Boston University Researchers Find Link Between Gun Ownership And Homicides

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Boston University’s School of Public Health released the results of a new study on September 12 that directly contradicts the claims of the National Rifle Association regarding the connection between gun ownership and gun violence. The study, published in the American Journal Of Public Health, found a direct correlation between gun ownership rates and homicides in the U.S.

In recent years media outlets have been full of stories claiming that increasing gun ownership rates correlate with decreasing rates of violent crime. In a op-ed last April entitled “Disarming Realities, As Gun Sales Soar Gun Crimes Plummet,” Larry Bell offered statistics from the Department of Justice and a Pew Research study that showed that the number of gun related homicides had dropped drastically since 1993. Bell makes the following observation:

Those gun crime rates certainly aren’t diminishing for lack of supply…at least not for law-abiding legal buyers. Last December, the FBI recorded a record number of 2.78 million background checks for purchases that month, surpassing a 2.01 million mark set the month before by about 39 percent. That December 2012 figure, in turn, was up 49 percent from a previous record on that month the year before. FBI checks for all of 2012 totaled 19.6 million, an annual record, and an increase of 19 percent over 2011. columnist AWR Hawkins last month cited a Harvard University study that found that in other countries stricter gun laws did not lead to fewer “intentional deaths.” The study to which he refers is a look at the rate of gun ownership in various European countries versus the homicide rates of those countries. There are two things about this study that are worth noting:

1.The study focuses on Eastern Europe and Scandinavia. Notably absent from the tables provided are countries such as the UK, Italy, Portugal, and Spain.

The American right loves Europe when it suits them, and hates Europe the rest of the time. The Harvard study starts out with a commentary on gun control in the Soviet Union and a good portion of it seems to be aimed at proving that the U.S. has a lower homicide rate than Russia, a country and society with which the U.S. has little in common.

2. The authors of the study, Don B. Kates and Gary Mauser, are not unbiased researchers.

Kates is identified in the study as being connected to the Pacific Research Institute, a “free market” think tank based in San Francisco. Mauser, who holds dual U.S. and Canadian citizenship, is a professor emeritus at Simon Fraser University in British Columbia and a longtime opponent of gun control legislation.

In contrast, Dr. Michael Siegel, the principal author of the Boston University study, has no identified connections with gun control or anti-firearm groups. Siegel and his researchers looked at data going back to 1981 from all 50 states. According to

it [the study] determined that for every one percentage point in the prevalence of gun ownership in a given state, the firearm homicide rate increased by 0.9 percent.

Siegel commented on the results of his study in a statement.

This research is the strongest to date to document that states with higher levels of gun ownership have disproportionately large numbers of deaths from firearm-related homicides,” he said. “It suggests that measures which succeed in decreasing the overall prevalence of guns will lower firearm homicide rates.”

The main findings of the Boston University study can be summarized as follows.

The study found that over the three decades, the mean estimated percentage of gun ownership ranged from a low of 25.8 percent in Hawaii to a high of 76.8 percent in Mississippi, with an average over all states of 57.7 percent. The mean age-adjusted firearm homicide rate ranged from a low of 0.9 per 100,000 population in New Hampshire to a high of 10.8 per 100,000 in Louisiana over the three decades, with an average for all states of 4 per 100,000. For all states, the average firearm homicide rate decreased from 5.2 per 100,000 in 1981 to 3.5 per 100,000 in 2010.

Siegel made it clear that the study does not address “causation.” In other words, the research suggests that there is a link between the rate of firearm ownership and the homicide rate, but it does not draw any conclusions about the nature of that link. Of course this will give the gun lobby an opening to attack this study, despite the fact that it is similar in methodology to the studies mentioned above that have been eagerly distributed by NRA allies.