The Positive Impact of Widespread Gun Ownership on American Society

Numerous research studies have measured the positive effects of private American citizens owning guns. However, not everyone is aware of such research, due to the anti-gun bias and selective reporting by the media and government officials.

This report summarizes the most important research to date, showing that, on net, widespread gun ownership helps reduce crime and improve public safety, resulting in an overall positive impact on American society.

Guns and The Criminal Mind

An often overlooked fact is that criminals have always feared armed victims. In 1994, one of the most revealing studies done to date was conducted on inmates incarcerated in various state prisons across the U.S.

The report, entitled Armed and Considered Dangerous: A Survey of Felons and Their Firearms by James D. Wright & Peter H. Rossi, was sponsored by the U.S. Department of Justice and was subsequently published in the National Criminal Justice Reference Service (NCJRS).

Write and Rossi interviewed over 1,800 felons and found that 34 percent of them said they personally had been "scared off, shot at, wounded, or captured by an armed victim". A stunning 69 percent of them said that they knew at least one other criminal who had similar experiences.

The study concluded that most criminals are more worried about an armed victim than they are about the police. One implication, though never explicitly stated in the study, is that police are rarely on-site during a crime and citizens aren't bound by the same internal policies and procedures that police are.

Although this is considered an older study, one might ask just how much the criminal mind evolves in two decades and how many times one must ask whether criminals are still afraid of a victim shooting at him or her. Wright also provides additional follow-up commentary in The Armed Criminal In America.

Media Spinning and Selective Reporting

According to economist John Lott, the author of The Bias Against Guns: Why Almost Everything You've Heard About Gun Control Is Wrong, the media regularly misreports statistics and facts surrounding gun violence. News surrounding some of the most famous school shootings, for example, have been grossly misreported.

During the 1990s, a wave of school shootings swept the country, but most news reports during that time did not report that the criminals were stopped by armed citizens.

During a 2002 shooting at Appalachian Law School in Virginia, two students stopped the gunman with guns of their own, which they kept in their cars. Of the 208 news stories that reported on the event the week after it happened, only 4 news sources mentioned that the students had stopped the attack with guns of their own.

At the same time, journalists were able to report, with precise detail, the gun used by the criminal during the attack. Lott argues, in his research, that it should have been possible to accurately describe exactly how the attack was stopped.

Background Check Issues

According to the NCJRS official report, Enforcement of the Brady Act, 2009: Federal and State Investigations and Prosecutions of Firearm Applicants Denied by a NICS Check in 2009, 71,010 individuals were denied buying a gun in 2009.

Of those who were denied in 2009, 4,681 were referred to local BATF field offices for higher scrutiny and investigation. The remaining 66,329 (roughly 93 percent) of the initial denials were overturned because they "did not meet referral guidelines or were overturned after review by Brady Operations or after the FBI received additional information" according to the U.S. Department of Justice.

Then, again, in 2010, nearly 94 percent of initial denials, or 71,410 out of 76,142 total denials were overturned for the same reason (source: NCJRS yearly report).

This research suggests that initial denials from background checks have a roughly 93 to 94 percent error rate, making them an inefficient and largely ineffective method of assessing an individual's suitability to legally own a firearm.

Multiple Victim Shootings and Concealed Carry Laws

Research done at the University of Chicago Law School and the Crime Prevention Research Center shows that, while arrest and conviction rates as well as the death penalty do help reduce the overall murder rate, the only public policy factor that significantly influences multiple victim public shootings is passage of concealed carry handgun laws.

Source: Multiple Victim Public Shootings, Lott Jr, Landes and Multiple Victim Public Shootings, Bombings, and Right-to-Carry Concealed Handgun Laws: Contrasting Private and Public Law Enforcement , Lott Jr, Landes.

Accidental Death From Guns: What The Research Says

Research from the Crime Prevention Research Center and the University of Adelaide School of Economics shows that safe storage laws (i.e. laws requiring gun owners to take measures to safely secure firearms when not in use), do not reduce juvenile accidental gun deaths or suicides. Instead, the research suggests that it impairs an individual's ability to use firearms defensively.

States that have adopted strong safe storage laws reported an increase across the board in murder rates, rape, robberies, and aggravated assaults.

Source: Safe Storage Gun Laws: Accidental Deaths, Suicides, and Crime, Lott Jr, Whitley.

Island Nations' Gun Bans Fail To Improve Murder Rates

Research done by John Lott Jr. shows that in island nations like Australia, Ireland, the UK, and Jamaica, murder rates failed to fall after a gun ban was enacted. In some cases, murder rate data stayed flat, while in others, the murder rate actually increased once a gun ban was enacted.

Source: Some examples of the impact of gun bans on murder rates, Lott Jr.

America Highest Per Capita Gun Ownership In the World, But 111th Per Capita Murder Rate

In America, there are 90 guns per 100 people, giving it the highest per capita legal gun ownership in the world. Somalia comes in second on this list, with 58 guns per 100 people. However, the highest per capita murder rate is found in Honduras, which has strong gun control laws, with 90.4 people per 100,000 murdered. Venezuela, which also has strong gun control laws, is second with 53.7 murders per 100,000 people. Even though America is awash in guns, America is ranked 111, with 4.7 murders per 100,000 people.

Source: UNODC Homicide Counts and Rates, Time Series 2000-2012.

Guns In The Home Do Not Increase Homicide Rate

The widely cited 1986 report "Protection or Peril?: An Analysis of Firearm-Related Deaths in the Home" is often used to demonstrate that an individual is 43 times more likely to kill a family member than an intruder when a gun is present in the home. However, recent analysis of the study shows that the 1986 study only accounts for cases of self-defense with firearms in which a criminal was killed - not injured or otherwise thwarted.

Incidents where criminals were wounded, but not mortally so, or held at gunpoint until police arrived, were excluded. Research by Gary Kleck shows higher gun ownership reduces homicide rates and that gun violence is largely confined to persons with a prior history of criminal behavior. Finally, Kleck's research shows that there is insufficient evidence to show that it is unsafe for the average American to legally keep a gun in the home.

Source: What Are the Risks and Benefits of Keeping a Gun in the Home? and Estimating the Causal Effect of Gun Prevalence on Homicide Rates: A Local Average Treatment Effect Approach .

Case Study: Massachusetts

Research conducted by the Crime Prevention Research Center failed to show a positive correlation between gun laws enacted in 1998 in the state and a reduction in murder and burglary rates. Instead, the data suggests that the murder rate has risen in response to tough gun control legislation.

Source: What happened to violent crime in Massachusetts after the 1998 firearms licensing law?

Case Study: Chicago

Prior to 2010, the city of Chicago, Illinois had enforced a citywide ban on gun sales within city limits. In 2010, the Supreme Court struck down the gun ban, calling it unconstitutional, in the landmark McDonald v City of Chicago case.

The city responded by enacting tough gun control legislation. But, in 2014, a federal judge, Edmond E. Chang, again reversed the longstanding position of the city government, citing that a gun sale ban is unconstitutional and that while the government has a duty to protect its citizens, it's also obligated to protect an individual's constitutional rights, among those being the right to bear arms.

Following the Supreme Court's decision in 2010, Illinois opened an online application system. The first day it was made available to the public, roughly 4,500 requests for concealed carry permits were made. In total, within the first 24 hours, requests rose to 11,000.

Six months after the firearm sales ban was lifted, homicides in Chicago were reported to have fallen to their lowest levels since 1965 - 435, compared to 460 in 2009 and 395 in 1965.

Source: So what happened to Chicago's Murder and Violent Crime rates after the Supreme Court decision in June 2010 striking down Chicago's gun laws?

In Conclusion

Though the vast amount of research about legal gun ownership in American society is often under-reported or mis-reporteded because it doesn't line up with the anti-gun bias of the media and government officials, the facts are clear: Widespread, legal gun ownership makes American society demonstrably safer.