The problem of gun-related violence is extremely important in the United States. Although, since 1993, rates of firearms-related injuries declined significantly, in 2001, it still was the second leading cause of injury mortality, and in 2018 it is still quite a serious problem (Hanh et al., 2005). Each year, numerous crimes are committed with the help of firearms. Hence, there are quite intense debates in society about whether it is necessary to adopt strict gun control laws or not. Supporters of less strict gun control laws claim that it is a right of every citizen to have a gun to protect oneself against criminals and that there is no association between gun control laws and violent crimes. Several studies on the association between right-to-carry laws state that such laws allow potential victims to protect themselves against violent crimes. For instance, the study by Lott & Mustard (1997) has found that gun control laws deter violent crimes and don’t produce an increase in accidental deaths. Still, such studies are criticized by other researchers, who claim that right-to-carry laws have no positive effect on the decrease of violent crime rates (Black & Nagin, 1998). Opponents of mild gun control laws believe that such laws stimulate people to commit crimes and make it easier for criminals to purchase firearms. Additionally, opponents claim that mild gun control laws contribute to mass shootings. Therefore, it is essential to use research in order to obtain objective information about the relationship between gun control laws and violent crime.
While scholars have made numerous attempts to investigate how gun control laws are related to violent crimes, there are still many gaps in the scientific literature, preventing people from understanding all the possible effects and factors related to gun control laws. Nowadays, it is possible to conduct a longitudinal study comparing violent crime levels in states having strict gun control laws and in states having mild gun control laws to identify whether any correlation between violent crimes and gun control laws exists.
While violent crime rates in the United States are quite high, there are countries that also face similar or even bigger problems. For instance, Brazil has the world’s highest homicide rates (de Fatima Marinho de Souza et al., 2007). In 2007, about 45,000 were murdered each year, and homicide was the leading cause of death among males aged 15-44. In fact, 90% of all homicides in this age group were committed with firearms. As can be seen, the situation in Brazil was much worse than in the modern-day United States. To change this situation for the better, the Brazilian government decided to adopt strict gun-control laws. These laws raised the minimum age for gun purchase to twenty-five and imposed new penalties, such as tougher prison sentences and increased fines. De Fatima Marinho de Souza et al. (2007) investigated data from the Brazilian Ministry of Health’s vital statistics system and found that these laws were rather effective and that firearm-related mortality declined 8 percent after one year of adoption of these laws. At the same time, this study has some serious limitations. It was funded by the government, and apparently, government officials are interested in showing that the measures implemented by them were effective. Additionally, Brazil’s economy also improved, which could also result in a decrease in violent crimes. Brazil has also increased the number of police; therefore, this may be another cause of why violent crimes decreased there. Hence, the findings of this study are rather doubtful.
Another interesting study that examined the relationship between gun ownership and firearm homicide rates in the United States was conducted by Siegel et al. (2013). This study is quite informative because it is longitudinal and examines the relatively long period from 1981 to 2010. The authors examined homicide rates across 50 different states; therefore, the study can be considered objective because it reflects the situation all over the U.S. It’s interesting that homicide rates are constantly decreasing in the U.S., still states where levels of household firearm ownership are high also have high homicide rates (Siegel et al., 2013). This study also supports the claim that the availability of firearms contributes to more violent crimes. Some studies reviewed by Makarios & Pratt (2012) also indicate that misdemeanants and felons who purchase firearms are at greater risk of using these firearms in illegal activities. Hence, hypothetically, strict gun control laws can decrease household firearm ownership levels, which in turn will result in lower violent crime rates. Similar findings were provided by Duggan (2001), who indicated that changes in gun ownership are significantly positively related to changes in homicide rates. However, Duggan (2001) emphasizes that a decrease in gun ownership predominantly decreases the number of violent crimes in which guns are used. Hence, the effect of a decrease in gun ownership may have no impact on violent crimes that were committed without firearms. So the availability of firearms doesn’t make people more aggressive, but it rather provides potential criminals with the possibility to use these firearms to commit violent crimes. Duggan (2001) states that about 70% of all violent crimes are committed with firearms, which is a relatively high amount. Therefore, strict gun control laws can at least have an impact on these 70% of violent crimes.
At the same time, some authors argue that gun control laws are not effective in reducing violent crimes. Levitt (2001) states that there were some stringent gun-control policies in Washington D.C. implemented in 1976 on handgun acquisition, as well as the ban on handgun ownership in Chicago in 1982. However, these policies didn’t make a significant change in violent crime rates. Even after the adoption of strict gun control laws, the situation in Chicago with violent crimes didn’t change for the better. Levitt (2001) states that policies raising the cost of gun ownership would be more effective. This author claims that the drop in the violent crime rates in the U.S. can be explained by four factors such as increases in the number of police, the rising prison population, the receding crack epidemic, and the legalization of abortion. These factors can be more effective in terms of the reduction of violent crimes compared to strict gun control laws. Of course, while strict gun control laws may decrease violent crimes, it is always necessary to consider confounding variables and other secondary factors, such as economic growth, as it was mentioned by de Fatima Marinho de Souza et al. (2007). It is also necessary to mention the findings of the systematic review conducted by Hanh et al., (2005). The authors reviewed studies published between 1979 and March 2001, 63 studies in total. Hanh et al., (2005) concluded that the evidence is insufficient to determine whether U.S. firearms laws affect violence. Hanh et al., (2005) have found serious limitations in many studies, such as no control for confound variables, change in rates before law adoption, short follow-up period, biases, and many others. The authors emphasize that more studies must be conducted to understand how firearms laws affect crime levels as well as violence. Another study, conducted by Gius (2014), has found that the assault weapons ban didn’t significantly affect murder rates at the state level. Hence, there are numerous studies proving that strict gun control laws are not effective in reducing violent crimes, and the reduction in violent crimes can be attributed to other factors that are often ignored by authors.
As can be seen, scholars have different opinions on the effectiveness of various laws related to firearms. Despite the fact that hundreds of studies were conducted, they all have certain limitations and often provide controversial findings. Therefore, it is essential to conduct more studies to obtain objective information on the relationship between strict gun control laws and violent crime rates. While the vast majority of studies indicate a positive correlation between strict gun control laws and violent crime rates, it is still not clear whether causation is also present. Additionally, laws in the U.S. change quite often as well as crime rates; hence new studies must be conducted to investigate the situation in the modern-day U.S.
The purpose statement and the research question
The purpose of the study is to investigate the difference in violent crime rates between states where gun control laws are strict and between the states where gun control laws are mild or moderate. The information obtained with the help of the study can be used to develop more effective gun control laws. The research question of the study is “Do states that have strict gun control laws have less violent crime?”. As it was mentioned, there is a gap in the scientific literature regarding this research problem, and many studies provide controversial findings. Hence, this study is important because it will contribute to the existing scientific knowledge and improve understanding of the violent crime problem.
The study will use quantitative design because it aligns with the purpose of the study as well as a research question. Quantitative design can provide more reliable and objective information compared to qualitative design. The authors will use statistical analysis to identify the statistically significant results and answer the research question. The independent variables for this study are:
Independent variables: IV1 – States with strict gun control laws, IV2 – States with mild gun control laws.
Independent variables are categorical and nominal, meaning that there are two main categories that do not have any intrinsic order.
There will be several dependent variables used in this study, including murder and nonnegligent manslaughter rate, rape rate, robbery rate, aggravated assault rate, and total violent crime rate. Many studies use only the total violent crime rate as the dependent variable, however by comparing different types of violent crime rates, it will be possible to identify either strict gun control laws affect only certain types of violent crimes or whether they have no impact on these types of violent crime at all. Additionally, the total violent crime rate will be compared across different states.
Dependent variables: DV1 – murder and nonnegligent manslaughter rate, DV2 – rape rate, DV3 – robbery rate, DV4 – aggravated assault rate, DV5 – total violent crime rate.
The states will be categorized by using the following criteria: carry permit required, purchase permit required, registration of a firearm, open carry allowed, background checks on private gun sales required, and magazine size restriction. All these are considered for both handguns and long guns. The following states are identified as having strict gun control laws based on the aforementioned criteria: California, Delaware, the District of Columbia, Hawaii, Illinois, Maryland, Massachusetts, Minnesota, New Jersey, and New York. All other states are included in the “states with mild gun control laws” category. The categorization is based on the information derived from gun laws of each state and from the gunstocarry.com website.
The main source of data used in this study is the Uniform Crime Reporting program. This program was created in 1929 by the International Association of Chiefs of Police in order to obtain objective information related to different crimes committed across all states. Since 1930, the FBI has been in charge of collecting, publishing, and archiving these statistics (UCR, 2014). It should be noted that the latest statistical data included in this database is dated 2014 year. UCR tool is rather convenient because it allows examining data related to each state and provides information regarding the total population of each state by year, as well as rates of each violent crime. UCR is used in numerous studies and is accepted by researchers as a reliable source of data. Additionally, this data collection instrument will save resources and time for the researchers. Surveys, interviews, and other data collection methods don’t align with the purpose of the study and don’t allow obtaining objective information regarding the research problem.
It is possible to use qualitative research design in future studies to obtain the subjective opinion of citizens living in different states regarding safety and perceived violent crime rates. However, such research design will require too many resources and time and won’t be as objective as quantitative research design. Still, qualitative methods can also be useful for a better understanding of the research problem and people’s beliefs regarding strict gun control laws. For instance, it is possible to ask people questions such as “Do strict gun control laws prevent you from purchasing a weapon?” or “Do you think strict gun control laws result in higher safety?”. Thus, it can be recommended to conduct more qualitative or mixed-methods studies in the future. Qualitative studies can provide a better understanding of confounding variables and can be used to derive a theory explaining factors stimulating people to commit violent crimes.
The data will be analyzed with the help of SPSS and other statistical analysis methods. Researchers will compare violent crime rates among states that don’t have strict gun control laws and states that have mild or moderate gun control laws. The researchers will find out how gun control laws are related to each type of violent crime and what types of violent crimes are affected by gun control laws the most. Obviously, the most important variable and the most important indicator of violent crime level is the total violent crime rate. In general, researchers will use between-group comparisons. Two groups that will be compared are states with strict gun control laws and states with mild gun control laws. To conduct such comparisons, multivariate ANOVA analysis will be used. This analysis allows for comparing two or more groups and multiple outcomes related to these groups (Keselman et al., 1998). The statistically significant results will be reported by the researchers, and conclusions will be drawn from the results. This study is not funded by any government or any other organization, which has a positive impact on the objectivity of the authors and conclusions. There are no ethical implications related to this study because there will be no participants involved in the data collection process.
The implications of possible findings
The possible findings can have numerous useful implications for understanding the problem of violent crimes and their relation to gun control laws. The problem of gun violence and mass shootings is quite serious in the United States compared to other developed countries (Hanh et al., 2005). Each violent crime committed in the U.S. results in multiple negative consequences. The U.S. losses much money because of victims of violent crimes, as well as because of keeping criminals in prisons. However, most importantly, violent crimes often result in deaths. Therefore, any solution that may decrease the number of violent crimes may save thousands of lives as well as huge financial resources. Nowadays, the most obvious solution for the prevention of violent crimes is effective legislation and particularly strict gun control laws. Thus, possible findings can make a positive social change by proving that strict gun control laws reduce violent crimes and will result in the adoption of such laws in states where violent crime rates are high and where mild gun control laws still exist. Additionally, the findings of this study may inform future research and serve as a basis for future studies. Nowadays, there is still a lack of studies on the topic of gun control laws, and it is essential to make the scientific community and public become aware of this problem. One of the biggest advantages of this study is that it considers different types of violent crimes committed. Unfortunately, most studies pay attention only to the total crime rate indicator, which may result in a worse understanding of the problem.
The resource needs and timetable
This study doesn’t require many resources and doesn’t require much time. The data collection method chosen for this study doesn’t require researchers to gather data from the sample of participants. Still, the researchers will have to compare violent crime rates across 50 different states, which can be time-consuming. The researchers don’t require any funding to conduct this study, which improves the objectivity of the results. As was previously mentioned, some studies on violent crime rates are often sponsored by the government, such as the study by de Fatima Marinho de Souza et al., (2007). Such studies are often criticized by other researchers for being not independent.
The approximate timetable for the research is:
- Creation of the research plan (1 day)
- Writing the extensive literature review (3 days)
- Collecting and normalizing data from the UCR database (2 days)
- Analyzing data (1 day)
- Writing conclusions based on the analysis (2 days)
- Writing all other sections and adding charts and graphs (3 days)
- Editing (1 day)
The whole research project will take up to 2 weeks.
Black, D. A., & Nagin, D. S. (1998). Do right-to-carry laws deter violent crime?. The Journal of Legal Studies, 27(1), 209-219.
de Fatima Marinho de Souza, M., Macinko, J., Alencar, A. P., Malta, D. C., & de Morais Neto, O. L. (2007). Reductions in firearm-related mortality and hospitalizations in Brazil after gun control. Health Affairs, 26(2), 575-584.
Duggan, M. (2001). More guns, more crime. Journal of political Economy, 109(5), 1086-1114.
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Ucrdatatool.gov. (2014). Uniform Crime Reporting Statistics. [online] Available at: https://www.bjs.gov/ucrdata [Accessed 6 June 2017].