Natural Experiment On Gun Availability

If you give the people weapons, is this good or is it bad?
I suppose it all depends upon their aims
Up to now, there’ve been no data, so the arguments we’ve had
All rely on someone’s a priori claims

“But of course we’d be much safer if most everyone was armed!—
Cos the criminals would know they could be shot!”
“No!—more guns would mean more shootings, and more children being harmed!”
But it’s arguments, not evidence, we’ve got.

Now a natural experiment (Missouri” is its name)
Has an answer—and for some, it’s no surprise;
Cos a jump in shooting homicides has policy to blame—
Ease of access means that murder rates will rise.

Via the BBC today, a report (from the American Association for the Advancement of Science meeting, like yesterday’s post) on a natural experiment on the effects of gun control legislation. Missouri, in 2007, repealed their requirement for licensing and vetting by local law enforcement before purchasing a handgun. So… was this good or bad? My gun-loving friends would predict an immediate drop in crime, now that handguns are easier to purchase, and potential victims are more likely to be armed. The data?

Reporting soon in the Journal of Urban Health, the researchers will say that the repeal resulted in an immediate spike in gun violence and murders.

The study links the abandonment of the background check to an additional 60 or so murders occurring per year in Missouri between 2008 and 2012.

“Coincident exactly with the policy change, there was an immediate upward trajectory to the homicide rates in Missouri,” said Prof Daniel Webster, director of the Johns Hopkins Center for Gun Policy and Research.

“That upward trajectory did not happen with homicides that did not involve guns; it did not occur to any neighbouring state; the national trend was doing the opposite – it was trending downward; and it was not specific to one or two localities – it was, for the most part, state-wide,” he told BBC News.

So… stopping a bad guy with a gun might involve making it harder for that bad guy to get the gun in the first place. According to the data. Which might explain why the NRA worked so hard to keep the data from being compiled and analyzed.

These arguments, these questions–they do have answers. There are data that could be examined. We need not simply argue from first principles.

And my friends who believe that the most important freedoms of all are those protected by the second amendment can start framing their arguments in terms of how many lives this freedom is worth. Freedom isn’t free, after all. We can *expect* a cost in human lives–like in war, some things are worth a cost in blood and lives.

So… 60 extra murders per year in just one state. Freedom isn’t free. But hey, these deaths buy you the ability to buy a handgun without a background check! So you can feel safer! Mind you, the actual data show that this feeling is an illusion, but you have a right to this illusion!


  1. jagwired says

    But, BecomingJulie, how do those poor people put holes in each other from a distance? What about their inherent, inalienable right to form heavily armed militias to protect themselves from bad guys?

  2. Ed says

    It would be great if the families of those murdered in Missouri filed a class action lawsuit against the state for repealing the laws.

  3. Crip Dyke, Right Reverend Feminist FuckToy of Death & Her Handmaiden says

    Yeah, Ed, but parliamentary privilege would kill that one. Legislators have absolute immunity for the floor advocacy and for their voting.

    Prove that the vote was a quid pro quo, however, and you can sue them and their bribers for their illegal off the floor actions.

    Good luck.

  4. Joan says

    Well, here’s even worse news. From the state that brought you Todd Akin, we have the following repeat attempt to pass a gun proponent bill which failed last year. This is the kind of stuff we get instead of bills to help fund schools. If it were not for the fact that our Gov. is a Democrat, this and other obscene laws would be on the books.

    The following excerpt is unbelievable:

    “The Senate General Laws Committee voted 5-1 to adopt the bill that would allow federal agents to be prosecuted for enforcing gun control laws considered “infringements on the right to keep and bear arms.” Agents found guilty could face up to a year in prison and a $1,000 fine.”

    Here’s the complete article:

  5. N. Nescio says

    Our society doesn’t seem to have a problem accepting 34,080 deaths as the cost of driving motor vehicles, or ~160,000 deaths as the cost of smoking.

  6. Cuttlefish says

    Well, actually, we’ve legislated quite a lot of safety into roads and autos, regulating because the cost in lives was unacceptable. And both social and economic regulation, plus gov. recommendations to health-care professionals, have cut numbers of smokers drastically. So it would appear that A) these deaths *are* seen as problematic, and B) they are not so much “accepted” as “actively fought through regulation”.

    But cars and smokes, I guess, aren’t needed for well-regulated militias.

  7. jeffreylewis says

    I’d also add that motor vehicles serve many very important positive functions and contribute tremendously to the economy, which is a big part of the reason that those deaths are tolerated, notwithstanding our hosts comments on regulations attempting to reduce those deaths. While there may be legitimate uses for guns (such as target shooting), they don’t have anywhere near the positive benefits to society as motor vehicles.

    As far as cigarettes, I think the perception (if not necessarily the reality), is that most deaths caused by smoking are for the most part those very same people that chose to smoke, whereas murder is by definition somebody killing somebody else. (In reality, the CDC notes that, “Secondhand smoke causes an estimated 46,000 premature deaths from heart disease each year in the United States among nonsmokers,” and that, “Secondhand smoke causes an estimated 3,400 lung cancer deaths among U.S. nonsmokers each year.” Hmm. I wonder if restrictions on smoking should be more restrictive than they currently are to protect non-smokers.)

  8. jeffreylewis says

    Oh, and I forgot to mention with motor vehicles, that the government does require you to have a license to operate a motor vehicle on public roads. I think a fair compromise on gun ownership would be to allow it, but to require permits and training.

  9. nich says

    Our society doesn’t seem to have a problem accepting 34,080 deaths as the cost of
    driving motor vehicles, or ~160,000 deaths as the cost of smoking.

    HA! Let’s see Walmart do what CVS did. Could you imagine the uproar there would be if Colt was required to fund a style ad campaign about the dangers of its own product?

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