Economists’ And Criminologists’ Views On Guns: Crime, Suicides, And Right-To-Carry Concealed Handgun Laws
Simon Fraser University (SFU) – Beedie School of Business
Crime Prevention Research Center
February 6, 2016
Economists and Criminologists have very different models of human behavior. A total of 74 out of 130 academics who published peer-reviewed empirical research on gun issues in criminology and economics journals responded to our survey. That was a 57% response rate. Looking at their views on gun control, our survey finds that these two groups have very different views on gun control that vary in systematic ways that we expected. While economists tend to view guns as making people safer, criminologists hold this position less strongly. Combining all the economists and criminologists together shows that researchers believe that guns are used more in self-defense than in crime; gun-free zones attract criminals; guns in the home do not increase the risk of suicide; concealed handgun permit holders are much more law-abiding than the typical American; and that permitted concealed handguns lower the murder rate. All those results are statistically significant. The survey of economists was conducted from August 25th to September 12th 2014. The survey of criminologists was conducted from May 29th to June 14th 2015.
Economists’ And Criminologists’ Views On Guns: Crime, Suicides, And Right-To-Carry Concealed Handgun Laws – introduction
What is the relationship between gun ownership and crime? Two ways to address this question are either a literature review or a survey of experts. In this report, we do the later, surveying economists and criminologists who have published peer-reviewed empirical research on the relationship between gun ownership, crime, and suicide. From August 25th to September 12th 2014, the Crime Prevention Research Center emailed a survey to 50 economists. Between May 7th and June 4th, 2015, the center asked 80 criminologists the same questions.
Economists and criminologists both deal with crime, but from very different perspectives. Gary Becker got economists started on this issue with his seminal contribution on the economics of crime in the Journal of Political Economy. Economics is based on the “law of demand” — as something becomes more costly, people do less of it. That is as the probability of arrest and conviction or the severity of punishment increases, economists are known for believing that there will be fewer crimes. In sharp contrast to criminologists, all empirical work by economists on crime includes law enforcement as a key factor. Whether economists think such reasoning applies to private gun ownership remains unclear.
Criminologists, lacking the same unifying type “law of demand” theory of behavior, may well be more divided. For example, Gary Kleck from Florida State University says that he doesn’t know of any “credible criminologist” who believes that “with more guns there are less crimes.”2 In contrast in 2005, the late James Q. Wilson3 concluded: “I find that the evidence presented by Lott and his supporters suggests that [right-to-carry] laws do in fact help drive down the murder rate.” This survey is the first of its kind to explicitly look at and compare the view of economists and criminologists on guns. Unlike another survey that was done on academics, this survey limits itself to those who have actually published empirical work on gun issues.
The survey here shows a great deal of uniformity in economists’ views. That goes for a wide range of gun issues including crime and self-defense, the risk of gun-free zones, firearms and suicide, and concealed handgun laws. Yet, nationality does matter. While economists from both the United States and Canada overwhelmingly believe that private gun ownership makes people safer, the few economists from Australia and Sweden tend to favor gun control.
For North American economists: 88% say that guns are more frequently “used in selfdefense than they are used in the commission of crime;” 91% believe that gun-free zones are “more likely to attract criminals than they are to deter them;” 72% do not agree that “a gun in the home causes an increase in the risk of suicide;” 91% say that “concealed handgun permit holders are much more law-abiding than the typical American;” and 81% say that permitted concealed handguns lower the murder rate. If we consider all those who have published worldwide and include the researchers from Australia and Sweden, these percentages are reduced by between 3 and 8 percentage points, but the numbers are still quite high.
The opinions expressed largely mirror the literature surveys on concealed carry laws. As shown later, this survey also provides results consistent with surveys of the general United States adult population conducted by Gallup and the Pew Research Center.
As expected, the survey results for criminologists turn out to be far more divided. For three of the five questions asked, responses were about equally divided. There is also no apparent difference between criminologists in North America or the rest of the world. However, there are consistently large differences between economists and criminologists, with economists much more likely to believe that there is a net benefit from gun ownership.
The view that people might see what they want to see as the causes of crime and its deterrence is an old one dating back to the 1980s with Ed Leamer and Walter McManus.
Combining all the economists and criminologists together shows that researchers believe that guns are used more in self-defense than in crime; gun-free zones attract criminals; guns in the home do not increase the risk of suicide; concealed handgun permit holders are much more law-abiding than the typical American; and that permitted concealed handguns lower the murder rate. All those results are statistically significant.