graphics matter, 2017 edition

“More data more better” is pretty much the rule when it comes to statistics, so I try to update the “graphics matter” series every year or so as my various sources update their data sets.  I missed a year somewhere in there, but I am happy to bring you the new, improved, examination of whether or not the hypothesis of “more guns = more ‘gun deaths'” holds true.

The results… will not surprise regular readers.

AmericanPopulationFirearmsDeaths2017

That is the chart, but what about the actual numbers?

The two pertinent rates – the number of firearms per capita versus the number of firearm-related fatalities per capita – correlate with a coefficient of -0.79744, indicating a strong, negative correlation between the two sets of data.

If you look at the raw numbers – the number of firearms, period, versus the number of firearm-related fatalities, or “gun deaths” – they correlate with a coefficient of -0.27315, which remains a negative correlation.

As always, correlation does not necessarily indicate, or even come close to proving, causality; but I am also not trying to prove causality.  However, the notion of “more guns = more ‘gun deaths'” does try to claim causality, when there is absolutely no positive correlation to support such a causal link.

Therefore, the hypothesis of “more guns = more ‘gun deaths'” still cannot be true.

(The previous version of this, along with a great deal more explanation, is available here.  The Excel spreadsheet from which I built the above graphic is available here.  My sources are the CDC’s WISQARS Fatal Injury Reports, the Small Arms Survey of 2003, the BATFE’s Firearms Commerce in the United States, the Shooting Industry News, and Radical Gun Nuttery.)

the ineffectiveness of “assault weapon bans”, part 4

the ineffectiveness of “assault weapon bans”, part 4

Now that we’ve covered a variety of ways in which “assault weapon bans” do not and cannot meet their purported goals, let’s hear from the experts with regards to the efficacy of the 1994 Public Safety and Recreational Firearms Use Protection Act, otherwise known as the “federal ‘assault weapons ban'”.  Unfortunately, this post will be markedly lacking in the “pretty pictures” department, aside from the above photo of the author with his not-actually-an-“assault-weapon”, as captured by the inimitable Oleg Volk.

To start you off, we’ll do something simple.  According to the Federal Bureau of Investigation’s Uniform Crime Report for 2003, 390 people were murdered by criminals using a rifle, accounting for approximately 2.71% of the total number of murders that year (see table 2.12 – it’s a downloadable *.xls).  2003 is significant because it is the last full year that the federal “assault weapons ban” was in place, and arguably the year wherein its greatest impact could be felt.  Likewise, the overwhelming majority of “assault weapons” are rifles, hence the focus thereon.

Said ban ended, as designed, in 2004, and according to those who support it, the flood of “assault weapons” that followed should have driven that number of murders through the roof.  According to the FBI’s UCR for 2014 – the most recent year available – criminals employing rifles killed 248 people, accounting for approximately 2.07% of the total number of murders.

Not only did the total number of murders go down from 2003 to 2014, but the total number of murders that involved rifles went down faster.

In fairness, though, prohibiting firearms with specific aesthetic features was only part of the ’94 ban; another significant portion was banning the production and sale of new magazines over a certain, arbitrary capacity limit.  So… how much of an impact did that have on things?

An unpublished research report submitted to the National Institute for Justice in 2004 had this to say on the matter:

Because the ban has not yet reduced the use of LCMs in crime, we cannot clearly credit the ban with any of the nation’s recent drop in gun violence.

“LCM” is, of course, shorthand for “large capacity magazine”, a wholly incorrect way of describing the standard-capacity magazines that came, as a standard accessory, with “assault weapons” before the ineffective ban.

The 2013 Summary of Select Firearm Violence Prevention Strategies published by the National Institute of Justice followed up to this report with:

With an exemption the impact of the restrictions would only be felt when the magazines degrade or when they no longer are compatible with guns in circulation. This would take decades to realize.

In other words, a magazine ban would only work if the government were able to convince every American citizen to give up their prohibited magazines, and given that New York has had maybe 4% compliance with their ill-named SAFE Act… well, good luck with that.

Circling back to that 2004 report, its opinion of the ban as a whole was not… encouraging for its supporters:

However, the decline in AW use was offset throughout at least the late 1990s by steady or rising use of other guns equipped with LCMs in jurisdictions studied (Baltimore, Milwaukee, Louisville, and Anchorage). The failure to reduce LCM use has likely been due to the immense stock of exempted pre-ban magazines, which has been enhanced by recent imports.

[…]

Should it be renewed, the ban’s effects on gun violence are likely to be small at best and perhaps too small for reliable measurement.

In other words, whatever marginal impact the “assault weapon ban” had on crime was already offset by criminals employing other tools – including ones grandfathered into the ban – to perpetrate their crimes.

The 2013 Summary dashes the hopes of “assault weapon ban” supporters even harder:

Assault weapons are not a major contributor to gun crime. The existing stock of assault weapons is large, undercutting the effectiveness of bans with exemptions.

[…]

Prior to the 1994 ban, assault weapons were used in 2-8% of crimes. Therefore a complete elimination of assault weapons would not have a large impact on gun homicides.

A National Academy study of firearms and violence concluded that the weaknesses of the ban and the scientific literature suggest that the assault weapon ban did not have an effect on firearm homicides.

[…]

Since assault weapons are not a major contributor to US gun homicide and the existing stock of guns is large, an assault weapon ban is unlikely to have an impact on gun violence.

Firearms are, to put it mildly, a durable good.  Current estimates have the lowest conceivable number of “assault weapons” in the United States as somewhere around 5,000,000, with the actual numbers potentially being twice or even thrice that.  Any ban like the ’94 ban would leave every last one of those still in circulation and still functional, completely destroying any utility of the ban.

A ban that attempted to retroactively prohibit ownership of already-owned “assault weapons” and confiscate them from their owners would not go well.  The oft-vaunted Australian “buy back”* had a compliance rate of a whopping 19%, and there’s little reason to believe America would achieve higher numbers.

Looking further afield, an article published by Blau, Gorry, and Wade in the Applied Economics journal earlier this year concluded:

In addition, common state and federal gun laws that outlaw assault weapons are unrelated to the likelihood of an assault weapon being used during a public shooting event. Moreover, results show that the use of assault weapons is not related to more victims or fatalities than other types of guns.

They did find that the use of “high capacity” magazines correlated with an increased number of victims, but also found that the use of shotguns – almost completely unrestricted by bans – correlated with an even greater increase in the number of victims.

Another letter published by Gius in 2013 in the Applied Economics Letters journal stated:

It was also found that assault weapons bans did not significantly affect murder rates at the state level.

On a related note, states with restrictive concealed carry laws were found to have higher firearm-related murder rates.

The most salutary thing a government agency can say about the “assault weapon ban” seems to have come from the Centers for Disease Control in their initial evaluation of the efficacy of various firearm laws:

Results of studies of firearms and ammunition bans were inconsistent: certain studies indicated decreases in violence associated with bans, and others indicated increases.

[…]

In summary, the Task Force found insufficient evidence to determine the effectiveness of any of the firearms laws reviewed for preventing violence.

It’s worth noting that the “laws reviewed” also included waiting periods, firearm registration, licensing of owners, restrictions on concealed carry, and other such “gun control” favorites.

“Assault weapon bans” can’t work mechanically, haven’t worked historically, and won’t work analytically.  Given that record of abject failure – or, at the very best, a record devoid of any successes – why do “gun control” advocates continue to call for these pointless and ineffective bans at almost every opportunity?

Perhaps your safety is not actually their priority?

(* – Like “assault weapon”, “buy back” is a 1984-worthy example of rectifying the language to engender support of a cause.  Firstly, how does a government buy something back when they never owned the “something” to begin with?  Secondly, employing the word “buy” implies that the exchange was voluntary, while the Australian “buy back”, and some American ones, are little more than mandatory confiscation with the arguable benefit of some limited compensation.)

graphics matter, part two

graphics matter, part two

Now that we have dispensed with the myth that “more guns = more gun deaths”, what about the second-most-favorite talking point of the “gun control” movement: “more guns = more ‘gun violence’“?

Well, the first problem is what, exactly, is “gun violence”?  For simplicity’s sake, and for the sake of actually finding relevant data, I am going to define “gun violence” as “any crime committed with the assistance of a firearm”, or “CCwF” for short.  Specifically, after consulting the Federal Bureau of Investigation‘s Uniform Crime Reports for 2013, we are going to consider murders, robberies, and assaults where the perpetrators employed a firearm.

As with the previous post, the Centers for Disease Control will be providing the population of the United States (though we will not be using WISQARS, since we are not interested exclusively in fatalities or injuries), the Small Arms Survey of 2003 will provide the starting point of our firearm count estimation, with the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives and Shooting Industry News providing the production numbers, and Radical Gun Nuttery did the counting for the number of “shall-issue” / “Constitutional carry” states out there.

So, given all of those wonderful numbers, do more guns really mean more “gun violence”?

PopulationFirearmsCrimes

Nope.

For the numerically inclined, the rate of firearm ownership correlates with the rate of crimes committed with firearms with a coefficient of -0.58535, indicating a negative correlation between the two data sets.

Even when we consider raw numbers, the number of firearms in America versus the number of crimes committed with firearms correlates with a coefficient of -0.46199, still indicating a negative correlation.

In other words, the hypothesis of “more guns = more ‘gun violence'” cannot be true.

Again, feel free to check my work (*.xlsx file); folks have pointed out mistakes I have made in the past, and I am always seeking greater accuracy.

Also, it is worth noting that somewhere in the 2012 to 2013 range, assuming the Small Arms Survey of 2003 is even close to accurate, America reached parity between its population and the number of firearms in its borders; there are enough firearms for every single American to own one.  I dare say our Founding Fathers would approve.

graphics matter

graphics matter

One of the favorite myths of “gun control” advocates is that as the number of firearms in Americans’ hands increases, so too does the number of firearm-related deaths increase.  Superficially, this seems to make sense, and thus it is an appealing fiction to buy into.

Fortunately, the actual data proves the hypothesis to be false.

To begin with, I should clarify that we will be considering the rates of firearm ownership and rates of firearm-related fatalities, since raw numbers are affected by population growth or decline.  Thankfully, the United States population is fairly well documented, and we will be using the Centers for Disease Control‘s information.

Additionally, causes of death are also well documented, also by the CDC.  Their WISQARS Fatal Injury Reports are updated on a yearly basis, and their data set spans from 1981 to 2012, so that will be our consideration window.

Unfortunately (from the analytical standpoint), the first part of the equation – the number of firearms in private Americans’ hands – is nowhere near as accurately recorded.  Obviously I am quite sanguine with the federal government having no idea who owns what firearms or in what numbers, but it does make statistical examinations a little more challenging.  However, the Small Arms Survey of 2003 is perhaps an authoritative estimate on private ownership of arms in various nations, and they calculate the lower bound of US firearm numbers in 2003 as approximately 238,000,000.  The Small Arms Survey organization is decidedly against the “proliferation of small arms”, by their own words, so we have every reason to believe they inflate their numbers for greater impact, but we can accept that as a starting point.

From that starting point, we will add, or subtract, the firearm production figures provided by the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and ExplosivesFirearms Commerce in the United States document, at least as far back as 1986 (the earliest publication of that document).  Before then, we will rely on the Shooting Industry News.

Finally, while it does not factor into the “does ‘more firearms’ mean ‘more firearm-related deaths?” question, the number of “shall-issue” and “Constitutional carry” states is also included in the data, with the tallying done by Radical Gun Nuttery (their *.gif documenting the march of our rights across the nation is quite handy).

So, with all this data at our fingertips, does “more firearms = more firearm-related deaths” hold true?

PopulationFirearmsDeaths

In short, no.

For those who want more than pretty pictures, when one considers the rates – i.e. the number of firearms or firearm-related fatalities per 10,000 people – the rate of firearm ownership correlates to the rate of firearm-related fatalities with a coefficient of -0.80155, indicating a strong, negative correlation between the two data sets.

Even when you look at the raw numbers, the number of firearms in America correlated to the number of firearm-related fatalities – i.e. “gun deaths” – with a coefficient of –0.36471, which still indicates a negative correlation between those two data sets.

At this point, it is important to clarify that correlation does not indicate, nor prove, causality… but I am not attempting to prove causality here.  However, by stating that “more guns causes more ‘gun deaths'”, the anti-rights community is attempting to claim causality, and one that would outright require positive correlation.

No such positive correlation exists.

As such, the hypothesis of “more guns = more ‘gun deaths'” cannot be true.

Feel free to spread this information as far as you like, and if you are so inclined, I welcome people checking my work (*.xlsx file).  Unlike anti-firearms organizations, I make no attempt at hiding my raw data, or the ways it was crunched.

(As a further aside, it would not matter if the hypothesis could be true – the overwhelming majority of firearm-owning Americans have broken no laws nor harmed anyone, and, as such, no one has any standing to unjustly deprive them of property or rights.)