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Researcher perceptions of lawful, concealed carry of handguns: do economists and criminologists differ in their views of firearms' effects on crime and suicide?

What, according to experts, is the relationship between gun ownership and crime? Two ways to address this question are a literature review and a survey of experts. In this report, we do the latter, surveying economists and criminologists who have published peer-reviewed empirical research on their perceptions of the relationship between gun ownership, crime, and suicide. This is the first survey to undertake such a comparison; a contemporaneous survey that examined the views of academics on guns surveyed researchers who had simply used the words "firearm" or "gun" in their published work; despite that, they surveyed less than a quarter of the economists we surveyed. We believe our survey better represents the views of academic experts.

The experts we examined can be divided into two groups: economists and criminologists. Both deal with crime, but from very different perspectives. Gary Becker got economists started on this issue with his seminal 1968 Journal of Political Economy article, "Crime and Punishment: An Economic Approach." Economics is based on the "law of demand," which holds that as something becomes more costly, people do less of it. Applied to crime, this concept indicates that crime will decrease as the probability of arrest and conviction or the severity of punishment increases. In sharp contrast to criminologists, all empirical work by economists on crime includes law enforcement as a key factor. Criminologists do not have a similar unifying theory of human behavior.

There are other reasons to expect different responses from the two groups of crime researchers. For instance, economists are generally more skeptical of regulation, focusing on its unintended effects and pointing out that regulations designed to save lives may actually result in more deaths. Another difference is political affiliation; though academic economists and criminologists are both predominantly Democrats, Democratic economists outnumber their Republican counterparts by almost three to one, while in sociology (of which criminology is a subfield) there are about 37 Democratic faculty members for every Republican.

METHODOLOGY

We obtained our survey list of economists using the academic publication database JSTOR, selecting the Economics subset (632 sources), and doing a full-text search for "gun control" for all years limited to peer-reviewed books and articles (not book reviews or publications categorized as "miscellaneous"). We got 234 hits. We then obtained copies of those articles to determine if they contained empirical work on the issues of guns and crime, accidents, or suicides. Empirical studies that only dealt with voting behavior by politicians or the electorate, or were surveys themselves, were excluded.

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Our questionnaire was very short, consisting of between six and 11 questions. On average, the survey took economists three minutes and one second to complete. We distributed it by email to a list of 53 researchers who had published peer-reviewed research on firearms in economics journals from January 1997 to July 2013. In three cases the email address was no longer valid and we were unable to find a current email. Of the valid email addresses, 43 were Americans, four were Canadians, two were Australians, and one was Swedish. For those who didn't respond to the initial email, a couple of follow-up emails were sent, and then one of us, Gary Mauser, made a telephone call to encourage participation. For three individuals, the survey information was taken over the telephone.

Everyone who took the survey answered all the questions. The survey of economists was conducted from August 25th to September 12th, 2014. Overall, 35 of the 50 researchers responded, a 70% response rate. Of those, 32 (91%) were from the United States and Canada.

For criminologists, we assembled our sample using two databases (PROQUEST and EBSCO Host) of academics who had published at least one empirical study on firearms and violence in a peer-reviewed criminology journal (excluding forensics or injury publications) between January 2000 and December 2013. A total of 80 articles were identified. We then emailed our survey to 80 criminologists, 68 of whom were Americans, nine Canadians, two Australians, and one from France. Overall, 39 of the 80 responded, a 49% response rate. Of those, 35 (90%) were from North America. With the exception of one respondent who apparently took several hours to complete the survey, the average respondent took two minutes and 45 seconds to complete the survey. The survey of criminologists was conducted from May 29th to June 14th, 2015.

Our survey contains more than 4.2 times as many economists and 22% more criminologists than the other survey of academics that we mentioned earlier in this article.

The survey itself was designed to elicit information on the researchers' intensity of views, using two versions of each question. First, a question was asked with the options: "Yes," "No," or 'I don't know." If the researcher answered either "Yes" or "No" to all questions, he or she was asked a total of five questions about guns. Whenever a researcher answered "I don't know," the question was repeated a second time but the possible answers were limited to "Yes" or "No." The respondent could be asked a maximum of 10 questions about guns. The survey was conducted using Surveygizmo.com.

The results are reported in Tables 1 and 2. Unfortunately, for a few criminology respondents, an error in the coding allowed them to select "I don't know" when the survey was supposed to force a "Yes" or "No" answer.

We know the identity of the individuals who took the survey and how they answered the survey, but individuals were promised anonymity in return for their allowing us to use their survey results.

OVERVIEW OF RESULTS

Our survey found a great deal of uniformity in economists' views on the effects of legal gun accessibility. 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.

Our limited responses from researchers outside of North America suggest 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 tended to be more skeptical of that benefit.

For North American economists, 88% said that guns are more frequently "used in self-defense 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% did not agree that "a gun in the home causes an increase in the risk of suicide"; 91% said that "concealed handgun permit holders are much more law-abiding than the typical American"; and 81% said 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, those percentages are reduced by between 3 and 8 percentage points, but the numbers are still quite high.

The survey results for criminologists were far more divided on the effects of legal firearms accessibility. For three of the five questions about guns that we asked, responses were about equally divided. There was also no apparent difference between criminologists in North America and the rest of the world according to our limited responses from non-North American criminologists. However, there were consistently large differences between economists and criminologists, with economists much more likely to believe that there is a net benefit from gun ownership.

Combining the responses from economists and criminologists together shows that the researchers, as a group, 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 were statistically significant.

COMPARISON BETWEEN ECONOMISTS AND CRIMINOLOGISTS

As groups, the surveyed economists and criminologists had starkly different views of the world. For example, the answers to Questions 1,2, and 5 clearly show that criminologists were much more divided than economists on the notion that legal gun accessibility deters crime. While the economists overwhelmingly believed that guns are more likely to be used in self-defense than in the commission of a crime and that gun-free zones attract criminals, criminologists were only slightly more likely to agree than disagree with those positions. The difference between the agreeing and disagreeing criminologists is not statistically significant, as indicated in Table 3.

Regarding Question 5, the economists and criminologists were both much more likely to believe that permitted, concealed handguns reduce murders than increase them, and the difference is statistically significant for both groups, as indicated in Table 3. But even when "leaners"--respondents who initially answered "I don't know"--were forced to answer "Increase," "Decrease," or "No effect," economists who think that concealed handguns reduce murders outnumbered economists who think concealed handguns increase murders by 12 to one. In contrast, criminologists who believe handguns decrease murder outnumbered criminologists who think concealed handguns increase murder by just two to one. Another difference involving concealed handguns is that about half of the criminologists believed that concealed handguns have no effect on murder, while just 20% of the economists did.

The differences between economists and criminologists continued for the other questions. The economists overwhelmingly believed that gun ownership doesn't increase the risk of suicides, while the criminologists were roughly equally divided, with no statistically significant difference. The majority of both economists and criminologists said that concealed permit holders are "much more law-abiding than the typical American," but the criminologists were much more divided on that issue.

Combining the economists' and criminologists' responses into a single group shows strong support for the claims 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 permitted, concealed handguns lower the murder rate. Support for each of those views exceeded opposition by at least 20 percentage points. And 51 percent of the combined respondents believed that permitted concealed handguns reduce murder rates, while only 11 percent believed that permitted concealed handguns increase murder rates--a difference of 40 percentage points. All those results are statistically significant at the 10% level.

COMPARISON TO U.S. GENERAL POPULATION SURVEYS

Interestingly, the results of our survey of academics roughly mirror recent survey results for the general U.S. population. Last fall, Gallup asked a representative group of Americans if they thought residents are safer with a gun in the home. People answered "Yes" by a margin of 63 to 30 percent. Another Gallup survey found that 60 percent of gun owners listed "Personal Safety/Protection" as the reason they own a gun. A December 2014 Pew Research Center survey found that 57 percent of Americans believe gun ownership "protects people from becoming victims of crime," whereas 37 percent believe that it "puts people's safety at risk."

Figure 1 sketches the results from Gallup gun surveys over time. It shows a dramatic change over the past 14 years as Americans have increasingly become more convinced that gun ownership makes them safer. (The Pew gun survey has only been asked twice.)

CONCLUSION

The point of this survey wasn't to discover whether economists or criminologists are correct in their views of the effects of legal gun accessibility. Instead, it simply identifies what their views are and how broadly they are held. Interestingly but (probably) not surprisingly, those views correspond closely with their fields' respective conceptions of human nature.

The vast majority of researchers who have published refereed articles in economics journals think that gun ownership makes people safer. With the exception of the effect of guns on suicide, a plurality of criminologists agrees with them, but the differences in the criminologist group are smaller and often not statistically significant. The only two answers where economists and criminologists generally agree and the results are statistically significant are that permit holders are "much more law-abiding than the typical American" and that concealed handgun permits are more likely to decrease murders than to increase them.

There has been a dramatic change in the views of Americans generally on legal gun accessibility, with their views becoming much closer to those of academics. While we don't have similar surveys of academics in previous years, the literature reviews have consistently pointed to similar results. It thus appears that the views of American adults on gun ownership are approaching those of economists.

American economists feel strongest about two issues: that gun-free zones attract rather than deter criminals, and that concealed handgun permit holders are much more law-abiding than the typical American. For criminologists, they feel strongest that permit holders are more law-abiding.

Combining the responses of economists and criminologists shows that by more than a 2:1 margin researchers view gun-free zones as a magnet for criminals and believe that permit holders are more law-abiding than the average American. These researchers believe by about a 5:1 margin that permitted concealed handguns are more likely to reduce than increase murder rates.

READINGS

* "Crime and Punishment: An Economic Approach," by Gary S. Becker. Journal of Political Economy, Vol. 76 (1968).

* "Estimates of the Deterrent Effect of Capital Punishment: The Importance of the Researcher's Prior Beliefs," by Walter S. McManus. Journal of Political Economy, Vol. 93 (1985).

* "Faculty Partisan Affiliations in All Disciplines: A Voter-Registration Study," by Christopher F. Cardiff and Daniel B. Klein. Critical Review, 2006.

* Firearms and Violence: A Critical Review, edited by Charles F. Wellford, John V. Pepper, and Carol V. Petrie. National Academy Press, 2005.

* "Insurance as Gun Control?" by Stephen G. Gilles and Nelson Lund. Regulation, Vol. 36, No. 3 (Fall 2013).

* "Let's Take the Con Out of Econometrics," by Edward E. Learner. American Economic Review, Vol. 73 (1983).

* More Guns, Less Crime, 3rd ed., by John R Lott Jr. University of Chicago Press, 2010.

* "Safe Storage Gun Laws: Accidental Deaths, Suicides, and Crime," by John R Lott Jr. and John Whitley. Journal of Law and Economics, Vol. 44, No. 2, Pt. 2 (October 2001).

* "The Debate on Shall Issue Laws, Continued," by Carlisle E. Moody and Thomas B. Marvell. Econ Journal Watch, Vol. 6, No. 2 (2009).

* "The Effects of Automobile Safety Regulation," by Sam Peltzman. Journal of Political Economy, Vol. 83, No. 4 (1975).

* "What a Balancing Test Will Show for Right-to-Carry Laws," by John R Lott Jr. University of Maryland Law Review, Vol. 71 (2012).

JOHN R. LOTT JR. is president of the Crime Prevention Research Center. GARY A. MAUSER is professor emeritus in the Department of Marketing at Simon Fraser University.
Table 1
GUN AVAILABILITY, CRIME, AND SUICIDE: SURVEY OF GUN RESEARCHERS
Possible answers include "I don't know"

                                         ECONOMISTS

                                       NORTH
                                     AMERICANS     ALL

QUESTION                               N = 32     N = 35

1) In the United        Yes             66%        60%
States, are guns
used in self-           No               6%         9%
defense more often
than they are used      Don't know      31%        31%
in the commission of
crime?

2) Are gun-free         Yes             81%        74%
zones, areas where
civilians are banned    No               3%        11%
from having guns,
more likely to          Don't know      16%        14%
attract criminals
than they are to
deter them?

3) Would you say        Yes             22%        23%
that, in the United
States, having a gun    No              63%        57%
in the home causes
an increase in the      Don't know      16%        20%
risk of suicide?

4) Would you say        Yes             88%        80%
that concealed
handgun permit          No               6%         9%
holders are much
more law-abiding        Don't know       6%        11%
than the typical
American?

5) How does allowing    Decrease        72%        66%
people to carry a
permitted, concealed    No effect       13%        11%
handgun affect the
murder rate?            Increase         0%         3%

                        Don't know      16%        20%

                                      CRIMINOLOGISTS

                                       NORTH
                                     AMERICANS     ALL      ALL

QUESTION                               N = 35     N = 39   N = 74

1) In the United        Yes             40%        38%      48%
States, are guns
used in self-           No              31%        33%      22%
defense more often
than they are used      Don't know      29%        28%      29%
in the commission of
crime?

2) Are gun-free         Yes             37%        38%      55%
zones, areas where
civilians are banned    No              37%        36%      24%
from having guns,
more likely to          Don't know      26%        26%      20%
attract criminals
than they are to
deter them?

3) Would you say        Yes             49%        46%      35%
that, in the United
States, having a gun    No              40%        44%      50%
in the home causes
an increase in the      Don't know      11%        10%      15%
risk of suicide?

4) Would you say        Yes             49%        51%      65%
that concealed
handgun permit          No              20%        21%      15%
holders are much
more law-abiding        Don't know      31%        28%      20%
than the typical
American?

5) How does allowing    Decrease        29%        28%      46%
people to carry a
permitted, concealed    No effect       43%        41%      27%
handgun affect the
murder rate?            Increase         9%        10%       7%

                        Don't know      20%        21%      21%

TABLE 2
GUN AVAILABILITY, CRIME, AND SUICIDE: SURVEY OF RESEARCHERS
Possible answers restricted to "Yes" and "No"

                                        ECONOMISTS

                                      NORTH
                                    AMERICANS    ALL

QUESTION                             N = 32     N = 35

1) In the United        Yes            88%       83%
States, are guns
used in self-           No             12%       17%
defense more often
than they are used
in the commission of
crime?

2) Are gun-free         Yes            91%       83%
zones, areas where
civilians are banned    No             9%        17%
from having guns,
more likely to
attract criminals
than they are to
deter them?

3) Would you say        Yes            28%       31%
that, in the United
States, having a gun    No             72%       69%
in the home causes
an increase in the
risk of suicide?

4) Would you say        Yes            91%       83%
that concealed
handgun permit          No             9%        17%
holders are much
more law-abiding
than the typical
American?

5) How does allowing    Decrease       81%       74%
people to carry a
permitted, concealed    No effect      19%       20%
handgun affect the
murder rate?            Increase       0%         6%

                                     CRIMINOLOGISTS *

                                      NORTH
                                    AMERICANS    ALL     ALL *

QUESTION                             N = 35     N = 39   N = 74

1) In the United        Yes            46%       44%      62%
States, are guns
used in self-           No             49%       51%      35%
defense more often
than they are used
in the commission of
crime?

2) Are gun-free         Yes            49%       51%      66%
zones, areas where
civilians are banned    No             49%       46%      32%
from having guns,
more likely to
attract criminals
than they are to
deter them?

3) Would you say        Yes            51%       49%      40%
that, in the United
States, having a gun    No             49%       51%      60%
in the home causes
an increase in the
risk of suicide?

4) Would you say        Yes            54%       56%      69%
that concealed
handgun permit          No             46%       44%      31%
holders are much
more law-abiding
than the typical
American?

5) How does allowing    Decrease       31%       31%      51%
people to carry a
permitted, concealed    No effect      49%       46%      34%
handgun affect the
murder rate?            Increase       14%       15%      11%

* Because of a computer error, one respondent responded that
he/she did not know.

TABLE 3
DO ECONOMISTS AND CRIMINOLOGISTS HAVE CLEAR VIEWS ON
THESE GUN ISSUES?
All respondents from around the world, with undecideds

                                   IS THE DIFFERENCE BETWEEN "YES"
                                     AND "NO" SIGNIFICANT AT THE
                                                10% LEVEL?

QUESTION                            ECONOMISTS     CRIMINOLOGISTS

1) In the United States, are           Yes               No
guns used in self-defense
more often than they are used         (0.0%)          (71.1%)
in the commission of crime?

2) Are gun-free zones, areas           Yes               No
where civilians are banned
from having guns, more likely         (0.0%)          (85.6%)
to attract criminals than they
are to deter them?

3) Would you say that, in the          Yes               No
United States, having a gun in
the home causes an increase           (0.0%)          (86.8%)
in the risk of suicide?

4) Would you say that                  Yes              Yes
concealed handgun permit
holders are much more                 (0.0%)           (2.1%)
law-abiding than the typical
American?

                                     IS THE DIFFERENCE BETWEEN
                                     "INCREASE" AND "DECREASE"
                                   SIGNIFICANT AT THE 10% LEVEL?

                                       Yes              Yes
5) How does allowing
people to carry a permitted,          (0.0%)           (7.0%)
concealed handgun affect the
murder rate?

                                                          IS THE
                                                        DIFFERENCE
                                       IS THE          BETWEEN THE
                                     DIFFERENCE       PERCENTAGE OF
                                      BETWEEN         ECONOMISTS AND
                                   ECONOMISTS AND    CRIMINOLOGISTS,
                                   CRIMINOLOGISTS       COMBINED,
                                  ANSWERING "YES"    ANSWERING "YES"
                                   SIGNIFICANT AT     SIGNIFICANT AT
QUESTION                           THE 10% LEVEL?     THE 10% LEVEL?

1) In the United States, are            Yes                Yes
guns used in self-defense
more often than they are used          (6.6%)            (0.05%)
in the commission of crime?

2) Are gun-free zones, areas            Yes                Yes
where civilians are banned
from having guns, more likely         (0.15%)            (0.01%)
to attract criminals than they
are to deter them?

3) Would you say that, in the           Yes                Yes
United States, having a gun in
the home causes an increase            (3.5%)             (6.8%)
in the risk of suicide?

4) Would you say that                   Yes                Yes
concealed handgun permit
holders are much more                 (0.86%)             (0.0%)
law-abiding than the typical
American?
                                       IS THE             IS THE
                                     DIFFERENCE         DIFFERENCE
                                      BETWEEN          BETWEEN THE
                                   ECONOMISTS AND     PERCENTAGE OF
                                   CRIMINOLOGISTS     ECONOMISTS AND
                                     ANSWERING       CRIMINOLOGISTS,
                                     "DECREASE"         COMBINED,
                                   SIGNIFICANT AT       ANSWERING
                                      THE 10%         "DECREASE" AND
                                       LEVEL?           "INCREASE"
                                                      SIGNIFICANT AT
                                                      THE 10% LEVEL?
                                        Yes                Yes
5) How does allowing
people to carry a permitted,          (0.10%)             (0.0%)
concealed handgun affect the
murder rate?

Note: Two-tailed t-test. Significance level in parentheses.
Estimates between economists and criminologists assume
unequal variances and unequal number of observations.

Figure 1
GALLUP SURVEY: DO GUNS MAKE HOMES SAFER?

        Percent of surveyed Americans

           Safer    More dangerous

2000        35%         51%
2004        42%         46%
2006        47%         43%
2014        63%         30%

Note: Table made from bar graph.
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Title Annotation:CRIMINAL JUSTICE
Author:Lott, John R., Jr.; Mauser, Gary A.
Publication:Regulation
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Jun 22, 2016
Words:3544
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