The Center for American Progress released a study last week that suggests a link between “tough” gun laws and a reduction in “gun violence.” Right on cue, the New York Times ran a story on the left-wing think tank’s findings, assuring its readers that “a growing body of evidence… supports the link between gun restrictions and a reduction in violence.” There’s just one problem: according to the researchers themselves, their findings don’t prove anything.
The study uses a third-party metric to assign each state a score based on the “strength” of its gun laws. It then considers rates of “gun violence” in those states using a variety of categories including homicides, suicides, accidental deaths, etc. After compiling the data, the study concludes that the ten states with the strongest gun laws have lower rates of “gun crime” than the ten states with the weakest laws.
And voila! Restrictive gun laws keep people from killing other people (and themselves) with guns.
According to the researchers themselves, “there are an interconnected web of social and economic issues that can have an impact on rates of violence in a community, such as persistent poverty, lack of employment and educational opportunities, and a breakdown in the police-community relationship that imperils community safety.”
In other words, lots of factors affect how much violence a state experiences in a given year. Those factors would have to be considered in tandem with gun laws before any real conclusions could be drawn.
And the researchers admit as much. Hidden in a short paragraph towards the end of the study, they include this statement: “In this regard, correlation does not prove causation and this report does not conclude that gun violence is solely explained by weak gun laws. Nonetheless, a strong association, measured by the correlation coefficient, does suggest a potential causal relationship.”
A “potential causal relationship.” The Center for American Progress can’t say that strong gun laws lead to a reduction in crime because they simply don’t know. They’ve complied two sets of statistics and placed them together in the same report, but they haven’t managed to prove that one causes the other.
I’m not a statistician, so I’ll leave the technical analysis to someone who knows what they’re talking about. (I do have questions about how they determined which states have “strong” and “weak” gun laws, and why they didn’t consider the remaining 30 states between the extremes.) But even reading this report as a layman, I found so many backtracking and conditional statements that I had a hard time taking it seriously. The Center’s study strikes me as more of a political stunt than serious research, designed to fool people who don’t understand the difference between correlation and causation.
In any case, the principle still holds true: laws target the law-abiding. Criminals will carry loaded firearms whether state law permits them or not. The same holds true for universal background checks and “assault weapon” bans. Restricting the right to self-defense doesn’t make anyone safer—it simply makes the law-abiding more vulnerable to criminal action.