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There’s no doubt that mass shootings in the US are becoming more frequent and more deadly with every passing year. In August alone, 53 people died in mass shootings across the United States. So far this year, there have already been more mass shootings than days, with 283 mass shootings on the 244th day of 2019.
For many Americans, gun control measures such as background checks, gun licensing and assault-weapons bans are long overdue. But if the correlation between easy access to firearms and gun violence is so obvious, then why does nearly 40% of the country still want to keep gun laws as they are now or make then even more permissive?
To better understand the stance of both gun rights and gun control advocates on opposite sides of this debate, we analyzed the link between demographics, gun ownership and gun homicide rates across the country, summarized in the eight charts below.
If you look at the chart below, you’ll see that the correlation between gun ownership and gun death rates across the country is relatively strong (Pearson’s R = 0.68).
However, once you unpack the data behind this, it becomes evident that there’s a bit more to the story.
While this graphic has been widely used by various media outlets to support the simple argument that more guns means more deaths, it is not readily apparent that gun suicides have been lumped together with gun homicides to arrive at a measure of gun death rate per 100,000 population for each state.
Once you eliminate gun suicides (which many argue are a separate issue altogether) and look at only gun homicide rates per state, the correlation becomes slightly negative:
What’s more, the strength of the correlation also depends on the source of the data.
The rate of gun ownership used in the two charts above is based on a 2013 survey of 4,000 American adults from all 50 states and the District of Columbia. But if you use more recent ATF gun registration statistics from 2017 (which only includes registered firearms regulated by the National Firearms Act), the relationship between gun ownership and gun homicide rates becomes even weaker.
However, if you eliminate the outlier to the far right, Wyoming, a modest correlation (Pearson’s R = 0.36) emerges between number of guns per capita and gun homicide rate per 100,000 population.
What does this all mean? While different surveys and data sources come to different conclusions on the correlation between gun ownership and gun homicide rates, it does seem that the correlation between gun ownership and gun deaths becomes much weaker—even non-existent in some cases—once gun suicides are eliminated.
To further explore the correlation between gun ownership and gun violence, we also plotted the rate of gun ownership by country versus gun homicide rate.
You’ve probably heard that the average gun homicide rate in the US is much higher than that of other developed countries, but what about compared to all other countries in the world?
As you can see above, there is no clear correlation between the two variables, and the United States is the outlier to the far right, with 120.5 guns per 100 inhabitants and a firearm-related homicide rate of 4.46 per 100,000 population.
Once the United States is eliminated, it is evident that countries with high poverty and gang-related crime rates have some of the highest gun homicide rates per 100,000 population.
As you can see, the relationship between gun ownership and gun violence is not as clear-cut as it is sometimes portrayed in the media and, of course, other variables such as poverty, race and education also play a role.
While the media often gives front-page coverage to mass shooting events, we hear little about the gun violence that is experienced on a daily basis in low-income, mostly ethnic minority communities with high unemployment rates and failing schools.
As reported by The Guardian and other academic sources, “victims of gun murder are overwhelmingly black men.” As a result, there exists a vast disparity between gun homicide rates in predominantly white communities compared to non-white communities.
As you can see below, high gun homicide rates coincide with counties with a high percentage of non-white population. Meanwhile, in states with predominantly white populations, gun homicide rates are lower, but suicide rates are much higher, especially those with a strong gun culture and high rates of gun sellers per 100,000 residents. So while gun homicide rates are not strongly correlated with gun ownership, gun suicide rates are.
As reported in this study, felony-related gun murders are perpetrated by black men more than white men, while family and public gun murders are perpetrated mostly by white men.
In conclusion, there are many facets to the gun violence epidemic, and it is not as simple as saying that more guns equates to more murders. The cause of gun-related deaths differs vastly across different states and races, which in turn is also associated with other factors such as poverty, unemployment and systemic inequality.
Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the position of Visme.
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