Gun ownership and violence

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Photograph by Didier Ruef / Visum / Redux

Quick bibliography: Reviews/articles on the connections between gun ownership and violence.

**updated November 2020**

Classic review:

van Kesteren, J.N. (2014). Revisiting the Gun Ownership and Violence Link: A Multilevel Analysis of Victimization Survey Data. The British Journal of Criminology, 54 (1), 53–72. [PDF] [Cited by]

“The link between gun ownership victimization by violent crime remains one of the most contested issues in criminology. Some authors claim that high gun availability facilitates serious violence. Others claim that gun ownership prevents crime. This article revisits these issues using individual and aggregate data on gun ownership and victimization from the International Crime Victims Survey (ICVS). Analysis at country level shows that the level of handgun ownership is positively related to serious violence but not for less serious violent crimes. Multilevel analyses on the data from 26 developed countries show that owners of a handgun show increased risk for victimization by violent crime. High ownership levels, however, seem to diminish the victimization level for the less serious violent crimes for the non-owners.”

Other reviews/articles:

*Fortunato, D. (2015). Can easing concealed carry deter crime? Social Science Quarterly, 96(4), 1071-1085. [PDF] [Cited by] **New**

“Objective: Laws reducing hurdles to legally carrying concealed firearms are argued to have a deterrent effect on crime by increasing its perceived costs. This argument rests on the assumption that these policies will either directly or indirectly increase the perceived distribution of firearm carriers, an assumption that is as yet untested. This article tests this assumption and, in so doing, suggests testing the necessary conditions of policy can be useful when assessing outcomes is difficult.

Methods: I collect survey data on the perceived number of firearm carriers across the United States and then use a hierarchical regression model to assess the impact of concealed carry policies on these perceptions, controlling for several contextual and individual‐level factors.

Results: The data suggest that there is no statistically discernible relationship between concealed carry policies and the public’s perceptions of the number of firearm carriers. Indeed, the data suggest that the perceived density of firearm carriers is similarly uncorrelated to the number of active concealed carriers.

Conclusion: The link between concealed carry policy and people’s beliefs about the number of firearm carriers in their community is unidentifiable in the data. The rationale for concealed carry deterrence, however, depends on such a link existing: it assumes that potential assailants are aware of the distribution of firearm carriers in the potential victim population, but the empirical evidence presented here suggests that that assumption simply does not hold. Because beliefs over the distribution of firearm carriers are impervious to permitting policies and do not respond positively to the true distribution of carriers, the data suggest easing concealed carry cannot deter crime.”

*Hamill, M. E., Hernandez, M. C., Bailey, K. R., Zielinski, M. D., Matos, M. A., & Schiller, H. J. (2019). State level firearm concealed-carry legislation and rates of homicide and other violent crime. Journal of the American College of Surgeons, 228(1), 1-8. [Cited by] **New**

“Background: Over the last 30 years, public opinion and state level legislation regarding the concealed-carry of firearms have shifted dramatically. Previous studies of potential effects have yielded mixed results, making policy recommendations difficult. We investigated whether liberalization of state level concealed-carry legislation was associated with a change in the rates of homicide or other violent crime.

Study Design: Data on violent crime and homicide rates were collected from the US Department of Justice Uniform Crime Reporting Program (UCR) and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) over 30 years, from 1986 to 2015. State level concealed-carry legislation was evaluated each study year on a scale including “no carry,” “may issue,” “shall issue,” and “unrestricted carry.” Data were analyzed using general multiple linear regression models with the log event rate as the dependent variable, and an autoregressive correlation structure was assumed with generalized estimating equation (GEE) estimates for standard errors.

Results: During the study period, all states moved to adopt some form of concealed-carry legislation, with a trend toward less restrictive legislation. After adjusting for state and year, there was no significant association between shifts from restrictive to nonrestrictive carry legislation on violent crime and public health indicators. Adjusting further for poverty and unemployment did not significantly influence the results.

Conclusions: This study demonstrated no statistically significant association between the liberalization of state level firearm carry legislation over the last 30 years and the rates of homicides or other violent crime. Policy efforts aimed at injury prevention and the reduction of firearm-related violence should likely investigate other targets for potential intervention.”

*Hemenway, D. (2018).  Commentary: Easy home gun access and adolescent depression. Social Science & Medicine, 203, 60-63. [Cited by]

“Virtually every gun in the United States begins as a legal gun, bought by a legal gun owner—someone able to pass the national background check. Virtually all guns are brought into the community lawfully. About one third of households contain firearms. Yet the scientific evidence increasingly shows that acquiring a gun not only imperils others in the community, but it also increases the risk of death for the gun owner and the gun owner’s family. The Newtown shooting illustrates the point—Adam Lanza not only killed many innocent children in the community, but he also killed his mother and himself. Many previous studies have shown that a gun in the home substantially increases the risk of suicide, accidental gun death, and intimidation and murder of the women in the home. While gun ownership can confer satisfaction from hunting, sports shooting, collecting, carrying on a family tradition, feeling (if not actually being) safer, and so on, I know of no study that shows actual health benefits of having a gun in the household. Kim’s (2018) study suggests an additional cost—a gun in the home may increase mental health issues for girls in the home.”

*Joslyn, M. R., & Haider‐Markel, D. P. (2017). Gun ownership and self‐serving attributions for mass shooting tragedies.  Social Science Quarterly98 (2), 429-442.  [Cited by]

“Individuals develop causal narratives that help explain events, behaviors, and conditions. Individuals ascribe events and behaviors to controllable components, such as individual choice, or uncontrollable components, such as broader forces in the environment. We join attribution theory with motivated reasoning and outline how gun ownership structures perceptions of mass shootings and subsequent blame. Using individual‐level data from national surveys we examine the connection between causal attributions for mass shootings and gun ownership. Our findings suggest that firearm possession engenders self‐serving attributions about the causes of gun violence and resists calls for policy changes after mass shooting. Given the significant proportion of citizens who own guns, the prospect for policy changes that address gun‐related causes of mass shootings is unlikely.

*Lu, Y., & Temple, J. R. (2019). Dangerous weapons or dangerous people? The temporal associations between gun violence and mental health. Preventive Medicine: An International Journal Devoted to Practice and Theory, 121, 1-6.  [Cited by]

“Despite the public, political, and media narrative that mental health is at the root of gun violence, evidence is lacking to infer a causal link. This study examines the temporal associations between gun violence (i.e., threatening someone with a gun and gun carrying) and mental health (i.e., anxiety, depression, stress, PTSD, hostility, impulsivity, and borderline personality disorder) as well the cross-sectional associations with gun access and gun ownership in a group of emerging adults. Waves 6 (2015) and 8 (2017) data were used from a longitudinal study in Texas, US. Participants were 663 emerging adults (61.7% female) including 33.6% self-identified Hispanics, 26.0% white, 27.0% Black, and 13.4% other, with an average age of 22 years. Multivariate logistic regression indicated that, individuals who had gun access were 18.15 times and individuals with high hostility were 3.51 times more likely to have threatened someone with a gun, after controlling for demographic factors and prior mental health treatment. Individuals who had gun access were 4.74 times, individuals who reported gun ownership were 5.22 times, and individuals with high impulsivity were 1.91 times more likely to have carried a gun outside of their homes, after controlling for prior gun carrying, mental health treatment, and demographic factors. Counter to public beliefs, the majority of mental health symptoms examined were not related to gun violence. Instead, access to firearms was the primary culprit.”

*Stroebe, W. (2016). Firearm availability and violent death: The need for a culture change in attitudes toward guns. Analyses of Social Issues and Public Policy, 16 (1), 7-35. [Cited by]

“There are two conflicting positions toward gun ownership in the United States. Proponents of stricter gun control argue that guns are responsible for 32,000 gun‐related deaths each year and that the introduction of stricter gun control laws would reduce this death toll. Gun rights advocates argue that the general availability of guns reduces homicide rates, due to deterrence and because guns are effective means of self‐defense. Based on a review of the evidence, I draw the following conclusions: Gun prevalence is positively related to homicide rates. There is no evidence for a protective effect of gun ownership. In fact, gun owners have a greater likelihood of being murdered. Furthermore, gun ownership is associated with an increased risk of serious injuries, accidental death, and death from suicide. The evidence on the effectiveness of gun control measures has not been encouraging, partly because the influential gun lobby has successfully prevented the introduction of more effective measures.”

Questions?  Please let me know (engelk@grinnell.edu).

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