Gun Control In American Criminology Essay

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Gun control is perhaps the most controversial issue in the United States right up there with abortion and the death the death penalty. Many firearm enthusiasts believe gun control violates the constitution which guarantees Americans the right to bear arms. However the reality is that many Americans are killed needlessly by illegal firearms. Those who oppose firearms believe the country needs tougher laws to control the distribution and sale of firearms. This paper will explore the issues of gun control and attempt to convince the reader that gun control laws in American need to be rewritten and enforced to protect our society from the thousands of casualties caused by firearms.

"Gun control is ineffective in reducing crime rates." States Morehouse in his article written for the Cato Journal (Morehouse, 2008). According to Morehouse there is no evidence that gun control reduces crime. Advocates argue that gun control laws reduce the incidence of violent crimes by reducing the prevalence of firearms. Gun laws control the types of firearms that may be purchased, designate the qualifications of those who may purchase and own a firearm, and restrict the safe storage and use of firearms. On this view, fewer guns mean less crime. Thus, there is a two-step linkage between gun control and crime rates: (1) the impact of gun control on the availability and accessibility of firearms, particularly handguns, and (2) the effect of the prevalence of guns on the commission of crimes. The direction of the effect runs from gun control to crime rates. Conversely, because high crime rates are often cited as justifying more stringent gun control laws, high rates may generate political support for gun regulations. This suggests a causal effect running from crime rates to more stringent gun laws. But because both relationships between gun control and crime rates unfold over time, they are not simultaneously determined in the usual econometric sense. For example, crime rates in the early 1990s could be expected, to influence the stringency of gun control measures in the late 1990s. In turn, more stringent gun control in the late 1990s could be expected with all other things being equal, to affect crime rates several years later. Using state-level data, this article provides estimates of these twin relationships between gun control and crime rates.

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Studies Find No Evidence

A number of studies from the 1970s and 1980s that do control for social and economic factors find no evidence of gun control reducing violent crime rates. When using regression analysis, state data, and a variety of social and economic variables. Dr. Murray concludes that "gun control laws have no significant effect on rates of violence beyond what can be attributed to background social conditions. In addition, he observes that "controlling for basic social factors, the data show that gun laws have no significant effect on access to firearms" and "differing rates of access to handguns had no significant effect on violent acts." [D.] Lester and [M.E.] Murrell did find that "states with stricter handgun laws in 1968 were shown to have lower suicide rates by firearms both in 1960 and 1970. These states also had higher suicide rates by 'other means'." According to the authors, their finding for 1960, well before the l968 law, is troublesome because it casts doubt on any simple interpretation of the post-law 1970 results and suggests the desirability of constructing a more complete model that includes additional variables for explaining the variation in suicide rates across states. Finally, they observe, "No such effect of strict gun control laws were found for mortality from homicides by firearms." A conundrum remains. To date, those studies that use state data and find that gun control reduces crime rates appear to be seriously flawed. On the other hand, while the majority of studies using state data do not find a deterrent effect for gun control, failure to find a statistically significant relationship is not necessarily compelling evidence that none exist. Negative findings are persuasive only if the analysis is done carefully. Among other things, careful analysis requires the use of an appropriate vector of control variables. Not only does the present study control for other factors that influence crime rates, it also uses the most detailed and sophisticated index of state gun control laws extant. This approach not only allows estimating the direct effects of a state's gun control laws on crime rates within the state but also the effect of "lax gun laws" in neighboring states.

Model One: Gun Control and Crime

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The comprehensive index of state gun control, used in this study, is for 1998. To test the effectiveness of gun control in reducing crime, state crime rates for 10 categories of crime along with demographic, economic, and law enforcement data are collected for 1999 and 2001. Thus, the test is whether or not gun control, as measured by the 1998 index, has an effect on crime rates one and three years later. All crime rates are regressed against the same vector of explanatory variables including the index of gun control and a spill-in effect variable. The latter variable is included because as the Open Society Institute argues, "Very strict gun laws in one state can be undermined by permissive laws in neighboring states. When adjacent jurisdictions have different levels of gun control, the weaker law becomes the common standard."

Ten regressions are estimated for 1999 and for 2001. The endogenous variables are the overall crime rate (CRT) and rates for nine specific categories of felonies labeled: Violent, Property, Murder, Rape, Robbery, Assault, Burglary, Larceny, and Vehicle. Gun control is not expected to have the same degree of influence on each of these categories of crime. For example, firearms are rarely employed in cases of larceny, burglary, or, until recently, vehicular theft. However, all the major categories of felonies are included in the study so that the results for crimes in which firearms are typically used and those in which they are not can be compared....

Looking at the Data

Using state-level data and that for the District of Columbia, this study estimates both the impact of gun control on crime rates and the influence of crime rates on gun control. The measure of gun control adopted here is a comprehensive index, published by the Open Society Institute, covering 30 different facets of state gun laws, enforcement effort, and the stringency of local gun ordinances. The index weights upstream measures such as gun registration more heavily than downstream measures such as safe storage laws. It also weights regulations governing handguns more heavily than those on long guns.

Using a vector of demographic, economic, and law enforcement control variables, the empirical analysis presented here provides no support for the contention that gun control reduces crime rates. In none of the regressions for the 10 categories of crime rates in 1999 and the 10 for 2001 is the measure of gun control statistically significant. The article tests another hypothesis, namely, that lax gun control laws in neighboring states undermine the effectiveness of state gun laws. It finds no support for this hypothesis. The proxy for neighboring state gun control is never significant in any of the 20 regressions estimated.

By contrast, the article provides empirical support for the idea that high crime rates generate political support for the adoption of more stringent gun controls. Moreover, there is empirical evidence that the probability of adopting more gun regulations is positively related to the proportion of Democrats in the state legislature.

Two, contemporary gun control measures typically attempt to influence the process of purchasing firearms at the point of sale between licensed dealers and their customers. Federal background checks, and often state background checks, waiting periods, and registration, are part of the process. But guns are long-lived capital assets. The stock of privately owned firearms in the United States is large relative to annual sales. Firearms are passed down through generations of family members. They are bought and sold, traded, parted out, and given away among friends, acquaintances, and strangers. It would be difficult, if not impossible, to constrain and regulate the transfer of firearms between non-dealer private parties. Gun control, while politically attractive because it appears to "deal directly with the problem" may in fact be a blunt instrument for reducing crime. Effective gun control may entail significant unintended consequences. Government extensive and intrusive enough to regulate all private transfers of firearms would raise significant civil liberties issues.

Guns Are Here to Stay

Here's what gun control supporters must do to have any hope of being heard on the national level again: Stop trying to destroy the gun culture. There are more than 250 million guns in public circulation in the U.S. They cannot be wished away. Even if the U.S. government banned gun ownership and stopped all gun manufacturing and importation, it would still need to confiscate all those weapons. Doing so would require wholesale violations of Fourth Amendment rights. The probability of getting rid of guns in America, therefore, is practically zero.

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Insulting, ridiculing, or attempting to shame gun owners leaves them even more disgusted by the idea of gun control (Kohn, 2010).