Ease of Legal Access to Firearms vs. Homicide Rates

From Doctors for Responsible Gun Ownership:  https://drgo.us/legal-access-to-firearms-vs-homicide-rates/

October 31, 2017

Firearms are misused a minute fraction of the time; that is vastly exceeded by the good uses they overwhelmingly have, at times uniquely life-saving.

Most studies never adequately consider the contribution of increased legal gun access to preventing criminal violence (which is far the greatest cause of shootings). When there is enough ambiguity to claim an anti-gun conclusion, there is also enough evidence to discount it.

A recent paper published by the American Journal of Public Health on October 19 has received a lot of press attention.

“Easiness of Legal Access to Concealed Firearm Permits and Homicide Rates in the United States” claims that “Shall-issue laws are associated with significantly higher rates of total [6.5%], firearm-related [8.6%], and handgun-related [10.6%] homicide.” And, according to their methods, this seems meaningful. The findings appear to make the case for may-issue over shall-issue state permitting.

Of course, the paper lies behind a pay wall, so who can tell? DRGO can, with our own academic resources and expertise.

The authors include some anti-gun academics who we’ve taken to task before: Bindu Kalesan, PhD, MPH, MSc, Eric Fleegler, MD, MPH, and Kristin A. Goss, PhD, MPP. Bindu Kalesan, for example, serially vilified gun owners, and DRGO in particular, in a serious of vicious Facebook posts. But by contrast, lead author Michael Siegel, MD, MPH has been open to corresponding with us and seemed to appreciate our feedback. We hope the rest of the Boston and Durham crews will likewise value informed criticism.

First, let’s summarize some of the more obvious issues in this study:

  • They do not discriminate between murder and justified homicides. (This is a general problem in research, because homicide statistics are based on reports of initial charges, not final dispositions, which may shift toward self-defense and dismissal.)
  • They do not consider legal vs. illegal gun possession patterns in the states they analyze.
  • Their “excluded 13.4% of firearm homicide cases in estimating handgun homicide rates” and “approximately 10% of all homicides” due to unavailability data. (More on such exclusions below.)
  • They ignore numbers of firearms per capita, a remarkable oversight considering the topic.
  • There are real differences in the application of permitting laws that confound a simple may-issue vs. shall-issue dichotomy. (For example, in may-issue New York, you’ll never get a permit in NYC but beyond the metro area it is virtually Compare this to Hawaii, which denies essentially 100% of may-issue requests.)
  • No attention is paid to the long-term trends of increasing firearm ownership and shall-issue and permitless carry vs. decreasing violent crime and murder rates.
  • And as always, no account is taken of likely higher rates of successful self-defense with firearms.

With so many states converting to may-issue (or even permitless) carry, there are commonalities, differences and changes in gun culture within each that make them poor controls for each other. But this is the way the study is structured. The better comparison is over the several years before and after changes in permitting laws, so that each state is its own control. This doesn’t eliminate every possible confounding variable, but minimizes them. And other research indicates that increasing numbers of firearms in America (which facilitated by less restrictive laws on legal gun possession) do not increase rates of homicide and violence, and may even reduce them.

Discriminating between handgun and long-gun homicide was limited because the source for this information, the FBI’s Uniform Crime Reports Supplemental Homicide reports lacks data about the firearm used in over 13% of its cases.  The study is also missing about 10% of all homicides. The authors attempt to compensate for these two separate data deficits by weight adjustments of the known data, which introduces more uncertainty. “Noise” is a good description of the fuzziness each inaccuracy introduces.

Additionally: “Only 4 states had permitless-carry laws in place during the study period” which they “were unable to analyze . . . because of the small number of observations” therein. These would be Minnesota, Wyoming, Arizona and Alaska, for which one might think a “small number of observations” (of homicides?) might be reckoned as positive. And another 5 states instituted permitless carry during the study period. Examining these most permissive states should have made even clearer whether fewer restrictions on gun ownership lead to any significant change in firearm homicide rates.

Continue reading at:  https://drgo.us/legal-access-to-firearms-vs-homicide-rates/

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