Criminals and guns: The recent Supreme Court decision on the Second Amendment got me thinking about guns. One argument you hear all the time is that criminals will always have their guns regardless of how many law-abiding folks have them. Frankly, I don't believe it.
While it is true that having a gun makes sense in the places where street criminals are likely to spend their time (not to mention to facilitate their crimes), but the truth is that these guys, as a class, are a lazy, unresourceful, opportunistic lot.
I remember when I read the book Monster, the autobiography of mega-Crip Kody Scott, half the time that he committed a violent crime or was a victim, he was for one reason or another unarmed, and this guy is the hardest of the hardcore. Many criminals are anything but professional--they just occasionally wander into crime--so we can't expect them necessarily to have the proper tools of the trade.
The General Social Survey asked 10,552 people if they have aver been arrested (not a perfect measure of criminality, but it's the best available) and if they have a handgun at home. Here are the percent who do by region:
Percent with a handgun
East North Central
West North Central
East South Central
West South Central
There are two things to immediately take note of. First, most criminals do not have a gun. In New England, it's less than 10%, and in no region is it more than 40%. This contradicts the idea that handgun ownership among lawbreakers is widespread, much less universal. (I'll concede that many in our sample are not serious crooks). Second, ownership levels for both groups are similar within region: illegal gun ownership seems to follow legal levels. Let's get more precise and run a Pearson correlation: not too impressive--it's only .92.
This finding contradicts the idea that gun possession among criminals is independent of ownership levels among law-abiding folks. Now, it is theoretically possible that this correlation is a reflection of non-criminals responding to criminal gun ownership by acquiring guns for self-defense, but I strongly suspect that the causal arrow in the opposite direction is more important. (As an example of what I mean, around 500,000 guns are stolen each year.)
Don't get me wrong--I'm all for gun rights and agree with the court's decision, but I'm a conservative--the type of person who realizes that life is always, always trade-offs.
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