April 16, 2009

Do Guns Deter Crime?

image By Jay Livingston

Montclair State University


The recent shootings in Alabama, Binghamton, and Pittsburgh along with the anniversaries of massacres at Columbine and Virginia Tech have brought more than the usual calls for stricter gun laws. The pro-gun side is also speaking up loudly, arguing that if more people were armed, we’d have less crime, and an armed citizenry would be a deterrent. If criminals knew that everyone was carrying a gun, the NRA reasons, they wouldn’t dare commit the crime for fear of being shot.

How can we assess these claims? The usual strategy for measuring deterrence is to compare crime rates in states with different gun laws. Some states have strict gun laws. Other states have made carrying a concealed weapon (CCW) widely legal. The problem with this comparison is not just that we need to control for all the other factors that might affect crime. There is also the problem that even in states that do not restrict CCW, we don’t know how many people are actually walking around packing heat. And neither do the criminals.clip_image002

It would be nice if we could do an experiment. We could create a place in America where everyone carries a gun. We’d give our experiment a few years, then we’d check the crime rates. It’s impossible to do, of course.

But wait. I think I’ve seen such a place. It’s called the Wild West. And in the versions that I’ve seen in movies and on TV, nearly everyone there (at least the men) carries a gun. And none of this concealed weapon stuff--the guns are in plain sight, holstered and ready for a quick deterrent draw.

But is that picture of the West accurate, and how much crime was committed there? Fortunately, there is a systematic study of crime in a real town in the Wild West – Bodie, California, a mining boom town high in the Sierras near the Nevada border.

In the 1870s, when news got out that there was gold or silver in those hills, Bodie’s population quickly grew from a few hundred to about 5,000. For our purposes this town is a good place to examine the links between guns and crime.

clip_image002On the one hand, Bodie’s demographics should lead us to expect a high rate of crime. Most of the population consisted of young, single, men with no deep ties to the community and a social life centered around saloons, gambling halls, and prostitutes. Bodie had racial minorities (Mexicans and Chinese) and hard drugs (opium). On the other hand, nearly all those men carried guns.

Historian Roger McGrath went back through court documents and newspaper reports to reconstruct the actual crime rates in the five-year period when Bodie was booming. His results can help us decide whether the net result of all those guns was good, or whether it was bad and ugly.

When McGrath counted up the numbers and did the math, it turned out that, by comparison with crime rates today, Bodie didn’t have much crime. Its rate of burglary was about one-sixth that for the U.S. today as a whole. That difference, though, probably has less to do with guns and deterrence than with the absence of things to steal. No iPods, TVs, or even jewelry. People didn’t have silver, they had silver mines, which are a bit harder to make off with. In fact, the most frequently taken items in Bodie were blankets and firewood (nights are cold in the High Sierra).

But what about robberies, where the bad guys are usually after cash? Bodie’s 21 robberies in five years work out to an annual rate of 84 per 100,000. That’s lower than the overall U.S. rate for 2007 (148 per 100,000). The closest cities geographically I could find 2007 data for were Carson City, Nevada, whose rate was much lower (38 per 100,000) and Reno, whose robbery rate was nearly triple that of Bodie.

So Bodie’s guns might have made a difference. The bank tellers were all armed, and Bodie had no bank robberies. On the other hand, the stagecoach had an clip_image002[5]armed guard, but still McGrath counted eleven stagecoach robberies. (Just like in the movies, the bad guys weren’t completely bad. They took the strongbox but usually let the passengers keep their money and valuables.) So were guns a deterrent in Bodie? The overall picture is mixed so far.

But there was one crime where Bodie left contemporary rates in the dust – murder. In five years, Bodie had 31 murders, for an annual rate of 116 per 100,000, twenty times the national rate for the U.S. in 2007. Even our most murderous cities like Baltimore and Detroit have murder rates less than half of Bodie’s.

It’s also clear that the cause of Bodie’s high murder rate was those guns. When men have guns close at hand, ordinary arguments and disputes can become fatal. And remember, guns in 1880 were primitive by today’s standards. We can only wonder what Bodie’s murder rate would have been if those miners had been carrying .357 Magnums.

McGrath describes Bodie in his 1984 book Gunfighters, Highwaymen, and Vigilantes: Violence on the Frontier. As for Bodie, it quickly declined after the 1880s, and by the early 20th century, it became a ghost town. What do you think this study tells us about the deterrent effect of guns?


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I feel the majority of criminals attack stores and elderly people that they know cannot defend themselves. More women than men are attacked. I feel this is because they don't want to get caught and they believe they are inferior in strength. If everyone was carrying guns I believe they would think twice before they attacked someone. Also, it is good for victims because they can protect themselves.

Although I've never agreed with the NRA, this shows some new enlightment on their theories. It does make sense that if all people were armed, that crime rates would drop because of fear. But, as we all know, sociology is not necessarily predictable and it could go backwards and people may start using guns everytime something makes them angry.
But, if we're allowed guns, that doesn't mean everyone wil have them, so this will just put the weak people even more at risk. I can't see my grandma ever shooting a gun, let alone carrying one in her purse.

After reading this study about crimes and murder and how the amount each are connected by guns and I could not help but think why anyone would suggest that the more people are armed with guns, the less crime there will be. I do not think the Wild West or Bodie, California are good examples of places that crime was decreased because of the fact that everyone was armed. If everyone had a gun in plain view, yes it would be intimidating and yes you would think twice about getting into an altercation with that person, but no it would not be a safer solution than not having guns. If everyone had guns there would be a much greater chance of accidental shootings that could potentially result in death. Putting a gun in the hand of a person who would not be able to handle it is the worst idea because they would not know when to use it, when to keep it hidden, etc. That is why there are so many laws that come along with having guns and why you need a license to own one because it would be ridiculous to let everyone own a gun. I know that I am the type of person that would not be able to handle a gun and if I walked around with one I would constantly be paranoid about what I should do with it or what if I used it in a situation to intimidate someone, but went to far and ended up in death. I could never live with myself. It is definitely a better idea to keep guns away from people as much as possible and make laws on them stricter because who knows what a person could do if they had a gun.

When it comes to guns there is always a higher risk of crime. If more poeple are carrying guns then they would always suspect that the other people have a gun making them think that if I pull my gun, then they will also pull theirs. So there will be that thought of fear, but that doesn't mean the people who feel threatened or powerful won't use them. I think that there should be a stricter law about carrying guns and I feel a lot less people should be allowd to buy hand guns. It is way to easy for somebody to go out and get a gun, and it is way to dangerous as well.

You made a good point about how the murder rate increased because everybody had a gun, however, that was back in the 1800s, where people had an old mind set and an itchy trigger finger. People were hot-headed back in the Wild West, but if you allowed everyone to own a gun now in these modern times, the murder rate would probably decline (not counting the criminal that would get shot, of course). People today are alot more sophisticated then in the Old West, and would know when or when not to use their guns. Gun-control laws were probably needed desperately back in the 19th Century, but now, in these times where crime continues to run rampant, it is guns that are needed more than ever.

Allowing everybody to carried a concealed weapon is just not realistic, and there is a very slight chance of a law like this to actually come into effect. Especially not now given that bush is out of the white house! As the NRA believes crime could quite possibly go down simply because criminals would not be able to get away with what they do in todays society! They would no longer be able to go after innocent old women just because there would be a large risk of getting "shot in the head". those whom are also trying to pass a law like this would also have to consider all those people who are not completely sane, and then imagine them carrying around a gun on a daily basis like it is a necessity. Like everything people would start abusing there rights to carry a concealed weapon, and although the overall crime rate might go down; the murder rate would significantly grow!

If every one had guns and was waiting to use them, the murder rate would be as high as Brodies. It is written in our constitution that we have the write to bear arms, so any one should be able to purchase guns. I do support some aspects of the NRA in that they support the security a gun can bring. The people that have guns should be required to keep them in safe places, only the gun owner knows how to get into. The people that should not have guns should have stricter penalties and there should be a requirment for buying ammo.

The saying is very true, guns do not kill people, people do. Guns can be helpful in protecting you and your family, but America does not need everyone shooting some one every time a crime is committed. That is why we have the justice system which needs to be modified quite a bit but that is an entirely different story. People just need better security systems in their house and a good dog. A "beware of dog" sign and a nice German Shepard or Pit Bull will keep criminals out.

I think that if everyone was carrying gun there would be twice more attacks then right now. I also think that majority of criminals that rob stores and elderly people know that they are really weak themselves. Plus more women than men are attacked; I think that they do this because they think that they are bigger and stronger then the person they are attacking. Also, I think that it is good for victims to protect themselves. Seeing if someone can come up and attack you then why can’t you try and defined yourself back.

I strongly believe that firearms can be a deterrent from criminal activity because most criminals normally focus on the easiest targets, and someone carrying a large pistol on their side would definitely not be easy to steal from primarily because they are armed. However, placing a firearm in the hands of certain individuals could easily lead to increased crime rates. People who are not mature enough to own a firearm, shouldn't. I know from personal experience that guns are a deterrent from criminals. My parents house was broken into while my father and I were sitting in the living room watching television. Two men entered their home, with my father and I in clear sight and proceeded to walk towards us. My father, who is extremely pro gun, was carrying a small pistol in his ankle holster. He removed the gun and pointed it at the two men who had entered out home. As soon as the individuals saw the gun they immediately ran from the house and headed for their car. My father followed them out the door, gun in hand, and continued to point the gun in the direction of the two men. Without ever firing a shot, he was able to scare off two men who had broken into their home. This proves how strong of a deterrent guns can be, but we have to remember when it is appropriate to fire and when it is not.

Firearms protect people from violent crimes in many ways and I feel that outlawing guns all together isn't the answer to the problem of violence. Even if guns were outlawed for all residence of the United States that would not prevent criminals from acquiring guns if they wanted them. Assault rifles have been illegal in California for many years, yet there are still many criminals who possess such weapons and no law abiding citizens who do. However, giving a gun to every person is not a reasonable answer to the problem because there are certain situations when someone should not be allowed to care a gun and also certain people who should not be allowed. I couldn't imagine walking into a college party at my school where many people are drinking and having a good, and knowing in the back of my head that every person there was caring some form of firearm. It would only take one person under the influence to make a bad decision and use that weapon in a manner that could injure or even kills many people around them. In certain situations firearms will work as a deterrent from criminal behavior, but there are also many exceptions that would need to be addressed before people should be allowed carry a gun wherever they wanted. Like the old saying goes. "Guns don't kill people, people do."

I think that possessing a gun is extremely dangerous for peopple no matter their age. I think that guns should only be in the hands of those in authority like the policemen and sheriffs etc. No other individual should have the right to own one.
The reason being that the unexpected is always bound to happen if you own a gun. For example, let's just say a man owns a gun and has teenage boys and somehow they find out where their dad hides it. Then someday they might show it off to their friends at school and someone might get shot accidentally or maybe they get mad at someone at decide to shoot them. Examples like these have actually occured in real life.
I understand people think that owning a gun maybe sometimes helpful in certain occasions like if you are getting attacked by a stranger or getting robbed etc.. The reality though is that possessing a gun might actually put you and your family more at risk of somehow getting injured or killed. I think people who own guns get tempted easily to use it sometimes. We should protecet ourselves and our families in other ways that won't involve weapons. Weapons have always led to violence and so no one should consider owning one. Well, that is just my opinion.

I feel that having less gun laws would increase violence rather than deter it. If you have a gun, you feel that the only thing between life and death is just to pull a trigger faster than the other person can pull it, crime rate would easily go up. Since now it is easier to get away with high-value items, crime rate would definitely be going up. Having a firearm gives people the feeling of power, and that no one could stop them.
This is quite like the cold war. It's human nature to be on top, and be the alpha male. In the cold war, the US had to have more powerful weapons than the USSR, or else they feel that we would be attacked by them. This is the same feeling with humans today.

Your example about the wild west is fallacious. Such an example is a faulty appeal to history, and ought not be considered in an actual debate about the topic.

Face it, if nobody had guns, there would be far less crime. That said, if this were the case, there would most likely be far more people skilled with knifes and other weapons that can be just as deadly. I do agree with the NRA's belief that if criminals knew that the person they were going to rob had a gun, they would definitely think twice. While I do think that gun use should be controlled, I do not think that the elimination of them make crime rates go down for any period of time. People will simply begin to master a different weapon. However, the number of deaths as a result of these attacks would mostly likely go down. In one Tennessee hospital, they looked at the number of gun shot wounds that resulted in death vs. the number of stab wounds that resulted in death. The wounds include self-inflicted, assault, and accidental cases. The percent of deaths from gun shot wounds was 17.4%, verses the deaths from stabbing victims, which is only 5.3%

"If everyone was carrying guns I believe they would think twice before they attacked someone."

Typical pro-gun fallacy.

Most criminals are desperate people, such as drug addicts. Deterrent does not work. They want money, not to kill you.

If someone put a gun in your face and asked for your wallet you would give him it, and he would run away.

If someone put a gun in your face and you pulled out your gun, you would have a gunfight and someone dies. Do you carry that much in your wallet to justify risking your life?

No one is safer with guns.

I'm absolutely appalled by some of the ignorant comments being posted. If you don't know your facts or haven't had an experience yourself, then you should leave the discussion. I absolutely believe in "An armed society is a polite society" BUT there are so many flaws to it and I wouldn't really advise it. That stupid person down there saying only police should have guns is going to be the IGNORANT FOOL that will have some sort of property-related crime and will not be able to do anything about it. "when life is determined by seconds, the police are only 15 minutes away" and that saying is ALMOST 100% true besides the actual time figures themselves. You anti-gun biased people act like us gun owners are a bunch of F*cking monkeys! It's pathetic how ignorant you are. I have pulled a gun once in my house on intruders. NOT ONE SHOT FIRED AND CRIME WAS DETERRED. I have conscious, trigger finger discipline and if you don't have that simple concept down, then you should take all firearms out of your house. You HAVE to have a set process in a situation because I know I do, and with that process, I protected my family with out ever firing. Plus it's the second amendment, set and stone, cry your anti-gun brains to sleep because the pro-active populace will have a better chance at over all survival than you. No matter what laws take place, I have a gun in the house and that's important to me and my family. And you know what? We're normal people. I'M A MALE NURSE. The injuries that I see in the E.R. aren't the kind that I want with a love one so I do something about it.

What are the statistics on the amount of guns stolen in the US every year...500,000? Where do you think the criminals are getting their weapons?! From the Stolen Gun Emporium on 8th and Delaware Streets? No, from all of you idiot gun owners! And just as there is no proof that gun control deters crime by much, there is also absolutely no proof that if more law-abiding people were carrying it would actually deter crime! In addition, we hear continuously about how "Criminals beware! Everybody in Texas owns a gun!" What a laugh! The larger cities in Texas have higher crime rates than New York or Los Angeles! Which in itself negates any argument that if everyone carried, crime rates would go down as criminals wouldn't know who had a gun, who didn't. America's historical, twisted fascination with gun-ownership has caused more deaths each year...all due to a misinterpretation of the gun-rights amendment in the Constitution.

Did you ever stop to think that an article you were reading was biased so 95% of the comments are biased in the same way as well, No? well i just did.

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