Harvard Study: More Guns Do Not Mean More Crime

There’s a study out of the ivy-covered walls of Harvard University that’s a must-read for those on both sides of the gun control debate. Or, at least it has a must-read conclusion (though you’ll have to trudge through 46 pages to get there). Don Kates and Gary Mauser were sick and tired of hearing the claim that “more guns equals more crime” without anyone actually, you know, backing that statement up with some facts. So they took it upon themselves to determine if it’s true. They studied a large number of European countries and trends involving gun ownership and crime rates, and guess what?It turns out that the claim is completely false. There is, in fact, no correlation between guns and crime. At all . . .

From the study:

This Article has reviewed a significant amount of evidence from a wide variety of international sources. Each individual portion of evidence is subject to cavil—at the very least the general objection that the persuasiveness of social scientific evidence cannot remotely approach the persuasiveness of conclusions in the physical sciences. Nevertheless, the burden of proof rests on the proponents of the more guns equal more death and fewer guns equal less death mantra, especially since they argue public policy ought to be based on that mantra. To bear that burden would at the very least require showing that a large number of nations with more guns have more death and that nations that have imposed stringent gun controls have achieved substantial reductions in criminal violence (or suicide). But those correlations are not observed when a large number of nations are compared across the world.

You can read the whole paper here. It’s interesting and worth your time. Well, interesting for people who derive enjoyment from tables, charts and footnotes. So, basically myself and Bruce.

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About Nick Leghorn

Nick Leghorn is a gun nerd living and working in San Antonio, Texas. In his free time, he's a competition shooter (USPSA, 3-gun and NRA High Power), aspiring pilot, and enjoys mixing statistics and science with firearms. Now on sale: Getting Started with Firearms by yours truly!

35 Responses to Harvard Study: More Guns Do Not Mean More Crime

  1. avatarjwm says:

    Well, Duh. It took a Harvard study to confirm what this GED carrying hillbilly already knew? I need to be teaching at Harvard.

    • avatarSanchanim says:

      I will be reading this tonight once I don’t have to run around after my two year old!
      Thanks for posting it Nick.

  2. avatarEric says:

    Similar to John Lott’s research. Thanks for making this available

  3. avatarDavid-p says:

    Well I hate to say we told you so. Wait, no I don’t. “We told you so”. Didn’t Obama go to Harvard? Lol

  4. avatarTommy Knocker says:

    5 year old study. Published spring 2007. Fresh?

    • avatarGA EMT says:

      My thoughts too. I have this study bookmarked so that I can bring it up when pseudo-intellectual leftys say that statistics support them.

  5. avatarBLAMMO says:

    There’s a study fresh out of the ivy-covered walls …

    Not exactly. That study is from 2006. But not ‘off the wall’. Worthy of a revival.

  6. avatarjkp says:

    I raised an eyebrow when you said “Harvard study”, but of course it was from the Journal of Law & Public Policy, “the nation’s leading forum for conservative and libertarian legal scholarship.” http://www.harvard-jlpp.com/

    I’m not saying it isn’t a good article — it probably is, the JLPP is a good journal. But this isn’t any breakthrough on the part of the usual leftish academics.

    • avatarSanchanim says:

      While nothing is ever done without some sort of bias or stance, if it is a properly peer reviewed study, I am cool with it.
      Even if we look at John Lott’s work or the study done under Clinton, the facts are that there are a LOT of DGU’s in the US, many of which would save one or more lives.
      The more studies which shoe that guns save lives is ok in my book.

      • avatarjkp says:

        Law journals, such as this one, are typically not peer-reviewed. Law journals are run by law students, overseen by a faculty advisor. The students make the decisions concerning which article to publish, check the citations, edit the journal, etc. Involvement by faculty is minimal.

        http://www.harvard-jlpp.com/about/

  7. avatarstateisevil says:

    No one ever mentions France before EU membership. Who knew they had almost complete gun freedom and no crime? Not me. Now they have strict control and a huge crime problem because there has been a cultural shift.

  8. avatarChris says:

    So guns have no impact on the act, just the method? Makes sense.

  9. avatarNelson says:

    Facts? Schmachts? What’s that, to the rabidly Anti-Gun traitorous homo sapien sapiens aberration that is the controlfreak gun grabbers??

    I dare any ‘conservative’ GOP Senator to make a citizen’s arrest vs. the likes of Di Feinskunk & Trotsky Schmuckers et al… on the Senate Floor, when they even remotely attempt to bring up the AWB 2.0, or take it out of conference, for sedition, and for perjury in breaking their “Oath to uphold & defend the US Constitution from all enemies, foreign and domestic.”

    Sure, “Treason” is very narrowly defined in the Constitution. But seeing as how we’ve never had a lawful, Constitutional Declaration of War (bite me delusional Constitutionally ignorant neoCons, if you disagree; ask yourself why every war before the Korean War ‘Police Action’ were declared on the Floor of Congress as official “Declarations of War,” if it was never lawfully necessary) allegiance/aid & comforting the ‘enemies’ becomes subjective at best.

    And sure, Constitutionally, no member of the Congress shall be prosecuted for ANY speech made on the Floors of House or the Senate, but that does not indemnify them from “high crimes and misdemeanors” or blatant sedition vs. the Constitution. And, seeing as how they take an Oath to the Constitution, the Document, not the geographical nation-state known as the Unites StateS of America, can think of no other definition for sedition that qualifies more than breaking their Oath to uphold the Constitution, which just so happens is where the 2nd Amendment securely resides in.

    Now, wouldn’t that be something to watch that craggy retched witch of biologically native contraceptive (’cause you know, I see that face, and immediately imagine would be genetic donors lining up the block to help her continue her genes) be dragged out in cuffs kicking & screaming, or via the Capitol Police’s ‘no, electric shocks-never-cause-circulatory/respiratory failures’-less-than-lethal-but-lethal-Tasers, or at the least, the ever ceremonial Sergeant-at-Arms?

    It’d be a Pay-Per-View moment of the century!

    Muahahahaha!

  10. avatareugene says:

    forwarded the study to Senator Feinstein :)

  11. avatarLongPurple says:

    This paper has been around for years. Strange that I never heard it referenced by anyone on either side of “gun control”.
    Just skimmed through it and found it most interesting. I will read it in depth as soon as I can.

    Thank you, Nick.

  12. avatarShire-man says:

    So when will Piers Morgan invite a bunch of Harvard academics onto his show to call them stupid?

  13. avatarGreg Camp says:

    Control freaks insist that they base their demands on science, but human beings are not atoms. We’re complex creatures with rights and desires and will. The facts are what they are. The debate over guns comes down to values, the balance of liberty and order.

  14. avataruncommon_sense says:

    Criminals, gangs, armies, and even governments have attacked people throughout all recorded human history … most of which predates the existence of firearms. That alone tells us that nasty people will violently attack others regardless of what weapons are at hand. All this recent Harvard study does is confirm that fact.

    • avatarMark N. says:

      Agreed. Violence is a survival trait that cannot be bred out of the human animal. I’ve made this argument many times, generally with no response at all from the other side. They continue to cling to the belief that the police will protect them, and it is “insanity” for people to take the law into their own hands–even when that is the only law available.

  15. avatarCasey T says:

    Thanks for showing us this. I’m going to print it off and read it so I can fully understand it (I read much better off hard copy). If their research proves that more guns does not equate to more crime, we should forward the research to each Senator and Representative. That way, they cannot argue public safety which is the usual argument used to circumvent the Constitution.

  16. avatarTommy Knocker says:

    I am sitting here thinking why folks never heard of Gary Kleck. Then realized a website like this must have so many young kids and young adults. You just havent had time to be exposed to our side. As a fast tutorial I want to pass this link along. Fordham law school back in March had a fantastic seminar with some of the best guys on our side. You can skip the antis and their presentations. Or take two aspirin and listen to them. But this is a great way to come up to speed. Video of the full 8 hour day seminar.

    http://urbanlawjournal.com/?cat=6

    • avatarDyspeptic Gunsmith says:

      Or Don Kates…

      It’s been years since I’ve chatted with Don Kates, but he was the guy who opened my eyes to the legal scholarship surrounding guns and self-defense in the mid-90′s.

      The Heller case was structured just as Kates postulated a case to affirm the Second Amendment should be in 1994 at a dinner conversation we had in San Francisco. Kates told anyone who would listen at that time that the problem for the Second Amendment was that most of the plaintiffs citing their right to own guns in court were violent criminals, and courts are not charitably disposed towards arguments of a right to own guns for violent felons. What we needed were some clean, law-abiding citizens who were denied their rights in places like DC or Chicago to argue their cases up the chain… and that’s what happened in Heller.

      • avatarTommy Knocker says:

        Gunsmith..my computer got fried the other week and I have to do this on Kindle. I did mean to say Kates but was thinking of Kleck who was also at the event. Good catch. Thks. :)

  17. avatarDerfball says:

    What level of evidence of a link to crime would it take to make you willing to sacrifice your rights?

  18. avatarMichael Thomas says:

    1) This is not a “Harvard study”. Neither academic has ever been to Harvard, rather it was published in the Harvard Journal of Law an Public Policy, a conservative publication edited by students.

    2) It is not “fresh” but was published in 2006.

    3) It’s not peer-reviewed. Indeed it could never have passed a peer review because it uses false statistics (http://www.voy.com/56411/183422.html)

    4) There are actually Harvard studies which make the counter-argument more convincingly. For example, a book by Harvard professor of public health David Hemenway shows that within the US, areas with more permissive gun control laws and more guns have a higher incidence of gun-related crime and fatality. You can download the full book here: http://muse.jhu.edu/books/9780472023820

    • avatarjkp says:

      How fascinating that you claim that statistics in an article from an academic journal are false, and to support this claim you cite…an internet posting authored by someone called “Very old GG” who then goes on to cite, among other things, a forum posting from Democratic Underground, authored by a fellow named “DanTex”.

      One hates to use cliches such as “pot calling the kettle black” or “hypocrite” but I rather think they’re both applicable in the current context.

    • avatarjkp says:

      Just so its clear – I am not endorsing Kates & Mauser here, because I have not read this article, nor have I seen any rebuttals yet. And I am not disputing the quality of the Hemenway book, which I have not yet read.

      I do know, however, that the link provided by Michael Thomas does not provide any sources that actually refute the Kates & Mauser article or provide real support for the charge that they use “false statistics”. The real articles linked in that forum post you cited all appear to pre-date Kates & Mauser.

  19. avatarJAS says:

    I read the whole thing. The study is dated, uses the limited data available at the time and contains errors. One thing that the study seems to get correct is that socioeconomic factors seem to be the most meaningful indicator.

    There are now much better sources of homicide statistics available and I link three of them below:

    For a comprehensive picture in the USA look here:
    http://bjs.ojp.usdoj.gov/content/pub/pdf/htus8008.pdf

    This report is quite the eye opener. I was surprised at how much arson and poison were used as weapons.

    For the European Union look here (under Subtitle 6.5 – Crime):
    http://epp.eurostat.ec.europa.eu/statistics_explained/index.php/Europe_in_figures_-_Eurostat_yearbook

    For Canada look here:
    http://www.statcan.gc.ca/pub/85-002-x/2012001/article/11738-eng.pdf

    Interestingly, this Canadian report is the one cited in the study that the OP refers to. The Study uses the chart of countries other than Canada, but if is only for 2003. This latest report shows a very different picture. The chart can be found here:
    http://www.statcan.gc.ca/pub/85-002-x/2012001/article/11738/c-g/E-11738-c-g-02.gif

    The USA ranks 6th in the chart, not a good showing. Then again, socioeconomic factors in the USA are very different from the ones in the EU, for example. No surprise that Mexico leads the world, and they have some of the strictest gun laws in the world.

  20. avatarDavid Harley says:

    I was hoping for something novel, rather than the same tired arguments and the same useless statistics as Lott and others have used. Both of these authors are retired criminologists who have spent decades arguing that gun control is pointless, in every non-peer-reviewed journal or book format they could find.

    In Canada, Mauser has argued that the level of gun deaths is irrelevant and that gun control has failed wherever it has been introduced. To justify this, he has had to jump through hoops when dealing woith countries where both total homicides and gun deaths have declined, insisting that they would have fallen far more if handguns had not been banned (UK) or regulated more tightly (Canada).

    In California, Kates is funded by the Pacific Research Institute, which derives its income from such corporations as Exxon and Altria, and from the foundations of the Koch family, the Scaife family and so on. It is closely associated with ALEC.

    We can all agree that there are sound arguments to be made about free-market policies of various kinds, and about the meaning of the Second Amendment. The appropriate extent of neither is self-evident and must, therefore, be considered carefully. PRI, however, is one of those high-sounding but well-bought organizations that poison the debates.

  21. avatarDavid Harley says:

    Gary Kleck’s survey techniques have been as comprehensively dismantled as those of Lott. See, for example,

    http://vacps.org/public-policy/the-contradictions-of-kleck

    • avatarJohn Norenberg says:

      in saying that Lott and Kleck have been discredited by the sources you cite, you are mixing apples and oranges. THe article from the NEJM has been considered to be off topic for years by the academic community, as it merely looked at gun fatalities in homes and doesn’t consider the wider public interest.

      Lott has been extensively peer reviewed and supported. So much so, that the the political class doesnt bring him up any more, at least those who dont like his ideas. That group has been reduced, in the absence of any sort of academic model to support thier feelings, to using said feelings to support their arguments.

  22. avatarJohn Peters says:

    I don’t think the problems relies as much on the death by firearms as much as the actual crimes committed by firearms such as robbery, hold ups, etc…In the case of suicide you don’t even need a tool to actually achieve this goal, so reducing firearms will not influence it at all in countries with a low level of guns ownership -possible exception to military environment due to its microcosm.
    I think the main debate around this kind of weapon need to be more focus. Being a Harvard study I am quite disappointed to read such poorly written research question. In my first freshman class at Harvard I was taught to be sure I was asking the right question to have the right answer to the debate, so unless the research funding was given by the NRA and associates, there is no pride to show this result. I personally believe the debate needs to be orientated over the control of who can legally access firearms (stricter background and periodical psychological evaluation to maintain permit). Also, one has to consider that the horror that just happened in CT would not have been as tragic if this disturbed person came with a knife.

  23. avatarXdloud says:

    Check your sources Harvard… this study was conducted using sources from the 70′s, 80′s, and early 90′s. Things have changed considerably since those times, and certainly there makes no mention of the availability of semi-automatic and automatic firearms.

    Redo your study with modern sources and remit.

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