Do Stricter Gun Laws Lead to More Crime? Brady Gun Law Scorecard & Murder Rates

The final installment of the Liberal Fascism review will appear tomorrow.

I was inspired to write this after reading a Mike Adams column, in which he pointed to a Don Surber column, in which he pointed to a Guardian story, which pointed to the Fed’s stats.

The Brady Campaign to prevent gun violence has compiled a scorecard for each state, according to how they (the Bradyites) view each state’s gun laws. These statistics are through 2009.

More restrictive states received higher scores. Utah received the best—or worst, depending on your perspective—score (0), and California received the worst (79). The score had several components, such as whether laws were in place to forbid bulk purchases, and whether there were “assault” weapons bans. Complete details are available at their site.

The Guardian, doing the job American papers have forgotten to do, and using the Fed’s data, compiled each state’s total murders, and the number of those that were perpetrated with firearms or by other means. Firearms murders were separated by handguns, shotguns, rifles, and unknown types; the other means included knives, hands and feet, or unknown. These statistics were from 2008.

I then went to the Gallup organization and retrieved the results from two polls: the Democrat minus Republican voting percent intentions (numbers greater than 0 indicated a Democrat advantage, etc.), and the percent population self-identifying as “conservative” (anywhere from 29-49%; other possibilities were “liberal”, “moderate”, and “none of your business”). These were from 2009.

The caveats first! The Fed’s murder and population data is pretty solid, enough so that we can assume measurement error is not especially important. The Brady scorecard is obviously arbitrary. And unidimensional: two different states can have equal scores but they might differ in the composition of its gun laws. Comparing unidimensional scores is always dangerous!

The Gallup polls are not as arbitrary, but they have all the usual flaws of surveys. Stated rates of plus/minus error are in the four-point range, but all experience suggests that it’s far safer to double these.

Worst of all, statistics at state levels ignore the difference between the urban and rural. New York is the starkest example: New York City is night and Upstate is day, yet they are lumped together as one. But, given all these distinct—and very real—possibilities for misinterpretation, here are some pictures.

Here’s a shot of the percent identifying as conservative versus the Brady score. It shows what we’d guess: except for Vermont, where the people have some catching up to do, legislatively speaking. The blue “liberal” dots represent those states that have fewer than the median 39% self-identified conservatives; the red dots have 39% or more. (The picture is similar for Dem-Rep voting intentions.)

Brady Gun Scorecard vs Conservative percentage

The previous picture informed this one, the real meat. (Download PDF.)

Brady Gun Scorecard vs Murder rate

It shows how the Brady State Gun Law Scorecard is related to the handgun murder rate (per 100,000). I specifically excluded shotguns and other types of firearms from this picture. Handguns account for anywhere from 11% to 99% of firearm murders, with a median of 64%. They account for 0% to 78% of all murders, with a median of 39%. (Did you think it would be more?)

In absence of the dot-coloring, the data show two chunks. Those with Brady scores from 0 to about 20, and those with scores greater than 40. The low-Brady-score chunk shows very little relation to the handgun murder rate. That is, the whole range of murder rates are found in the low-Brady score chunk.

But the high-Brady-score chunk shows a rough correlation (I use that word in its plain English sense): higher Brady scores are associated with higher murder rates. Why? The data do not say.

The coloring of “conservative” and “liberal” might be helpful, since this division was so predictive of the Brady score. The blue/liberal dots show the same positive association: in general, the higher the Brady score—that is, the harder it is for citizens to own guns legally—the higher the handgun murder rate.

But the red/conservative dots show no such association. This does not prove a gun law/murder rate association doesn’t exist, though. It’s easy to be fooled in cases when a score has a cutoff, like the Brady score does at 0. Don’t forget: the Brady score’s intention is to measure restriction, not freedom.

There might be a lot of difference between states with a score of 0 and those with a score of 2 (the next lowest), but we can’t see it. What we’d need is an extension to the Brady score which awards “negative points” for states which have even fewer restrictions than are noted by the Brady organization.

Overall: there’s some indication that more restrictive gun laws (as measured by the Brady score) are associated with higher handgun murder rates. We cannot say, with this data, why this is so.

Stop right there! Any kind of formal statistical analysis of this data would be extremely unwise. Especially one which assumed a linear relationship in the data. Any formal analysis is practically guaranteed to instill more confidence than is warranted. Remember those caveats? There’s no way to incorporate them reasonably into any formal model. We’ll have to settle for vagueness. That’s life.

Comments

Do Stricter Gun Laws Lead to More Crime? Brady Gun Law Scorecard & Murder Rates — 29 Comments

  1. Since we must speculate, perhaps those killed in the High Brady states were shot attempting to steal handguns they couldn’t get otherwise?

  2. On your Y-axis, second plot, “Handgun murder rate per 10,000″…10,000 what? My initial assumption was it’s population, but that seems kind of high. Is it 10,000 violent crimes? 10,000 murders? What?

  3. Karl Z,

    Per every 100,000 residents. So, e.g., about 3.5 out of every 100,000 Californians were killed by a handgun.

  4. Dammit, John R T, you’re right. It is every 100,000. A stupid typo on my part. The figures’ numbers were correct. Just the y-axis label is off in the second pic.

    I’ve uploaded the new pics/pdf file. But the website cache will probably hold onto the wrong pic for an hour or two. The PDF should be ok. (I can’t clear the cache.)

  5. Unless it changed in 09. In Louisiana most of the murders are in one parish. Yet that parish had more gun laws than the state as a whole. And is also less conservative than the state as a whole.

    It’s way too much work. But it would be interesting to look on a county bases. Maybe the NRA might want to look.

  6. danbo,

    Right. I actually have the county-level crime rate data, but I do not have the equivalent Brady score. Have any NRA contacts?

  7. Maryland data is wrong. It’s obviously including DC which is an anomaly in and of itself.

    You are formulating your ‘higher brady scores correlate with higher murder rates” statement based on: only using blues states, with scores over 40, and only 2 states NJ and CA supporting the statement.

    You’ve failed to make a convincing argument

    One could make as strong or stronger observation that – of states with murders/100,000 over 2.0, 15 are RED and 4 are BLUE.

    or, of the states with murder rates over 2.0, only 2 have Brady scores over 40, yet 17 have Brady scores under 25.

    It’s easy to cherrypick this kind of data.

  8. And you have to wonder about the Brady score anyways. I’m not motivated enough to look for details, but VA got a fairly high ordinal at least, though the raw score was only 17.

    While it’s certainly possible that there are lots of restrictions that go towards the score, as long as you’re a state resident, it’s pretty easy to buy a gun. And carrying openly is legal without any special carry permit. I know a few people who tend to do just this, pretty much wherever they go.

    Recall the fight between NY and VA where NY criminals were having VA locals buy guns and taking them back to NY. NY started a sting operation in VA, and the then-Democratic governor of VA threw a fit.

  9. I am a believer in the 2nd Amendment. That said, would it not be more parsimonious to ask what might be happening in Maryland, California and New Jersey? Alternatively you could rework the chart by focusing on cities with populations above say 100,000 – ignoring rural areas – assigning the Brady scores based upon the State of the city. Population density looks to me to be a particularly significant variable given the cluster of States in the bottom lefthand corner. Less politically correct would be to model black on black and white on white murders.
    Sorry the possibilities are endless – which goes to show that underspecified models – like climate models – can be very, very misleading.

  10. Of course, there’s also the issue of the legality and source of the guns used in the murders.

    Also, are these merely “displacing” murder by other means?

    I found some motivation to look at the whole scorecard, especially for my home state of VA, and most of the points come from the regulations on gun dealers (require state ID, record keeping), limit on monthly handgun purchases, some sort of law about kids under 13 and guns and not forcing colleges or employers to allow firearms. My general impression of broad 2nd Amendment rights in VA isn’t challenged by the details of the scorecard.

    The college and employers firearm score is interesting. Since most employers are private entities, it seems appropriate to allow owners to dictate terms. As for colleges, the VA Tech vs Appalachian Law school cases are interesting. Appalachian allowed guns on campus, and students (with guns and without) confronted the shooter.

  11. john,

    No, sir. The argument stands (recall my very weak conclusion), even without Maryland, and even without the coloring of the dots. Plus, I have done no cherry picking. The only questionable move is the coloring of the dots, which we can ignore, like I originally state in the post. I only color the dots to see if it makes a difference. If you don’t like ‘em, ignore ‘em. The fact remains that the data still manifests two chunks. Why? I don’t know, but those chunks do neatly divide between Deep Blue and Other states. Coincidence? Perhaps.

    Maryland also has Baltimore; but it’s true that I can’t swear that this data doesn’t include D.C. (I’ll email the Guardian and ask). But if it does, I can relabel the state “Maryland + D.C.” or, if you like, “Maryland + The Most Restrictive Territory—Yet Bloodiest—In The Union.” (I originally typo-ed “Terroritory”. Another coincidence?)

    Steve N,

    Maybe so. Shoot an email over to Brady and see what they say.

    Matt,

    Quite right. The score is certainly not cast in cobalt-blue steel.

    Bernie,

    Right. I do have the county-level data, like I said, but not the gun laws. Anyway, if urban/rural is the big divide in CA, the story must be even worse—if the murder rates are higher in urban areas (then they must be a lot higher).

    Plus, I recall reading when I was out there three weeks ago a story of a semi-rural county which allows non-concealed carry (as long as the ammo was separate from the piece). Story quoted how some coffee-shop goers were “nervous.”

    But the main point is that the data is complicated. It’s too easy to be too certain.

  12. Matt,

    Fascinating. Do you have a link for the Appalachian Law School? I am ignorant about this.

  13. It’s obviously including DC which is an anomaly in and of itself.

    That may have once been true, but DC has been gentrifying for a while now, and Baltimore is inheriting her past problems. It has become the hell-hole that DC used to be. I don’t know whether the MD stats include DC or not, but it is far from obviously one way or the other. Baltimore can go toe to toe with any city in America… in terms of crime stats.

  14. What is the reason for using handgun murders as the ordinate in the second chart? I would be very interested in the overall murder rate, and I think it would be more useful. To arbitrarily use handgun murders assumes an argument from the anti-gun side, that handgun murders are somehow more wicked than non-handgun murders. There has been at least one analysis that indicates that a substitution of other weapons for handguns would result in an increase of murders by other means, and of course, considerable speculation that substitution for handguns would result in a decrease of the murder rate.

    It shouldn’t be too hard to make a plot with the total murder rate on the ordinate instead of only the handgun murder rate. It is believable that more handguns might result in more handgun murders, but that doesn’t necessarily mean more overall murders. Of course, more regulations do not necessarily mean less guns either.

  15. One might also consider the opposite correlation may be the case. It could be argued a left leaning state increased gun restrictions in an effort to lower their murder rate, while a more red state may choose to focus more on the death penalty.

    For instance, California’s murder rate per 100K in 1980 was 14.5, 1990 – 11.9, 2000 – 6.1

    New jersey 1980-6.9, 1990-5.6, 2000-3.4

    New york 1980-12.7, 1990-14.5, 2000-5.0

    or how about nationwide – 1990 (ie before Brady Bill) 9.4, 2000 – 5.5

    or, explain how a 2 week waiting period and felony check prevents a law abiding citizen from purchasing a gun. Anyone with a clean criminal record and no mental illness can legally purchase a handgun in every state in the US. If you want a gun in California, buy one. No one is going to stop you.

  16. At a glance, this doesn’t change the chart much, but it would be nice to see in a graphic.
    State Brady Score Murder rate/100,000 in 2008

    AK 2 4.1
    AL 2 7.6
    AR 4 5.7
    AZ 2 6.3
    CA 79 5.8
    CO 15 3.2
    CT 53 3.5
    DE 21 6.5
    FL 6 6.4
    GA 8 6.6
    HI 42 1.9
    IA 14 2.5
    ID 2 1.5
    IL 28 6.1
    IN 6 5.1
    KS 7 4.0
    KY 2 4.6
    LA 2 11.9
    MA 54 2.6
    MD 52 8.8
    ME 11 2.4
    MI 23 5.4
    MN 15 2.1
    MO 4 7.7
    MS 6 8.1
    MT 4 2.4
    NC 19 6.6
    ND 4 .5
    NE 8 3.8
    NH 9 1.0
    NJ 73 4.3
    NM 4 7.2
    NV 9 6.3
    NY 50 4.3
    OH 11 4.7
    OK 2 5.8
    OR 17 2.2
    PA 25 5.6
    RI 45 2.8
    SC 16 6.8
    SD 4 3.2
    TN 8 6.6
    TX 9 5.6
    UT 0 1.4
    VA 17 4.7
    VT 8 2.7
    WA 17 2.9
    WI 10 2.6
    WY 10 1.9
    WV 4 3.3

  17. John said:
    “or how about nationwide – 1990 (ie before Brady Bill) 9.4, 2000 – 5.5

    or, explain how a 2 week waiting period and felony check prevents a law abiding citizen from purchasing a gun. Anyone with a clean criminal record and no mental illness can legally purchase a handgun in every state in the US. If you want a gun in California, buy one. No one is going to stop you.”

    There have been some studies to show that the Brady law had no correlation to the decreasing crime rate, but how they differentiate out the increasing carrying of guns with the numerous states that passed shall issue conceal carry laws in the same period, I do not know.

    Similarily when you say that anyone with a clean criminal record and no mental illness can legally purchase a handgun in every state of the US, you are correct, but some cities such as Chicago and New York make it very difficult to purchase the handgun if you live in the city. The quality of motivation also becomes a factor. Certainly, if you make legal handgun purchases more inconvenient, you will have fewer legal handgun purchases. Are criminals or ordinary citizens more motivated to obtain handguns? I am certain that it depends on many factors. My guess would be that those who are willing to commit serious crimes with guns are not deterred by the prospect of using extra legal channels to obtain them, but citizens who do not wish to cross legal lines will be.

  18. John posted:

    “explain how a 2 week waiting period and felony check prevents a law abiding citizen from purchasing a gun. Anyone with a clean criminal record and no mental illness can legally purchase a handgun in every state in the US. If you want a gun in California, buy one. No one is going to stop you.”

    Dean Weingarten replies:

    I thought you might like to hear a personal anecdote as an example. In the 1970s, I was stationed in the military in California at a relatively remote base. I had to travel about 70 miles to reach a town with a substantial gun shop. Once, while at the shop, I found a relatively rare revolver that was quite difficult to obtain at that time. I could not simply purchase the revolver and take it with me, even though I was an officer in the military, and was legally required to be armed with a private firearm as part of my official duties (a small part, but it was a small post), even though I already owned other handguns and long guns. I had to put money down, drive the 70 miles back to my residence, wait two weeks, and then drive the 140 mile round trip again in order to pick up the revolver. I always thought that simply showing proof of already owning a handgun should be sufficient to allow instant purchase of another. Obviously, if I already owned a handgun, the two week wait would not serve any “cooling off” purpose, which was the rational for the two week wait at the time.

    Someone a bit less motivated than I was simply would not have gone through all the extra bother and expense to obtain the desired revolver.

  19. The discussion on murder rates. I suspect, this needs to be taken with a grain of salt. The parish in louisiana with most of the murders. When the local government (mayor, DA) got too much flack over the murder rate; they solved the murder rate problem.

    According to a much ignored report in the paper. They changed the definition of murder.

    If someone shoots you today. But you refuse to die for too long. It’s no longer considered murder. It aggravated battery. And your death isn’t considered murder.

    I suspect things like this are more common than we realize.

    Unfortunately I don’t know anyone at NRA to do a by county survey. Sorry.

  20. It is much more instructive to compare countries where the gun culture is quite different. For example compare Australia or Canada to the USA.

    For Australia my analysis of the relevant Australian and US statistics shows that the annual murder rate for all causes other than guns is the same as in USA and is about 1 murder/100000 people. However the rate for gun related murder is about 0.5/100000 in Australia compared to 5/100000 in the USA and I therefore conclude that if the US were to enact and ENFORCE gun laws similar to those in Australia then the total US murder rate could fall to about the same level as we have in Australia about 1.5/100,000.

    The total murder statistics for Canada are very similar to Australia (1.9/100000) and given that the gun culture in Canada is likely to be closer to that of the USA than Australia, the statistics speak volumes about the correlation between gun law, gun availability and the likelihood of being murdered by gun. Of course correlation is not causation but!!!!!

  21. tmatsci says:
    It is much more instructive to compare countries where the gun culture is quite different. For example compare Australia or Canada to the USA.

    Dean Weingarten replies:
    It is not the gun culture that is the determining factor, it is the culture. Murder rates tend to be conservative with cultural values. People of Japanese descent in the USA, with easy access to guns, have a murder rate slightly less than Japanese in Japan.

    tmatsci says:
    For Australia my analysis of the relevant Australian and US statistics shows that the annual murder rate for all causes other than guns is the same as in USA and is about 1 murder/100000 people. However the rate for gun related murder is about 0.5/100000 in Australia compared to 5/100000 in the USA and I therefore conclude that if the US were to enact and ENFORCE gun laws similar to those in Australia then the total US murder rate could fall to about the same level as we have in Australia about 1.5/100,000.

    Dean Weingarten replies:
    Remember that instituting the current very strict gun controls in Australia had no effect on the overall murder rate there. This agrees with my thesis that murder is a cultural phenomena and is conservative among cultural groups. Murders with firearms in the United States for 2008 were 9,484. The population (estimate from the census) was 304 million for rate/100,000 of 3.1. Total murders were 14180, for a rate per 100,000 of 4.7, so the non firearm murder rate in the USA in 2008 was 1.6/100,000. I have not found the overall homicide rates for 2008 published on the net, but I did find the population figures and the total number of murders.

    tmatsci says:
    The total murder statistics for Canada are very similar to Australia (1.9/100000) and given that the gun culture in Canada is likely to be closer to that of the USA than Australia, the statistics speak volumes about the correlation between gun law, gun availability and the likelihood of being murdered by gun. Of course correlation is not causation but!!!!!

    Dean Weingarten replies:
    Yes, Canada has a lot of guns, and it also recently made its gun laws much stricter. Again there was no real change in the murder rate with the stricter gun laws.

    Similarily, Mexico has very strict gun laws, but has a murder rate 3 times that of the USA. The USA has a high population of both legal and illegal Mexican immigrants. That tends to increase the overall murder rate for the USA, because the murder rate tends to be conservative among cultural groups. One half of the overall murders in the USA are committed by American Blacks against American Blacks, primarily in the extremely violent cultural subgroup of American Blacks concentrated in a number of urban centers.

    As seen from the State murder rates, there are a number of American states that are about the same or lower than Australia’s. These States tend to have populations much closer to Australia’s and populaiton densities that are closer to Australia’s. (Utah, Wyoming, North Dakota) Hawaii is a bit of an outlier.

  22. In the last paragraph, I meant to say “populations with a culture much closer to Australia’s” instead of “populations much closer to Australia’s”

  23. Anyone ever sen any numbers on handgun crimes – registered democrats versus registered republicans. The state listing of conservative or liberal doesn’t allow one to really see if there is a correlation.

  24. I think there is a bit of implicit correlation -> causation thinking going on here (perhaps not by intent) with respect to Brady rank vs. murder rate. Perhaps one should consider the opposite direction for a plausible linkage. That is, voters with a higher rate of handgun murder (caused by unknown factors) might tend to attempt to reduce that rate by the mechanism of stricter gun control laws. The attempt might be conditioned upon conservative/liberal views which could explain the split observed. Lacking a trend component it is not possible to observe whether the attempt, assuming for the moment that one was made, was successful.

  25. Vagueness is cool. It allows all manner of inference and rationalisation. My two cents worth?

    “Liberals” and “Conservatives” respond to events in different ways. A Liberal will see a need for regulation or behaviour modulation. A Conservative, less likely.

    So, there is no correlation between gun deaths and legislation in Conservative states, but some type of positive correlation between gun deaths and regulation in Liberal ones. Californian gun laws may or may not have reduced the incidence of gun deaths, but the Liberal majority feel more comfortable about the situation.