Causal Relation Between Gun Laws, Availability, and Crime in Dispute


If the man who killed 12 people and shot dozens more in a Colorado movie theater last week had tried to carry out his scheme in a different state, or at an earlier time, he would have faced more obstacles, says the New York Times. In California and Massachusetts, most assault rifles and large capacity ammunition magazines are banned, as they were across the U.S. from 1994 to 2004 by federal law. Before a 1986 change in the law, ammunition could not be legally sent by mail. States with the strictest gun laws — Hawaii, Massachusetts, New Jersey, New York — have among the lowest gun death rates, according to figures from the federal Centers for Disease Prevention and Control, and those with the most lenient laws — Alabama, Alaska, Louisiana, Mississippi — have among the highest.

Whether there is any causal relationship between the two remains in dispute, as does whether more deaths can be attributed to the availability of more guns. Prof. Philip Cook of Duke University says, “The effect of gun availability is not to increase the crime rate but to intensify the crime that exists and convert assaults into murders. I have never seen evidence that gun access influences the volume of violent crime. But when you add guns to a violent situation, you get a higher level of murder.” Gary Kleck, a professor of criminal justice at Florida State University, believes that guns do not bring murder; murder brings guns.

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