More Guns, Less Data

January 17, 2013
Posted by Jay Livingston

As part of his new policy on guns, President Obama signed a directive allowing more research on gun violence and death.  For nearly twenty years, the gun lobby has shut down federally funded research on their favorite objects.   What seems to have gotten them upset was a study that concluded that a gun in the home was far more likely to kill a family member than to prevent a crime (a NY Times story from two years ago is here). 

Brad Plumer at the WaPo WonkBlog posted this chart showing how these Congressional restrictions have affected research at the National Institute of Justice.

Still, sometimes data leaks out.  Peter Norlander on his Academic Envy, Thoughtful Rage blog, posted this county analysis of gun ownership and gun deaths in New York state.

What was true for homes was true for counties. Should it come as a surprise that where there are more guns there are also more gun deaths?  Oh, right.  Guns don’t kill people. More guns, less crime and all that.

No wonder the gunslingers have tried to stop access to this kind of information. Maybe, with this new directive, more data will be coming out of the closet.


Dan King said...

Just happened by your blog... Now this chart doesn't make sense. The real correlation is between poverty and gun violence. The counties in the bottom half of the chart are wealthy, while those in the top half are poorer (or have high concentrations of poor people). Since poor counties tend to be more rural, they also have more guns. Thus the correlation.

Correlation does not prove cause and effect. You're sociologists..,you should know that.

I blog over at

Jay Livingston said...

You’re certainly right that a simple 2-variable scatterplot does not establish cause, and there are other variables that should be taken into account. Would controlling for income wipe out the correlation? I don’t know. And we would want data from more states and more years. The trouble is that Congress has placed restrictions on the data that federal agencies could gather, keep, analyze, and publish.

Bob S. said...


The ban on research into firearms was only on tax money being spent on it at federal institutions.

Want to prove 'more guns' is the problem, do the research yourself.

Nothing is stopping you.

Rizzuto's Rants said...

The biggest problem with your logic here is that "Firearms Deaths" and "Crime" are not the same thing. Let's take Allegany County as an example. It's in the top right quadrant of the second chart. The insinuation is that Allegany has high pistol ownership and high crime.

That's absolute bunk.

Look at the CRIME statistics and you will see a much different picture. From the years 2007-2011, according to the NYS Division of Criminal Justice Services there was a grand total of 1 murder in Allegany County.

What's going on then?

Firearms deaths also include suicides. It just so happens that Allegany County ranks highest in the state for number of suicides, according to the New York State Department of Health. Its rate was DOUBLE that of the statewide.

But this is only a small part of your problem, because where there are more guns, there are logically going to be more accidental deaths as well. For example, there is a lot of hunting in Allegany County because it has a lot of wooded area and a high deer population. That means there will be more hunting accidents.

These are basic errors you're making. This reflects very poorly on Montclair State University.

Jay Livingston said...

Yes, you're right. The gunslingers say only "More guns, less crime." They do not say, "More guns, fewer gun deaths," "More guns,fewer fatal accidents," or "More guns, less suicide." And for good reason.

Rizzuto's Rants said...

Maybe they don't say it because it's obvious to anyone with half a brain cell. Where there are more guns there will be more accidents with guns. Beachfront communities will have more drownings. Zoos will have more lion attacks. Etc. These things don't really require studies and sociology degrees to figure out.

But seeing as you seem to be concerned about gun safety and suicide prevention now, allow me to direct you to, where you direct your students to become certified firearms safety instructors, and where they can volunteer for the national suicide prevention lifeline.