Do guns make you safer, or put you in more danger?

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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Your Comments, Thoughts, Questions, Ideas

bryan kennedy's picture

I think one of the biggest problems about gun law is the word, federal. I'd like to see targeted laws that address the needs of a rural hunting community where safe gun use is part of the culture and the south side of Chicago, where cops are struggling to deal with automatic weapons making it into the hands of gang members.

Trust me, I think there are plenty of law-thingys that should be handled by the federal government, but since you can't fire a gun from Utah to California is seems odd to make laws that put an umbrella over both of 'em. Yeah, yeah, I know there's that Constitution deal...I'm just hypothetical-izing here.

To bring it back to the point of this article, it seems that studies that focus on the effectiveness of gun laws need to look into really narrow groups. I'd also like to see some numbers comparing strict gun laws vs. loose policy in two communities with similar urban density and similar crime problems.

Comparing the law in Utah and California is about as useful as comparing the data in Macedonia to the Twin Cities area because they have similar populations....right?

posted on Mon, 03/01/2010 - 4:45pm
Gene's picture
Gene says:

Yes, the "Constitution deal." I suspect you and I may hold differing views on this issue. ;-) But, in all seriousness, I thought the same thing you did: this comparison showed no connection. But what if we were to compare gun violence to other factors: poverty, perhaps, or urbanization? I would think we might find a stronger connection.

But then, that's the point: thinking a connection exists isn't enough; I have to demonstrate it. I would have thought there'd be a connection between gun laws and gun violence, but there isn't. So before I speculate on other connections, I'll need to do my homework.

Just for fun: I came across this list of unclaimed income tax refunds. I can't imagine how there would be any connection between that and gun violence. And I was right: there isn't. The coefficient of correlation works out to 0.11005, which is way below the 0.3 threshold for even a weak connection.

But -- that figure is nearly 60 times greater than the correlation between gun laws and gun deaths. Which simply underscores the fact that neither side of the debate can make much of a claim here.

posted on Wed, 03/03/2010 - 9:55pm
Anonymous's picture
Anonymous says:

well if you use it for petection then ya it makes u safer but if not then i think u should ditch the gun

posted on Thu, 03/04/2010 - 11:42am
kalebdj's picture
kalebdj says:

no they do not

posted on Sat, 03/13/2010 - 1:01pm
Anonymous's picture
Anonymous says:

no it does not make me safer because it is dangerous

posted on Sat, 04/03/2010 - 10:07am
Anonymous's picture
Anonymous says:

well somtimes it makes you safe and somtimes it's dangerous....

posted on Sun, 04/04/2010 - 2:05pm
Anonymous's picture
Anonymous says:

there is more danger

posted on Wed, 04/07/2010 - 10:17am
Gene's picture
Gene says:

Recent statistics released by the FBI and the ATF show that gun ownership in America has risen over the past 4 years, while at the same time violent crime has gone down. (These are nationwide trends, as opposed to the state-by-state study in the main post.)

As mathematicians like to say, "correlation is not causation." Just because these two figures move in tandem like this does not mean that one causes the other. Many factors influence crime -- incarceration rates, age of the population, though, apparently not poverty levels. The conclusion "more guns = less crime" may have some merit, but is far too simplistic a summary of the evidence.

posted on Fri, 06/04/2010 - 9:58am
Gene's picture
Gene says:

Medical researcher Howard Nemerov has compared Brady Campaign ratings to various crime and death statistics, and claims handguns do make us safer. However, he does not go into a lot of detail, nor does he compute coefficients of correlation.

posted on Mon, 07/19/2010 - 10:38am
Anonymous's picture
Anonymous says:

put you in danger. lock em up.

posted on Sun, 08/08/2010 - 10:01am
Anonymous's picture
Anonymous says:

I think they make safer.

posted on Thu, 08/12/2010 - 9:36am
cypy's picture
cypy says:

I don’t know if it’s only psychological or a real fact, but I think that guns make you safer. I will go into a store that has guns for sale and I will buy a gun just in case, for my family safety.

posted on Wed, 10/19/2011 - 2:13pm
Jeremiah's picture
Jeremiah says:

■Of the 12,996 murder victims in 2010 for which supplemental data were received, most (77.4 percent) were male. (Based on Expanded Homicide Data Table 1.)
■Concerning murder victims for whom race was known, 50.4 percent were black, 47.0 percent were white, and 2.6 percent were of other races. Race was unknown for 152 victims. (Based on Expanded Homicide Data Table 2.)
■Single victim/single offender situations accounted for 48.4 percent of all murders for which the UCR Program received supplemental data. (See Expanded Homicide Data Table 4.)
■Of the offenders for whom gender was known, 90.3 percent were males. (Based on Expanded Homicide Data Table 3.)
■Of the offenders for whom race was known, 53.1 percent were black, 44.6 percent were white, and 2.3 percent were of other races. The race was unknown for 4,224 offenders. (Based on Expanded Homicide Data Table 3.)
■Of the homicides for which the FBI received weapons data, most (67.5 percent) involved the use of firearms. Handguns comprised 68.5 percent of the firearms used in murders and nonnegligent manslaughters in 2010. (Based on Expanded Homicide Data Table 8.)
■In 2010, in incidents of murder for which the relationships of murder victims and offenders were known, 53.0 percent were killed by someone they knew (acquaintance, neighbor, friend, boyfriend, etc.); 24.8 percent of victims were slain by family members. The relationship of murder victims and offenders was unknown in 44.0 percent of murder and non-negligent manslaughter incidents in 2010. (Based on Expanded Homicide Data Table 10.)
■Of the female murder victims for whom the relationships to their offenders were known, 37.5 percent were murdered by their husbands or boyfriends. (Based on Expanded Homicide Data Table 2 and 10.)
■Of the murders for which the circumstance surrounding the murder was known, 41.8 percent of victims were murdered during arguments (including romantic triangles) in 2010. Felony circumstances (rape, robbery, burglary, etc.) accounted for 23.1 percent of murders. Circumstances were unknown for 35.8 percent of reported homicides. (Based on Expanded Homicide Data Table 12.)
■Law enforcement reported 665 justifiable homicides in 2010. Of those, law enforcement officers justifiably killed 387 felons, and private citizens justifiably killed 278 people during the commission of a crime. (See Expanded

posted on Thu, 01/05/2012 - 10:32am
Jeremiah's picture
Jeremiah says:

FBI Statistics about guns:

posted on Thu, 01/05/2012 - 10:37am
jim's picture
jim says:

one good guy with a gun is better then 2 bad guys with a gun. notice keywords bad and good...go figure..

posted on Wed, 01/02/2013 - 7:38pm

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