Do Gun Laws Prevent Homicides?

Gun Laws
Do gun laws make any difference on the amount of murders made by firearms?


in our post last week we discussed about the correlation between guns and homicides. We also came into the conclusion that there really is no correlation, but that there are countries where murders occur more frequently and that the weapon of choice in some places just happens to be a gun.


But what is the actual reason behind this? Maybe things can be changed if we find out why people grab the gun. The highest amount of privately owned firearms in Europe are in countries that still have or just recently discontinued compulsory military service for men. But even thought the amount of guns available is high, they are not used for killing people. In fact, the most homicides committed by guns in Europe happen in countries where it’s quite rare to even own a firearm. Maybe those who are trained for using weapons, are much more responsible in using them.


Since Finland turned out to be the country where there are most privately owned guns per 100 000 people of all the European countries, yet the amount homicides made by firearms is relatively low, we decided to make a little comparison between Finland and the USA. Both of these are 1st world countries, so the comparison wouldn’t be too harsh even though the societies and politics have differences.


Besides the fact that Finland has ongoing conscription unlike the US, the domestic policies diverge as Finland is often being labelled as a social democrat country due to its common welfare covering education, health care and social benefits for its citizens.


While the actual number of murders in Finland per year is 89 compared to 12 253 in the US, it may be more fruitful to compare these figures in relation to the population. As we can see, the murder rate is still 2.35 times higher in the US than in Finland.


sum of murders
Chart 1. Murders in Finland and in the US per 100 000 people.


When we compare the amount of murders committed by firearms, the gap gets even wider.  The difference here is 7.4 times greater.


murders committed by firearms
Chart 2. Murders committed by firearm / 100 000 people in Finland and US.


This can’t be explained alone by the fact that there are twice the amount of privately owned firearms in the US than in Finland per every 100 people. Or maybe it does? Statistically over 84 % of the people in the US own a gun, in reality percentage of gun owners is likely to be less since people who own guns own more than one on average.


sum of firearms
Chart 3. Sum of firearms / 100 people in Finland and in the US.


Let’s take a wider scope and have a look at this. Comparing these two countries to Honduras, which is the first country on the list of the amount of homicides committed by firearms in relation to its population in the whole wide world, we can see that something doesn’t really add up. There are less privately owned firearms in Honduras per 100 people than in either of our 1st world countries as there are only 6.19 guns for every hundred Honduran. There are 13.6 times more guns per 100 people in the US than in Honduras.


Chart 4. Firearms per 100 people in Finland, Honduras and the USA.


For some reason these limited resources of firearms in Honduras convert to a great figure in murders made by firearms which is 27 times greater than in the US.


Sum of murders committed by firearms
Chart 5. Murders committed by firearms per 100 000 people in Finland, Honduras and the US.


So let’s get back to the US. We can see that the situation could be far worse, but as Honduras is a third world country, we really don’t want to be comparing the situation in the US to that. Poverty, natural disasters and politics have probably played their role in Honduras. These figures also tell us that there is very little if any correlation between people owning guns and homicides made by guns so there must be more to it. There is data available related to guns, crime and gun laws on state level in the US, so let’s take a look at that.


Does gun ownership (% of people owning a gun in a state) alone contribute to murder rates? There seems to be little correlation here. However, if we have a look at the firearm murder rate over the actual amount of people owning a gun, it seems that the firearm murder rate gets stable and higher with higher amount of people owning guns. Larger proportion of population owning guns seems to have less effect than having larger total amount of guns around.


Firearm murders rate over gun ownership
Chart 6. Firearm murders rate over gun ownership


Firearm murder rate
Chart 7. Firearm murder rate over people owning at least one gun.


What this really means is that if two states are compared where the same percentage of people own a gun, it’s slightly more probable that fire arm murder rates are higher in the state which is more populous. However as you can see in the chart the difference demonstrates itself as steadier mid-high  level of murders  rather than very high murder rates. When the amount of firearms is low there’s more dispersion in murder rates and even some of the highest individual murder rates are in states with lower amount of guns. None of the top 5 firearm murder rates come from the top 5 states in terms of people owning guns.


With smaller total amount of people owning guns you are likely to produce the lowest firearm murder rates even if the percentage of people owning guns would be high. The picture would be pretty similar when compared to the amount of murders in general. It’s probably safe to say that you can’t hit the extreme lows if there are high amounts of people with guns.


chart of murder rates
Chart 8. Murder and non negligent manslaughter rate by number of people owning at least one gun.


Where does this leave us? High murder rates still happen with low amount of guns, and we think that speaks for the fact that we are missing something that is more important than mere gun ownership and amounts of guns.


How about laws then? Most important laws restricting gun ownership contain the permit to purchase a gun. Comparing the average firearm murder rates over the permit to purchase a gun it seems that the lower figures are in states where permit is required for buying a hand gun whereas the highest rates come from those states where permits are required for both hand guns and riffles.


firearm murder rate by permit
Chart 9. Average firearm murder rate over permit to purchase a gun: for both, for handgun only, no permit required, partial permit.


What should we think of this? This sounds so peculiar that we must have a closer look at this! Let’s take a look at individual states and group them by permits. As we can see on the chart below, Washington DC spikes on the figures. In addition to purchase permit DC has pretty much all other legal restrictions in place as well. The unique circumstances there have led to a situation so extreme that not even the laws can help and the same can be seen globally in places with similar problems – in extreme cases laws have little impact.


murder rate over state by permit
Chart 10. Firearm murder rate by state grouped by permit required to purchase a gun.


If you look at the number of people owning a gun, DC has minuscule numbers and also the percentage of people owning a gun is lowest in the country!


People owning guns by state grouped by permit required.
Chart 11. People owning guns by state grouped by permit required.


Percentage of gun ownership by state grouped by permit required.
Chart 12. Percentage of gun ownership by state grouped by permit required.


As we need to get to the bottom of this subject we are going to leave Washington DC out and look at the chart showing the firearms murder rates and permits without it. Things really look different now!


Average firearm murder rate over permit to purchase a gun: for both, for handgun only, no permit required, partial permit. Washington DC filtered out.
Chart 13. Average firearm murder rate over permit to purchase a gun: for both, for handgun only, no permit required, partial permit. Washington DC filtered out.


Now it seems that the permits actually do make a difference and requiring permits seems to have a real impact. The only state with partial permits is California, and the situation there is worse than on average in those states where there are no permits required at all.


Poverty is often accused as being a reason for not only social problems but for rising crime rates as well. Maybe we should now have a look at how income levels in different states affect on violent crime rates in general. For some reason it doesn’t seem to have much effect and interestingly the “DC factor” shows up in this data as well – the highest mean income seems to go hand in hand with with the highest violent crime rate!


Violent crime rate over mean income.
Chart 14. Violent crime rate over mean income in states.


However, if we have a look at the poverty levels, the chart looks a bit different. As the percentage of the people below the poverty level increases, so does the average number of violent crimes. There seems to be some dispersion here, but the trend is visible nevertheless. The highest peak is again explained by the existence of Washington DC, but because Arizona has the same poverty level as DC, it is toned down a  bit. Without Arizona the peak would be even higher.  As the poverty level is relatively high in DC while it at the same time it also has the highest mean income, this means that the income inequality must be quite severe. This may explain  at least part of the high crime rates there.


chart 15
Chart 15. Average go violent crime rate by percentage of people living with an income below poverty level by state.


The amount of guns can have some effect on gun violence rates, but it doesn’t seem to be the principal factor. The laws governing gun purchase can have a positive impact on violence rates, but they don’t solve a situation that’s gone too bad. The situation in Washington DC is an example of this – it’s almost like Honduras within the USA.


What we have not touched here are accidents that happen with guns. In this scope one would assume that restrictions to guns would be beneficial. If there’s no chance your kid could get his hands on a gun, he couldn’t shoot anyone with it either. The amount of gun accidents could also be reduced with strict regulations on how firearms have to be stored.  That actually means that there should not be a self-defence motivation for owning a gun, which comes back to the issue of wellbeing of society and feeling safe within it as an individual . If people feel that they need to own a gun in order to feel safe, something has gone fundamentally wrong and fixing that should be the first priority.


Summarising our findings, we believe that people kill people, and people should always be the first priority. We can and should do things to make the situation better. Nations,  cities and communities need to make sure that people don’t get desperate, that they feel treated equally and have the opportunity for good life. We shouldn’t give people a reason for hatred. Once that has been done, laws and regulations can have positive impact. In this situation people can have their guns as well, used for sports and recreation, not for self defence, and stored locked away safely out of reach of children to avoid accidents.


You will find even more aspects on this topic in our open data set! Feel free to go and try out yourself. It’s all free.



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