With news of every new shooting event – such as the recent one in Oregon – debate heats up over the number of guns in American hands, and the regulations governing them. We hear repeatedly about the relationship between guns in existence and number of deaths. Mother Jones pointed to the figures in its rebuttal of the most common pro-gun arguments. Jon Stewart made the same connection in his rant against guns a few years back, emphasizing 30,000 firearms deaths in the US per year.

There is one major problem with linking the number of weapons to gun-related deaths, and it is this: the relationship between the two is completely irrelevant. Sitting on one side of that comparison is the number of firearms – but that is not what anti-gun activists are trying to legislate. No proposals do (or could) include arbitrarily-lowered gun numbers in a certain jurisdiction. What they often do include are certain restrictions that make it more difficult to own and carry a gun, limiting the number of weapons wherever the regulation applies.

On the other side is the number of deaths. Problem with that is, the majority of those are suicides. This makes sense. If you want to check out, the easiest (albeit not the tidiest) way is to dispatch your brains from your skull with a gun you already posses. We should perhaps, therefore, compare homicide numbers only. But if pro-gun activists argue that gun ownership helps people defend themselves from criminals, all violent crimes should be taken into account in such a comparison.

I attempted to do that by comparing violent crime rates in states based on their regulatory environment. I listed all states and added a number of basic regulation categories:

  • Permit to purchase required
  • Firearm registration
  • Owners’ license required
  • Concealed carry severely restricted
  • Open carry severely restricted
  • Assault weapons restricted
  • NFA weapons and ammunition restricted
  • Magazine capacity limited

I divided states into high-regulation and low-regulation states based on whether more than two of these categories applied to them. Then I tallied population and violent crime figures for both groups of states to come up with a comparison.

You can see the spreadsheet here, or even copy and play with it yourself. Please leave any of your own observations or point out any errors in the comments below.

The result is this: there is virtually no difference between the two groups (364.1 crimes per 100,000 inhabitants in low-regulation states vs. 369.7 in highly regulated ones). Even if you don’t buy the argument about people defending themselves against criminals, and compare homicides only, you still end up with a ratio 3% higher in low-regulation states. This shows, as it has so many times before, that regulators and activists are trying to solve a problem which doesn’t really exist to push their own agenda.

So what should happen? There is no reason for governments to interfere. Leave it to private individuals to choose their own means of personal and property defense. Owners and administrators of publicly-accessible places (malls, restaurants, schools) should be free to make their own rules on who may carry weapons on their premises, and their customers will send them clear market signals on whether they trust chosen measures – by patronizing or avoiding the places.

Image source: Stolen w-heels @ Flickr CC, Some rights reserved (modified)