Like all modern “clickbait” scattered through “news” websites, a recent Wonkblog piece weaves a compelling narrative, but falls short on facts.
A quick read of the piece suggests that recent increases in the U.S. homicide rate were somehow caused by increases in gun ownership. While author Christopher Ingram is careful not to explicitly state that, the title, “guns are responsible for the largest share of U.S. homicides in over 80 years,” is artfully drafted propaganda, without claiming an actual casual effect.
For example, Ingraham claims that “firearms are more prevalent” than ever before and alludes to “the great proliferation of firearms.”
He intimates that the increased size of the civilian stock of firearms, i.e. the sheer number of guns, is the reason for recent increase in homicides.
More Guns and Less Crime
Ingraham suggests that he has identified a pattern – increased gun stock accompanied by increased homicide – but it is a “pattern” that applies only to the past two years. To maintain this spurious appearance of a pattern, he had to ignore the rest of the past quarter century of American history – a period characterized by a rapidly increasing gun stock and a decreasing homicide rate.
According to noted criminologist Gary Kleck, from the end of 1993 to the end of 2014, the size of the U.S. gun stock increased by at least 140 million firearms, based on the numbers of guns domestically manufactured or imported and subtracting the number exported. Over this same period, the total homicide rate declined by 50 percent, the firearms homicide rate declined by 51percent, and even the percent of homicides committed with firearms declined by 3 percent, according to CDC data. Thus, even enormous increases in the sheer number of guns, of an unprecedented magnitude, in a period when the share of population owning guns was roughly constant, did not produce an increase in the homicide rate.
The actual relationship between the gun stock and homicide, outside of the brief 2014-2016 period on which Ingraham chose to narrowly fixate, was “more guns, less homicide” – exactly the opposite of that which he claims.
Gun Ownership Doesn’t Increase Crime
More sophisticated research that addresses these problems uniformly indicates that higher rates of gun ownership do not increase homicide rates. Kleck’s research shows time and again that higher homicide rates cause more people to acquire guns (especially handguns) for self-protection, but gun ownership levels have no net effect on homicide rates.
As tempting as it is to craft blogs for more clicks, claiming that “guns are responsible for” recent homicide increases, is misleading at best. This type of “analysis” needs to be called what it really is – propaganda.
Larry Keane is Senior Vice President and General Counsel for the National Shooting Sports Foundation.