A Gun Study with Something for Everyone

Read it here (hat tip to Tyler Cowen). Using state-level data from the former Confederacy all the way back to 1913, it checks to see if trends in black gun ownership correlate with trends in lynchings and homicides. The key findings:

• From 1913 to 1949, lynchings were less common when and where more black people had guns, even after accounting for the overall (downward) trend in lynchings, the fact that some states had persistently high or low lynching rates, and other control variables.

• During the civil-rights era, higher black gun ownership (relative to white gun ownership) correlated with lower black homicide rates (also relative to white rates). It also led to fewer black deaths being classified as “gun accidents,” which Jim Crow coroners sometimes did to cover up murders of black Americans.

• In the modern era, this relationship flipped, such that relative black homicide rates increased with relative black gun ownership.

Taking the results at face value, the study drives home why we might see gun ownership as a fundamental right even if it sometimes increases interpersonal violence. It’s a civil-rights issue.

Though of course, no study should simply be taken as fact. This paper is a complicated undertaking with lots of different control variables, meaning the results might be different if you picked a different setup for the analysis. Even within the paper, each analysis is run a few different ways, and results that aren’t statistically significant are scattered throughout. Gun ownership is measured through a proxy, the percentage of suicides that are committed with guns, that strongly correlates with gun ownership but might pick up cultural differences as well. And getting from correlation to causation is always hard; for example, people can buy guns in response to high homicide rates, and early-20th-century restrictions on black gun ownership were in part a function of the white racism that also led to lynchings.

File it under fascinating and worthy of further exploration, and give the paper a read if you’re up for slogging through some intense statistics.

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