Harvard Publication On Gun Laws Resurfaces As Talks About Firearms Continue
A study comparing international gun laws shows that getting rid of firearms might not be the solution to reducing overall violence.
As Boston—and the country as a whole—looks for ways to reduce gun-related deaths and violence, a study from 2007 published in a Harvard University journal is suddenly regaining increased attention for its claims that more control over firearms doesn’t necessarily mean their will be a dip in serious crimes.
In an independent research paper titled “Would Banning Firearms Reduce Murder and Suicide?,” first published in Harvard’s Journal of Public Law and Policy, Don B. Kates, a criminologist and constitutional lawyer, and Gary Mauser, Ph.D., a Canadian criminologist and professor at Simon Fraser University, examined the correlation between gun laws and death rates. While not new, as gun debates nationwide heat up, the paper has resurfaced in recent days, specifically with firearm advocates.“International evidence and comparisons have long been offered as proof of the mantra that more guns mean more deaths and that fewer guns, therefore, mean fewer deaths. Unfortunately, such discussions [have] all too often been afflicted by misconceptions and factual error and focus on comparisons that are unrepresentative,” the researchers wrote in their introduction of their findings.
In the 46-page study, which can be read in its entirety here, Kates and Mauser looked at and compared data from the U.S. and parts of Europe to show that stricter laws don’t mean there is less crime. As an example, when looking at “intentional deaths,” or murder, on an international scope, the U.S. falls behind Russia, Estonia, and four other countries, ranking it seventh. More specifically, data shows that in Russia, where guns are banned, the murder rate is significantly higher than in the U.S in comparison. “There is a compound assertion that guns are uniquely available in the United States compared with other modern developed nations, which is why the United States has by far the highest murder rate. Though these assertions have been endlessly repeated, [the latter] is, in fact, false and [the former] is substantially so,” the authors point out, based on their research.
Kates and Mauser clarify that they are not suggesting that gun control causes nations to have higher murder rates, rather, they “observed correlations that nations with stringent gun controls tend to have much higher murder rates than nations that allow guns.”
The study goes on to say:
…the burden of proof rests on the proponents of the more guns equal more death and fewer guns equal less death mantra, especially since they argue public policy ought to be based on that mantra. To bear that burden would at the very least require showing that a large number of nations with more guns have more death and that nations that have imposed stringent gun controls have achieved substantial reductions in criminal violence (or suicide). But those correlations are not observed when a large number of nations are compared across the world.
The paper resurfaced at a time when Boston itself has been looking for ways to combat gun violence, and gun-related deaths, after a sharp uptick in shootings in the city this year.
As of July, more than 100 people had been impacted by shootings in Boston in some way, and more than 17 people had been killed in the city by someone with a firearm. The increase in incidents showed a nearly 30 percent increase in gun-related deaths compared with the same time period in 2012. That number has gone up slightly since then.
In order to quell the violence, officials have been mulling a gun buyback program, and increasing community outreach, but based on Harvard’s latest findings, that may not be the answer.
While the research published by Harvard may show a direct correlation between lower gun-related incidents and less stringent laws, and Boston, specifically, is experiencing an alleged gun crisis, overall, stricter rules on firearms in Massachusetts has seemingly led to fewer deaths, according to the latest data available, putting the state in the second to last slot for the lowest number of reported fatalities nationwide.
But when it comes to examining nations as a whole, the Harvard study suggests otherwise. “If more guns equal more death and fewer guns equal less death, areas within nations with higher gun ownership should in general have more murders than those with less gun ownership in a similar area. But, in fact, the reverse pattern prevails,” the authors wrote.
August 30, 6:00 p.m.: A previous version of this story labeled this study as "new," when in fact, it was first published in 2007. The study has regained the attention of gun advocates in recent days and is being used as an argument for less stringent laws in the U.S.