Prison Law Blog

Sara Mayeux

[Guest Post] Supply-side murder control?

with 4 comments

This is the first in a series of guest posts from Peter Wagner of the Prison Policy Initiative. These will be short posts on a range of criminal justice topics (not just prison legal issues) that I hope will spark discussion. All opinions are his, etc.

by Peter Wagner

The National Rifle Association is concerned that we aren’t using enough guns. An article in today’s New York Times explains that the National Rifle Association is pushing back against efforts to control gun ownership and use by advancing “Stand Your Ground” laws that actually encourage people to use their weapons. The laws expand the self-defense doctrine to make it easier for someone to shoot another person and claim “self-defense”. These laws are in the news due to the Trayvon Martin case, where an unarmed 17-year-old African-American was shot and killed by a Neighborhood Watch leader in Florida. Last night, after 6 weeks, the prosecutor finally announced that murder charges are being filed.

The NRA bumpersticker declares that guns aren’t the problem: “Guns don’t kill people, People kill people”. But it’s hard to deny that guns are facilitating the result. Internationally, the evidence is clear that nations with higher gun availability have higher gun homicide rates. (See page 43 of this UN report for a fascinating, if overly academic, chart showing the clear correlation.)

Within the U.S., the historical trend is quite clear. Check out this graph that matches the number of handgun homicides each year with the number of handguns produced: 

The gun lobby would rather not talk about the correlation between the production of handguns and dying. The evidence there is clear. So the question, then, is whether the gun lobby is trying to distract from the problems that guns cause, or are they trying to create them?

The author is Executive Director of the Prison Policy Initiative. This article is one in a series of short articles exploring under-discussed facts about the criminal justice system.


Written by sara

April 12, 2012 at 11:08 am

4 Responses

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  1. […] Wagner has a new guest post on the Prison Law Blog, Supply-side murder control?, about the gun lobby's support for laws like "Stand Your Ground" and the connection between handgun […]

  2. […] Law Blog, a blog I enjoy very much, today posts the following graph to support the proposition that guns “cause” homicide, in the sense […]

  3. I’m not sure this graph says what you argue it says, Peter. The peaks aren’t aligned in a way that would suggest causality. Rather, the homicide rates peak before the production rates. I don’t think you were trying to suggest that gun manufacturers are responding to gun murderers’ demands.

    Hadar Aviram

    April 13, 2012 at 8:58 am

    • I highly doubt gun manufacturers are responding to murder’s demands. If production is following the handgun murder rates, we’d be looking at a third, hidden, variable. What that might be is a good question. But the conversation I think we need to have is about whether the correlation between these two variables is significant and whether social policy can influence the murder rate.

      To me, what is frightening about the NRA’s “Stand Your Ground” campaign is not it’s direct results on self-defense situations, but the indirect results that normalize gun usage. And, sadly, that appears to be exactly why they are doing it.



      April 13, 2012 at 9:22 am

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