Do countries with stricter gun laws really have less crime or fewer homicides?

By: Patrick J. Kiger & Nicholas Gerbis

Causation, Conflation and Consternation

One of the reasons gun debates are so difficult to settle, aside from the strong feelings involved, is that the data involved in researching connections between gun laws, gun ownership, gun crime and non-gun crime are frequently mixed, murky, misrecorded and difficult to compare.

Take the United Kingdom, where ever-more stringent gun bans brought gun-related homicides to among the lowest in all of Europe from 2003-2010, but where guns remain widely available and are increasingly used in the commission of violent crimes [sources: BBC; UNODC].


In the U.S., crime rates have dropped significantly since the early 1990s, and continued to decline into the 2010s, even as gun sales increased, leading some opponents of gun control to argue that more guns actually help to deter crime [source: Bell]. But other analysts argue that other factors — such as the aging of the U.S. population — account for the drop [source: Lind and Lopez]. Still others point to the significant uptick in American prison populations and executions during this period, or to the larger police forces and improved crime-fighting tactics, the flagging crack-cocaine trade, the booming economy, even the legalization of abortion in the early 1970s, which prevented many births to poor single mothers as reasons for declining crime rates [sources: Lott and Mustard, Donohue and Levitt].

The point is, the "more guns = more violence" argument and the "gun ownership = decreased crime" argument both sidestep the complicating socioeconomic, cultural and psychological factors affecting violent crime. Economic disparities within countries, along with periods of economic downturn, drive up crime and homicides, and violent crimes occurs four times more often in countries with wide income gaps. While economic prosperity tends to decrease violent crime, crime itself can depress community development, perpetuating a cycle of poverty and violence [source: UNODC].

Violent crime arises from more complicated causes than guns, yet there is no question that guns are associated with a particularly brutal brand of crime. Removing guns from the equation might not stop violence altogether, but might it prevent another Newtown?