The pro-gun site BearingArms.com proclaimed on December 18 that “MOAR GUNZ!” is working. “Murders Hit Record Lows As Gun Ownership Hits Record Highs,” the headline proclaims.
While the whole idea of “good guys with guns” is never explicitly mentioned in the piece, that’s exactly the suggestion. They’re claiming that murders in the U.S. are down because Americans are buying more guns — record numbers of guns. This is yet another example of why the right should not be allowed to play with statistics. Now, as they say, here’s the rest of the story.
It is absolutely true that the murder rate in the United States is dropping. As the graph below from the Bearing Arms story shows, it has been dropping for years.
Now, to get wonky for just a moment. Studies on gun violence tend to be “correlational” studies. That means that the study determines whether a relationship does or doesn’t exist between two things. Correlational studies do not allow you to determine whether one thing causes another — only that the two things are somehow related, or that they’re unrelated. The pro-gun crowd wants you to believe that more gun ownership is leading to fewer murders, which would be a cause and effect relationship. But when you look at all the data, not only can you not say that one has caused the other, the two don’t even appear to be related.
There is no data available on the total number of gun sales per year in the U.S. But you can get an idea of how many guns are being purchased by the number of background checks performed by the FBI. 1999 was the first full year with background check information. That year the FBI processed 9,138,123 applications for background checks. That year’s murder rate was 5.7 per 100,000 population. In 2000, the number of background checks declined to 8,543,037, and the murder rate also ticked downward, to 5.5.
As anyone versed in statistics will tell you, one year’s worth of data doesn’t really mean that much. But the number of background checks remained below 1999 levels until 2006, and the murder rate, which, using gun lobby logic, should have noticeably increased, remained relatively flat.
Here’s something else that gun nuts don’t want you to know: the murder rate in Europe, where firearm ownership is tightly controlled, has been dropping for years, too. Remember the old saying, “When guns are outlawed, only outlaws will have guns?” That’s almost gospel for gun advocates. So why have most of the countries on the chart below seen a reduction in the number of homicides over the ten years that are represented? There certainly hasn’t been a rush to get more guns in most of them.
Something else that is important to note: even though the U.S. is right there with Europe when it comes to the decline in homicides, our murder rate is still three to five times what it is in most other developed countries. And there’s this chart, taken from Politifact in June:
The United States has more than five times the number of mass shootings than all the other countries on that chart combined, and that was just for the first half of the year.
Yes, the murder rate is declining, and that is a very good thing. But to suggest that the reason behind it is because more people are arming themselves is nothing more than a nonsensical attempt to “prove” that everybody needs to buy more guns.
The Bearing Arms article offers this quote, from the late right-wing sci-fi author Robert Heinlein:
An armed society is a polite society. Manners are good when one may have to back up his acts with his life.
Are they seriously suggesting that people will be kinder to each other if everybody is afraid of getting shot?
Featured image via Nick M/Flickr