide.

The key, then, is to see what percentage of homicides is committed by firearms in those states with strict guns laws and in those states with loose gun laws. Remember that Utah, Arizona, and Alaska all scored 0 on the Brady Campaign Scorecard, meaning that they have few restrictions on guns.

If gun regulations lead to lower violent crime via guns (exemplified here by homicide, the most violent crime of all), these states should certainly show higher instances of homicide by gun than the national average of 67%.

  • Utah’s rate of 51 % of gun-related murders is significantly below the national average being one of the lowest in the country. 
  • Alaska’s 55% is similarly low. 
  • Although North Dakota scored a 2 on the Brady Campaign’s scorecard (still an essentially insignificant indication of regulation), only 50% of its homicides are committed with firearms. 
  • Arizona (0 according to the Scorecard)
  • Oklahoma (2) have slightly higher rates of gun-related homicides, but both states are still below the national average at 65% and 64% respectively.


Why laws do not lead to less gun violence

By contrast, California, the state with the highest level of gun regulation in the country, has a higher rate of gun homicides than the national average at 68%. Further, although IL boasts a Brady Campaign score of 35, which puts it in the top tier of most highly gun-restrictive states, a full 83% of IL homicides are committed with guns.

Although SD is not one of the top 5 least restrictive states according to its Brady Campaign score of 4 (still an abysmal score, according to the Brady Campaign’s ideal goal of 100), only 33% of its homicides are caused by guns.

Clearly, when all of the “noise” is cleared away from the debate on gun laws and gun violence, it is clear that more restrictive laws do not lead to less gun violence. While it would not be statistically sound to say definitively that less restrictive gun laws lead to lower instances of gun-related homicides, one can say definitively that there is no correlation between more restrictive gun laws and lower rates of gun-related murders. If that is the goal of those who would place more restrictions on gun owners and would-be gun owners, one can definitively state that this goal has been empirically disproven in the states in which it has been tried.

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