Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Is it the Guns?

I finally got around to reading "Culture of Fear" by Barry Glassner and I'm inspired to have less fear in my life.  According to the author, some of the fears that our culture exaggerates include: plane crashes, road rage, Gulf War Syndrome, breast implants, poisoned Halloween candy, child abduction and teen pregnancy.

The author, however, fell victim to the same fear mongering he complains about when he repeatedly decries gun violence and argues for more gun control.  This seemed inconsistent with most of his book, so I decided to look into it a little more.

Below are charts comparing gun ownership to gun related homicides.  The first chart shows no clear correlation (each blue diamond is a country).  The point in the top right shows the strongest relationship (39% ownership and 7 homicides per 100,000 people).  That's the U.S.
Instead of jumping to the conclusion: "gun owners in the U.S. are violent", I decided to look at the data for all 50 states, as well as New York City and Los Angeles.  Not as much of a correlation, especially for New York City which has probably the strictest gun control laws (1.7% ownership, 6.5 homicides/100K) .
So I thought about it and was reminded of the Gini coefficient, a measure of economic inequality (0 being equal and 1 or 100% is unequal).  I decided to compare Gini to Gun Homicides.
For both countries and U.S. states, it seems that greater economic disparity results in more gun violence (Someday I'll actually calculate the statistics).  For example, New York City has a Gini of .5, which may explain why gun violence is still high there.

The Solution?

I'm worried that the politicians and activists will lazily jump to another poorly thought out solution like the need to increase welfare payments (another conclusion in Barry Glassner's book).

Reducing gun related violence is much more complicated than getting rid of guns or even reducing poverty (reducing the Gini).  For example, countries with the highest gun ownership (Switzerland, Norway and Finland) may benefit from better trained gun owners (due to compulsory military service in Switzerland and more gun training in Norway and Finland).

My Solution: Provide gun safety training for poor school children.  Sounds crazy, but it could possibly do more to help than taking guns away from responsible citizens.

Full Disclosure: I own a Red-Rider BB Gun and have many friends who are gun owners.

References:
A more critical review of The Culture of Fear
Would Banning Firearms Result in Lower Murder and Suicide? Harvard Law
Wikipedia, etc. for the statistics.

Added June 17, 2012  Here's an interesting talk on TED


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