Commentary: We Need to Re-Examine the Link Between Guns and Homicides

Photo by Dulcey Lima on Unsplash

By David M. Greenwald
Executive Editor

We keep hearing about Woke DAs being the problem with the rise of crime.  There has been a constant refrain from gun rights proponents that an armed society is a polite society.

But recent events seem to dispel the notion.  And now an investigative report from Colin Woodward of Politico drives what should be a stake in the proverbial heart of those claiming that the problems are lax progressive prosecutors and woke policies.

Woodward noted that DeSantis “proclaimed crime in New York City was ‘out of control’ and blamed it on George Soros” while Trump “offered his native city up as a Democrat-run dystopia, one of those places ‘where the middle class used to flock to live the American dream are now war zones, literal war zones.’”

The reality is, however, “the region the Big Apple comprises most of is far and away the safest part of the U.S. mainland when it comes to gun violence, while the regions Florida and Texas belong to have per capita firearm death rates (homicides and suicides) three to four times higher than New York’s.”

Moreover, “On a regional basis it’s the southern swath of the country — in cities and rural areas alike — where the rate of deadly gun violence is most acute, regions where Republicans have dominated state governments for decades.”

How stark?  Woodward writes that “the disparities between the regions are stark, but even I was shocked at just how wide the differences were and also by some unexpected revelations.”

He cranks them out:

The Deep South is the most deadly of the large regions at 15.6 per 100,000 residents followed by Greater Appalachia at 13.5. That’s triple and quadruple the rate of New Netherland — the most densely populated part of the continent — which has a rate of 3.8, which is comparable to that of Switzerland. Yankeedom is the next safest at 8.6, which is about half that of Deep South, and Left Coast follows closely behind at 9. El Norte, the Midlands, Tidewater and Far West fall in between.

This isn’t necessarily an argument for gun control.

Woodward points out, “When I turned to New York-area criminologists and gun violence experts, I expected to be told the more restrictive gun policies in New York City and in New York and New Jersey largely explained why New Netherland is so remarkably safe compared to other U.S. regions, including Yankeedom and the Midlands.”

The bigger factor was regional culture.

“New York City is a very diverse place. We see people from different cultural and religious traditions every moment and we just know one another, so it’s harder for people to foment inter-group hatreds,” Jeffrey Butts told Woodward, director of the research and evaluation center at the John Jay College of Criminal Justice in Manhattan.

He added, “Policy has something to do with it, but policy mainly controls the ease to which people can get access to weapons. But after that you have culture, economics, demographics and everything else that influences what they do with those weapons.”

None of this should be terribly surprising.  We look at the high numbers of murders or shootings in a given city without then norming to the population size.

It has been well established in the literature, moreover, that access to guns equates to a higher risk of homicide.

Lisa Hepburn and David Hemenway in a 2004 literature survey published in Aggression and Violent Behavior: “Our review of the academic literature found that a broad array of evidence indicates that gun availability is a risk factor for homicide, both in the United States and across high-income countries.  Case-control studies, ecological time-series and cross-sectional studies indicate that in homes, cities, states and regions in the U.S., where there are more guns, both men and women are at a higher risk for homicide, particularly firearm homicide.”

Even excluding the US, Hemenway and Matthew Miller in 2000 found, “We analyzed the relationship between homicide and gun availability using data from 26 developed countries from the early 1990s.  We found that across developed countries, where guns are more available, there are more homicides.  These results often hold even when the United States is excluded.”

Still we keep hearing claims—not supported by empirical evidence—that an “armed society is a polite society.”

The quote is attributed to Robert Heinlein, though it’s actually a quotation from a character in a work of science fiction.

A 2022 Psychology Today article noted, “There is evidence that an armed society is not a polite society.”

We have discovered this recently with the rash of wrong door shootings.

The NY Times pointed out that there have been a rash of these kinds of shootings lately.

They write, “No precise figures are available, but these shootings are relatively uncommon in a country with nearly 49,000 gun deaths in a year. But gun-control advocates say they are a stark illustration of how quickly America reaches for guns — and how tragic the results can be.”

The Times adds that “activists and researchers say they stem from a convergence of bigger factors — increased fear of crime and an attendant surge in gun ownership, increasingly extreme political messaging on firearms, fearmongering in the media and marketing campaigns by the gun industry that portray the suburban front door as a fortified barrier against a violent world.”

While I’m not a huge proponent of gun control, I do think that gun-rights advocates have created a number of dangerous situations: open carry, concealed carry, guns as a line of defense against potential threats—whether active shooters or home defense and carrying with them a risk that the wrong person will be on the short end.

We see enough situations where trained police officers mistake innocuous objects for weapons and mistakenly shoot unarmed offenders—now we have to grapple with untrained citizens who are nevertheless armed and apparently shooting first and asking questions later.  That’s a recipe for disaster.

About The Author

David Greenwald is the founder, editor, and executive director of the Davis Vanguard. He founded the Vanguard in 2006. David Greenwald moved to Davis in 1996 to attend Graduate School at UC Davis in Political Science. He lives in South Davis with his wife Cecilia Escamilla Greenwald and three children.

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