In today’s Friday interview, Carolina Journal’s Mitch Kokai speaks with Dr. John Moorhouse of Wake Forest University about gun control and crime rates. The interview aired on Carolina Journal Radio (click here to find the station near you).
Kokai: In addressing this topic of whether gun control reduces crime or crime increases gun control, you actually put together a fairly sophisticated study looking at crime data and gun-control laws across the 50 states.
Moorhouse: Yes, there is so much talk in the media and in the press about gun control reducing crime that, like some other scholars, I wanted to take a systematic look at that and did so by trying to explain crime rates in the states. It depends on a number of factors, which we could talk about, if you like. And also, since states have different degrees of gun control, whether that made a difference in the crime rate. But do it systematically.
Kokai: Before we get into the details of your study, this was sparked by hearing something on the radio that didn’t strike you as perhaps something that had been well thought out or studied entirely.
Moorhouse: A spokesman for the Family Physicians Against Violence said on a radio program several years ago that even if a state had good and strict gun control laws, they could be undermined and made ineffective if an adjacent state had weak gun control laws. And so, I was thinking, as an economist, I ought to be able to test that hypothesis. The good doctor said it as if it were a fact, but I interpreted it as a hypothesis worth exploring.
Kokai: So, how did you go about trying to test just how good the correlation was between gun control laws and the amount of crime?
Moorhouse: Well, as I said earlier, I’m looking at, or looked at, crime rates by state. And there are a number of factors: demographic factors, economic factors and law enforcement factors. And I took those into account. Then I had an index of gun control, which was constructed out of 30 facets of gun control put into six categories and weighted. For example, a state that had a five-day waiting period before you could take possession of a gun, they received a higher score than a state that had only a three-day waiting period. Also, the index from the Open Society Institute, I looked at the degree of law enforcement of gun control. And so then I used the index as a measure of gun control. I looked at the demographic variables, the economic variables, the law enforcement variables, and then this gun control index, which allowed me to compare the degree of gun control in one state with another. And then we looked at the adjacent states and their level of gun control and constructed a measure of the so-called contagion effect.
Kokai: So, putting together this study, seeing this index of gun control, comparing that then to the crime rates in the 50 states, did you find any relationship?
Moorhouse: I found absolutely no support that gun control laws reduce crime rates. And crime rates, we looked at property crime, violent crimes — ten categories of crimes — and in not one of them did we find any impact of gun control, nor did we find that there was this contagion effect. That is, that a neighboring state with weak gun control laws seemed to have no effect on crime rates in the primary states. So, we found no evidence that gun control, or its absence, had an effect on crime rates. But if I may go on, what we did find was kind of the reverse. In areas that had high crime rates, there seemed to be political support for more stringent gun control. And so we looked at using crime to explain the gun control index. We took into account some other factors, and we found very strong evidence that high crime rates lead to more stringent gun control laws. But subsequent to that, there was no impact on crime rates.
Kokai: One of the political implications of your study would seem to be that the argument that you set out to test would lead some to think that, well, if we want the most effective control, then all the states should adopt the most stringent forms of gun control to avoid having this spillover or the contagion effect that you were talking about. It sounds as if your study would suggest that, no, that wouldn’t have any difference. You’d just have stronger gun control with no impact on crime.
Moorhouse: Yes, exactly. There is just no support for this contagion effect. But you —continually hear people talk about good gun control laws being undermined by the laws of an adjacent state. I had not seen any studies that really explored that in a systematic, statistical way. And our study, again, found no support for that hypothesis.
Kokai: Scholars always like to have their studies replicated to determine that what they found is, in fact, what the patterns would show in repeated tests. Would you like to see other people perform the same or similar tests to try to find the same result?
Moorhouse: Absolutely. There are interesting questions that are related to the ones we addressed, or addressing our questions in a slightly different manner. This is always welcome. I am not under the illusion that this is the final study that will settle all the debates. It won’t. It’s just one among many, and I hope that there are additional studies in the future.
Kokai: But the bottom line is, based on what you know from your study at this point, there doesn’t seem to be any link between gun control laws and the crime rates?
Moorhouse: No, we found none. And I should mention that the results of our study are consistent with some studies done in the ‘80s and ‘90s that were pretty sophisticated. There just isn’t any hard evidence that gun control affects crime rates.