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. (Credit: James Case/Flickr)

More shooting deaths in states with more gun owners

US states with higher estimated rates of gun ownership experience a higher number of firearms-related homicides, according to new research.

The study, published in the American Journal of Public Heath, examines the National Rifle Association’s (NRA) claim that increased gun ownership does not lead to increased gun violence.

It is the largest study conducted to date into the correlation between gun ownership and firearms violence, and the first to comprehensively examine the issue since the tragic shooting last December of 20 children and 7 adults at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut.

Covering 30 years (1981-2010) in all 50 states, the report shows a “robust correlation” between estimated levels of gun ownership and actual gun homicides at the state level, even when controlling for factors typically associated with homicides. For each 1 percentage point increase in the prevalence of gun ownership, the state firearm homicide rate increases by 0.9 percent, the authors found.

“Understanding the relationship between the prevalence of gun ownership and therefore the availability of guns, and firearm-related mortality is critical to guiding decisions regarding recently proposed measures to address firearm violence,” the study authors say.

Researchers led by Michael Siegel, professor of community health sciences at the Boston University School of Public Health, examined data for the years 1981-2010 on state firearm homicide rates from the Center for Disease Control and Prevention’s Web-Based Injury Statistics Query and Reporting System (WISQUARS) database.

How the analysis was conducted

State levels of gun ownership were estimated using a well-established proxy variable: the percentage of a state’s suicides that are committed with a firearm (FS/S). Because there is no state-level survey that measures household gun ownership, researchers have widely relied upon the FS/S proxy in injury prevention research, and this proxy has been extensively validated in past studies. The proxy correlates highly with survey measures of household firearm ownership, the authors say.

The researchers used regression analysis to examine the relationship between state levels of gun ownership and firearm homicide rates, while controlling for a range of potential state-level confounding variables, including: age, gender, race/ethnicity, urbanization, poverty, unemployment, income, education, divorce rate, alcohol use, violent crime rate, nonviolent crime rate, number of hunting licenses, age-adjusted non-firearm homicide rate, incarceration rate, and suicide rate.

The regression model predicted that each 1 percentage point increase in gun ownership increases a state’s firearm homicide rate by 0.9 percent, translating into a 12.9 percent increase in the gun homicide rate for each one standard deviation increase in gun ownership.

All other factors being equal, for example, the model predicts that if the gun ownership estimate for Mississippi were 58 percent (the average for all states), instead of 77 percent (the highest of all states), its firearm homicide rate would be 17 percent lower.

The results of the research are consistent with previous studies that have demonstrated a correlation between higher levels of gun ownership and higher levels of firearm homicide.

Public policy implications?

Siegel notes that the study did not determine causation, allowing that it is theoretically possible that people are more likely to purchase guns if they live in states with higher levels of firearm homicide. But he says the issue warrants further study.

“In the wake of the tragic shooting in Newtown, Connecticut, last year, many states are considering legislation to control firearm-related deaths. 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.

“It suggests that measures which succeed in decreasing the overall prevalence of guns will lower firearm homicide rates,” he says.

State by state

The new study is the first cross-sectional analysis to examine data more recent than 1999 and is the most comprehensive to date, both in the number of years studied and the breadth of variables that were controlled for in the analysis.

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.

Co-authors on the study include Craig Ross of Virtual Media Resources and Charles King III of Pleiades Consulting Group.

Source: Boston University

chat13 Comments

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13 Comments

  1. Frommer Bishkva

    Gun ownership is not the same as legal gun ownership. Nor is it the same as gun laws. Only by accounting for illegal gun ownership can one make a claim that guns = crime. E.g. Vermont had 2 gun murders in 2010, out of a population of close to 700,000. Vermont has no gun laws as people in the other 49 states recognize them.

  2. dawn wendt

    Yet another reason to move to Hawaii!

  3. Floyd Clyne

    As stated in the article, further study is needed for public policy implications. Based on the comment by Bishkva above, what constitutes “Gun ownership” perhaps does need to be better defined. Obviously, illegal gun ownership cannot be properly measured, unless a gun is used in a crime and found to be “illegal”. Use of a gun by a non-legal owner is also perhaps not measured although the data may be obtainable. If we could include separate data on gun-related crimes committed, illegal gun ownership & use of guns by non-legal owners, this would be new variables in the gun debate, as long as it is not double-counted with other data.

  4. Stephen

    The article could do a better job up front pointing out that this study is not focused on causation, and therefore not addressing the NRA claim. Perhaps we should assume that folks reading this article have correlation != causation baked in, but as written the intro is more sensational than the substance.
    It’s quite an important point though – is gun ownership higher because gun deaths are higher? It would be interesting to see how the two variables relate over time – i.e. deaths up, then guns up or guns up, then deaths up.

  5. John

    “Siegel notes that the study did not determine causation…” This line destroys the whole story. It seems to rain more often when I my wipers are on, therefore, if I decrease my wiper use, it will lessen the # of times it rains? Every time my headlights are on, it is dark. If I reduce my headlight use, it will not be dark as often?

  6. daveinga

    too many variables unaccounted for to make a clean diagnosis of the problem, except for this:
    ‘for all states the average homicide rate decreased from 5.2 per 100k in ’81 to 3.5 per 100k in ’10’.
    everybody know the number of guns (on average) per whatever has increased tremendously over this time, as has the population.
    many more guns + many more people = less killing
    hmm?

  7. jessejames

    Maybe there are more criminals being shot dead by legal gun owners protecting themselves or their family and home.
    This is such a stupid way taking data and convoluted it to prove your point, i.e., see the comment above about the rain and darkness.
    One only has to look to Chicago or NYC to see how that those strict gun laws are going.

  8. PacRim Jim

    And more car-related deaths in states with more cars.
    Association is not causality.

  9. Steve

    The proxy is horrible. I’d be willing to bet that the independent variable would also show a high rate of murder by causes other than firearms.

  10. James Tompkins

    The ONLY valid information to apply to gun control is the number of murders committed by licensed gun owners. These are the people all the new laws are aimed at as no one knows what kind of guns are in the hands of unlicensed people and there is no way to find out. If we had a government that wasn’t hellbent on oppressing the people whom they derive their power from, maybe there wouldn’t be so many guns around. It can be seen from Virginia tech that unarmed people will not defend themselves against an armed perp even if they outnumber that person 30 to 1. Had there been a single gun in that room many of those children would be alive today.

  11. Texex

    The good news is that the majority of the gun deaths are suicide. The gunsters are killing themselves.

  12. Milo

    Actually Texex, self induced drug overdose death have increased by over 400% and way exceed gun self inflicted deaths. Drug overdose deaths occur the most in areas here there is the lowest gun ownership, ie Dems.

    So the gun haters are killing themselves more!

  13. Jeff Ray

    I just happen to wonder if there’s a possibility that legal gun ownership could be higher because there is more gun violence in the community (more need to protect yourself)? This inconclusive data can be flipped either way depending on who is writing it.

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