Does this make you safer?: A glock 19 handgun.Courtesy crossprocessedsoul
Tomorrow, the United States Supreme Court will hear arguments in the case McDonald v. Chicago. Chicago has some of the strictest gun laws in the country; McDonald (and others) argue that this violates their Second Amendment right to keep and bear arms.
In addition to the legal arguments, voices on both sides of the issue also talk about safety. Advocates for stricter gun control claim that reducing the number of guns on the streets will reduce the number of gun-related deaths. The Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence recently released their annual survey of state gun laws, giving their highest marks to those states with the strictest regulations.
Others argue the opposite. They claim that gun-control laws only affect the law-abiding citizens who obey them. Criminals still have weapons, but the public is defenseless, leading to more deaths than if the public were armed.
Various people have tried to resolve this issue over the years, with little success. When the Brady list came out recently, blogger Jay Tea noted that some states with strict gun laws (such as California) actually had higher rates of gun death, while some states with looser laws (such as Utah) had much lower rates. (The "rates" are gun homicides per 100,000 people, and not total deaths. This allows us to compare large states and small states fairly.)
However, Mr. Tea failed to note that the reverse is also true -- that there are also states with strict laws that have low rates of gun violence, and states with loose laws that have high rates.
So, which is it: do gun controls make you safer, or put you in more danger?
To address this issue, we pulled out our old friend from math class, the coefficient of correlation. We last used this in an attempt to see if there's a connection between warm winters and warm summers (there is). This formula looks at two sets of numbers and determines how closely connected they are. Do they both move up and down together (a positive correlation)? If one moves up, does the other move down (a negative correlation)? Or, is there zero connection between them? So, we crunched the numbers, using the Brady Scorecard and the gun homicide statistics, and we found...
We came up with a coefficient of 0.00187. This tells us there is absolutely no connection between the Brady scores and the gun death rate: a state with strict laws is just as likely to have a high rate as a low one. The same goes for a state with loose laws.
The highest possible coefficient is 1.0. That indicates a direct one-to-one connection. In a complex system with many variables, such as human behavior, you want a score of at least 0.5 to say there is a strong connection, and a score of 0.3 to say there's even a weak connection. This score, however, was almost a perfect 0.
So, what does this all mean? Simply that neither side can use this as an argument. Gun-control advocates cannot use it to argue that regulations save lives; gun-control opponents cannot use it to argue the opposite, that regulations are dangerous.
Now, this all hinges on the Brady scoring system. It is possible that other ways of quantifying "strict" and "loose" laws could produce different results. And none of this has any bearing on the legal and Constitutional arguments being made. All we can say is, that in this case, the math is unambiguously neutral.
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