Archive | December 28, 2012

Do Loose Gun Laws Reduce Crime?

Crime Rates for Shall and May Issue States

Crime Rates for Shall and May Issue States

It’s a question that everyone seems to know the answer to, and an oft repeated mantra of gun rightists everywhere. Myself, I’m always skeptical so I decided to find out for myself.

Without getting in the specifics, in the concealed carry world, there are four major classifications of states:

1) Unrestricted – where anybody can carry a gun in any way they see fit
2) Shall Issue states – where those wishing to carry a gun must apply for a permit, and follow specific rules
3) May Issue states – which have more strict rules and regulations than shall issue states.
4) No Issue states – No concealed carry allowed

As of 2012, there are 39 “shall issue” states and 10 “may issue” states. As there aren’t many unrestricted and no issue states, I will compare shall and may issue states only.

I assembled a dataset of CCW classifications, along with population adjusted firearm deaths, rapes and robberies. Crime is certainly about more than just gun laws. Thus, for controlling variables, I also included the percentage of people living in urban areas, percent African-American and the Gini coefficient, a measure of income inequality.

Graph1The results can be seen above. Shall issue states have more firearm deaths and rapes than may issue states, but fewer robberies. These differences were all statistically significant.

Again, crime is about more than just gun laws. It is also about urban and rural divides, income inequality and entrenched marginalization and poverty. Thus, in ran some regression models using the controlling variables for percent urban, percent African American, and income inequality as measured by the Gini. I also included an interaction term for percent African American and the Gini, as the two could synergistically alter the state crime profile.

I found that May Issue states still had fewer deaths and rapes than Shall Issue states. Stricter gun laws were actually the only significant variable in the model. For robbery, however, the difference between shall issue and may issue states went away when including the other variables.

What I concluded: I found that states with stricter gun laws have lower rates of violent crime. I also found that there is no association of gun laws with robberies, which are better explained by demographic variables associated with urbanicity and the social problems of a pluralistic, yet unequal, society.

We might conclude, then, that the answer to the question posed in the title of this post is NO: loose gun laws do not necessarily lead to lower rates of crime, contrary to what appears to be popularly believed.

I could run with this and state publicly that strict guns rules work. Believe me, I want to. I won’t for fear of being guilty of the same crime that gun proponents commit when throwing around “evidence.”

This simple analysis suffers from a problem endemic to discussions of policy. Namely, that the factors on the causal pathway between policy and human behavior are elusive and difficult to measure. It is difficult for me to state definitively that gun laws have anything to do with crime at all. I am not able to effectively connect the dots between implementation and change in crime patterns, while accounting for all of the other factors that may be simultaneously at play (social problems, economics, incarceration, etc.). The results certainly can lead one to certain conclusions, but my goal here is not to prove that gun laws work, but rather to show that the data don’t support the assertion that they don’t work.

Regardless, popular discussions act as if finding the links between gun policy and crime is a trivial affair, despite weak evidence and measurement. Others have noted the complexity of drawing conclusions on the subject. It is ironic to me, that some of the same people who may accept weak studies of the effect of gun policy on crime as hard fact and cherry pick results, are the same people who deny human induced climate change, for which there is ample, well documented, and solid support. This is a sad, sad state of affairs.

Regression results

Regression results

Are Public Libraries Putting Small Bookstores Out of Business?

I fear that the answer is yes, particularly in small markets. The NYT ran an article yesterday documenting how public libraries are responding to local demand for popular reading. Specifically, they are catering to the public hunger for disposable romance novels.

At the bustling public library in Arlington Heights, Ill., requests by three patrons to place any title on hold prompt a savvy computer tracking system to order an additional copy of the coveted item. That policy was intended to eliminate the frustration of long waits to check out best sellers and other popular books. But it has had some unintended consequences, too: the library’s shelves are now stocked with 36 copies of “Fifty Shades of Grey.”

Now, I’m fine with this. Libraries are free to stock junk. One person’s trashy fiction is another person’s Shakespeare. I wonder, however, if the shift to popular junk fiction isn’t putting someone out of a job or a business. I feel, however, that the friendly public library is doing just that. Certainly, internet sales and e-books are the number one reason book retailers are going extinct. Public libraries, however, must be number two and their influence extends to other types of media.

Ann Arbor used to pride itself as have more bookstores per capita than any other city in the United States. We had more than 15 bookstores (by my count) in the downtown area which sold all kinds of books. These places were great spaces to hang out in, and made Ann Arbor attractive to tourists and visitors. It was something to be proud of. Now, of all the bookstores which were here in 1988, only one remains. It sells exclusively used books. There are other small book retailers, that are really just gift stores in the end.

Libraries did not kill these stores. I do feel, however, that the Ann Arbor Public Library and the (wonderful) Askwith Media Library at the University of Michigan killed the video store. Liberty Street Video died soon after the expansion of the DVD library at the Ann Arbor Public Library, located almost on the same street. Demand for DVDs still exists. The Askwith Library is always busy with students looking to borrow films for the weekend.

I am not trying to slam public libraries. I believe in public libraries and tax payer funded access to open information, even if it is information that some people may not like.

I was interested, however, in the complex issues at play in the simple article.

Are public libraries undermining small, local businesses? Are they setting standards for the small businesses by providing competition where there is none? Liberty Street Video could have responded by offering better services and products. It didn’t. It stuck with VHS until it closed. At the end, it was an awful store. Border’s died because it refused to compete with Amazon’s low prices.

How can public libraries balance potential negative effects on small businesses with the need to satisfy community demand?

Are private donations the solution? It’s worth pointing out that Askwith, UM’s large video library was built using private donations.

Personally, I don’t know, so I though I’d ramble on about it for a while. Though there aren’t many of you out there, what do you think?

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