Last Updated on November 13, 2021 by Shaun Snapp
- The subject of violent crime in the US is often blamed on gun ownership and poverty.
- We research the relationship between these and other areas to get to the real story.
The US has a high violent crime rate compared to other developed countries. This has been known for a long time but tends to be blamed on various factors without any analysis being done to verify if these widely blamed factors are the cause.
See our references for this article and related articles at this link.
Different groups with different political leanings typically blame specific items.
The following is a synopsis of how left-leaning and right-leaning tend to allocate the blame for violent crime.
Commonly Predicted Variables
|Political Leaning||Race||Poverty||Gun Ownership||Video Games / Media|
|Politically Left Leaning||No||Yes||Yes||No|
|Politically Right Leaning||Yes||No||No||Yes|
It’s curious. Each group sees the items responsible for violent crime in exact opposition to the group they oppose. However, violent crime is recorded mathematically, at least in the developed world, like any other crime. Therefore, mathematical analysis can be performed.
Naturally, as the different political leanings see different reasons for violent crime, they differ on ways to mitigate violent crime.
- Politically left-leaning individuals tend to support restricting weapons, and specifically guns.
- Politically right-leaning individuals tend to seek ways to promote more weapons. They propose that more weapons lead to less violent crime, as it places weapons in the hands of law-abiding citizens, which counteracts the use of firearms by criminals. This is, in fact, a significant proposal by the NRA.
“What stops a bad guy with a gun, is a good guy with a gun.”
Politically right-leaning are much more likely to support gun rights in general, whereas politically-left-leaning tend to oppose gun rights.
Interestingly even though there are four primary causes generally discussed regarding violent crime, nearly all of the attention is focused on controlling firearms.
There are few initiatives to limit violent video games or media, and the topics of race and poverty are intertwined. However, there is not much more than lip service given to reducing poverty.
Europeans tend to be quite offended or put off by the high gun ownership in the US (which they link to violent crime). However, Europeans seldom talk about the actual leading causes of death. 116,103 people die of Alzheimer’s every year in the US. Does this bother Europeans the same way as guns? If not, why not? First, an American is (116,103/16,000) = seven times more likely to die of Alzheimer’s in the US than being murdered. And Alzheimer’s is highly connected to diet and exercise. The US food companies have nearly eliminated quality fats from the US diet. Unsurprisingly, the brain is mainly made of fat and requires high-quality fresh fats that are no longer present in sufficient quantities in the US diet. Naturally, our brains are suffering. Yet while Europeans will often flare up at a moment’s notice about a discussion on gun violence, a discussion of Alzheimer’s prevention tends to become a much more muted affair.
The Evidence on Firearms as a Deterrent
The proposal of firearms being a deterrent to violent crime is something we test in this article, and the logic for the deterrent effect is summarized in this quotation.
“After all, since 1991 Americans have acquired 170 million new guns while murder rates have plummeted, according to the National Rifle Association of America (NRA). Donald Trump, when running for president, said of the 2015 shooting massacre in San Bernardino, Calif., that “if we had guns in California on the other side, where the bullets went in the different direction, you wouldn’t have 14 or 15 people dead right now.” Mike Watkins, a cop–turned–firearm instructor at the Kennesaw range, put it this way: “If I’m a bad guy, and I know this place has guns, it’s not a place I’m obviously going to want to go and do something bad.”” – Scientific American
And this gets to the way that both politically left-leaning and right-leaning individuals seem to come to conclusions. This is expressed in the following quotation.
“Yet the sense I got in Kennesaw—which feels like a typical small city, not some gun-frenzied town—is that data don’t matter to a lot of people. It was similar in other places I visited. What matters more is apparent logic: guns stop criminals, so they keep people safer. The night before I met Graydon, I attended a lecture by a Second Amendment lawyer in Stone Mountain, Ga., 30 miles southeast of Kennesaw. At one point, the lawyer mentioned Samuel Colt, who popularized the revolver in the mid-19th century. “I haven’t seen the statistics, but I’ve got to assume that the instances of rape and strong-arm robberies plummeted when those became widespread,” he said. Numbers and statistics, in other words, were almost unnecessary—everyone just knows that where there are more guns, there is less crime.” – Scientific American
This brings up a point of curiosity. This person is a Second Amendment lawyer. Yet even with this being his trade, he had not taken the time to look up the statistics and instead stated that he assumed violent crime had plummeted.
Why would he not merely check?
The NRA often quotes the study to support the claim that guns stopping violent crime is extraordinarily weak.
This is explained in the following quotation.
“Claims that people frequently need guns to defend themselves from criminals usually rely on one 1995 survey. That survey concluded that Americans used guns to ward off crime up to 2.5 million times per year. But subsequent research, involving much larger samples, has come up with much smaller numbers, indicating that defensive gun use was unusual. The 1995 work, published by Gary Kleck of Florida State University and his colleague Marc Gertz, randomly asked 5,000 Americans if they or another member of their household had used a gun for self-protection in the past year. Just over 1 percent said yes, and the researcher s extrapolated this percentage for the entire US population, giving them up to 2.5 million annual instances of defensive gun use.”
Right off the bat, this estimate is ridiculous. There are only roughly 16,000 murders per year in the US. If 2.5 million violent altercations led to the guns being shown or drawn, the US would look like the OK Corral. And there would be far more murders because far more of these interactions would have a fatal outcome, or one of the two individuals (or both) get shot.
The idea of the research and the NRA is that the brave NRA member brandishes their weapon, and the criminal, realizing his error, tucks their tail between his legs and depart. This estimate further requires that nearly all the 2.5 million individuals did not report their encounters.
There is another problem.
When a gun-toting criminal threatens a victim, they will tend to have their gun drawn, or at least very close to their hand. How will the likely victim be able to so consistently pull out their weapon in a way that leads the gun-toting criminal to leave the scene?
Are the 2.5 million likely victims aware of how much they have increased their risk by pulling out a firearm? There are only 16,000 murders per year. Even if this were all true, it still would not pay to risk a gun battle. Even a person with a gun is better off keeping the gun hidden and handing over their wallet or car keys. Firearms are rarely used in rapes; they are generally used to murder to take property directly. If a gun-toting criminal has a gun trained on you, and they have not yet used it, it is quite likely the intent is to acquire your property.
Unsurprisingly a 2015 study by David Hemenway involved confirmed crime victims and estimated far fewer incidents of guns used for self-defense. The National Crime Victimization Survey estimates that firearms are used 65,000 times for self-defense. We will show in the analysis below why we have concluded that gun ownership does not deter violent crime. But a second quotation from Scientific America on this topic promotes the converse, and we don’t see how the data we reviewed support this conclusion either.
“More than 30 peer-reviewed studies, focusing on individuals as well as populations, have been published that confirm what Kellermann’s studies suggested: that guns are associated with an increased risk for violence and homicide. “There is really uniform data to support the statement that access to firearms is associated with an increased risk of firearm-related death and injury,” Wintemute concludes. Gun advocates argue the causes are reversed: surges in violent crime lead people to buy guns, and weapons do not create the surge. But if that were true, gun purchases would increase in tandem with all kinds of violence. In reality, they do not.”
The Data Table
The following table was compiled from a combination of Wikipedia statistics combined with individually looking up the Average Income of each state and the percentage of the state with a black population. The reason for this is that politically left-leaning and politically right-leaning individuals disagree vehemently as to whether violent crime is due to race versus income or poverty. By including both factors in the table, we were able to measure both variables. The US has three major racial groups. White, black, and Hispanic. Hispanics are highly associated with property crime, but not violent crime. The racial group most associated with violent crime is easily blacks. Other races, as well as blacks, know this. This table would allow us to test what potentially neither political left-leaning nor right-leaning individuals would like to be tested.
The Murder Rate Per State in 2017
|US State||Black Percentage||Average Income||Gun Ownership||Murder Rate per 100,000|
|District of Columbia||50.08%||$75,628||25.9||24.2|
As is usually the case, a lot can be learned by reviewing the data table. But let us go to the test.
Running the Covariance Test
Once I had the data in this format, I was able to run a covariance analysis.
I very much like covariance analyses because it allows one to very simply compare how multiple variables relate to one another.
So let us take a look at the results.
Covariance Analysis Results of Variables to US Murder Rate
Variables do no covary to each other -- so each intersection is a "1," but has no meaning.
|Row Variables||Percent Black||Average Income||Gun Ownership||Murder Rate|
Once the “1”s are removed as they are not meaningful, we are left with the six values to review. Two are relevant. One is negatively correlated with the murder rates, the red box, and the relationship between average income and gun ownership. The other is the extraordinarily high relationship between the murder rate and the percentage of the population in a state that is black.
There are several relationships measured in this matrix, so let us focus first on the primary research question.
The Primary Research Question #1: Are Guns Correlated with Violent Crime?
The first question we wanted to answer is gun ownership related to the murder rate. The covariance value of .02 says that while technically positive, the relationship is so weak that it can be said to virtually not exist.
This cuts both ways.
It cuts against politically left-leaning individuals because controlling guns will not appreciably improve the US murder rate. However, this also cuts against politically right-leaning individuals because it means that their proposal that guns stop violence is implausible to be true. If more guns reduced violent crime, we would see a significant negative value instead of .02. As gun ownership increases in a state, we will see a decrease in violent crime.
That is not what we see.
Research Question #2: Is Income or Poverty Related to Violent Crime?
The statistics we used were for an overall state. And while poverty is explicitly related to violent crime, at -.01, it does not show itself as a predictor in the state-by-state comparison. For example, West Virginia has the fourth-lowest income and one of the highest levels of gun ownership but has a low murder rate.
If politically left-leaning individuals were correct in their explanations for violence West Virginia would be one of the murder centers of the US, as according to left-leaning individuals,
- West Virginia has all of the traditional predictors of having high violent crime. It has low income/high poverty and high gun ownership.
- Maryland has one of the highest incomes but more murders than West Virginia, even though it has less than half the gun ownership.
Research Question #3: What is the Impact of Race on Violent Crime?
Unless there is a hidden value within the race that is not poverty or gun ownership (which we tested for), the race is the number one predictor of violent crime. The value is .82, which is the most robust relationship in the matrix by far. It is the only factor we need to predict violent crime.
For example, the other two items (poverty and guns), neither register is a blip.
There is something about blacks that makes them far more predisposed to violent crime than any other race in the US. And of course, the number one victims of violent crime are also blacks. This is why the racial group in the US that should be most angry about violent crime is blacks, as they are the most common victims of violent crime. However, blacks are also the number one racial group at victimizing other races with violent crime, as we cover in the article Why the Claims by Black Lives Matter on Police Shootings Are False.
Guns and Income
One of the surprising results of the research was to find that income is strongly negatively associated with gun ownership. Guns tend to be more prevalent in rural settings, where guns are used in hunting and the general culture. And incomes are lower in rural areas. Therefore it makes sense that there would be a correlation between these two items. However, of the two groups, while likely similarly deluded on many aspects of the debate, the pro-gun advocates are closer to the truth. It is far more the people who are responsible than the prevalence of guns.
What is the NRA?
The NRA is a lobby group of gun ownership. However, that is not all the NRA is. The NRA receives donations from many members, but it accepts concentrated donations from gun manufacturers. The NRA’s actual purpose is to maximize gun sales for their donors. To do this, they leverage patriotism, the 2nd amendment, fear, whatever is necessary to maximize gun sales. The NRA is very quiet about its donations from gun manufacturers, but they are real, and they are why the NRA is not an objective source of information on anything related to guns. They are not a research entity, follow no research rules, cherry-pick studies (as I illustrated above), and can be considered objective about guns as Coke-a-Cola is about soft drinks. (according to Coke, their products are healthy for the population). People that support believing the NRA must also support believing other lobbying organizations like the American Petroleum Institute, the American Tobacco Institute, Coke’s Beverage Institute for Health and Wellness.
You can read about Coke’s research in this quote.
A growing body of scientific evidence shows that too much sugar is bad for our health. And Coca-Cola has a history of pouring money into misinformation campaigns aimed at casting doubt on that evidence. One of the company’s tactics has been to fund its own scientific research through in-house research institutes such as the “Beverage Institute for Health and Wellness” established in 2004.
Coca-Cola and other companies spread disinformation by funding questionable research programs hosted by academic institutions—and then use the names of those reputable establishments and scientists to promote their agenda. – UCSUSA
Both politically left-leaning and politically right-leaning individuals spend a lot of time pointing to phantom reasons for violent crime. And they do not know because they have not bothered to run the numbers as was performed for this article.
The primary predictor of violent crime in the US is race. Some might try to backdoor into this article by stating that the real reason is poverty, but we must emphasize that income was already controlled for in the covariance. And individual states show this relationship. West Virginia has the fourth-lowest income of all states and one of the highest gun ownership rates, yet it has one of the lower levels of murder.
And politically left-leaning individuals need to remember their position: race does not influence violent crime; the only issue is poverty or income.
Those people are wrong.
There might be people who do not like the results, but the covariance was performed by an application that does not have a political leaning and does not try to rig numbers to meet a preconceived objective. We entered what is agreed upon and widely published statistics for each state, and when we ran the covariance, this is the outcome it produced.
The obsession with violent crime demonstrates a fundamental innumeracy in the general population. The US makes the lives of its citizens far more complicated than it needs to be and allows all manner of abuse by powerful entities against the common person, animals, and the environment. There is not a corner of the US that is not touched by some mean-spirited law or policy designed to benefit the few at the extreme expense of the many. Yet all of this seems to be swept under the rug when the topic of violent crime is discussed as a topic. Many changes could be made to society that would reduce the rate of violent crime and all of the other negative statistics as well. However, there is far less interest in these mechanisms and little interest in analyzing the real versus projected reasons for violent crime.