Crime statistics prove that gun control laws don’t work, according to Texas’ junior U.S. senator, Ted Cruz, who has made several such statements since his January 2013 swearing-in.
Cruz, a Republican, declared such a pattern in a Senate hearing Jan. 30, 2013. Earlier, he said in a Jan. 7, 2013, PBS "Newshour" interview: "If you look at the jurisdictions with the strictest gun control laws, almost without exception, they have the highest crime rates and the highest murder rates."
Is that so?
PolitiFact checked a similar statement in February 2011, when National Rifle Association leader Wayne LaPierre said that "violent crime in jurisdictions that recognize the right to carry (firearms for personal protection) is lower than in areas that prevent it."
LaPierre’s claim was rated False. After looking at information from interest groups, a federal research center and the FBI, PolitiFact concluded, "We don't see any evidence that state gun laws correlate with violent crime rates one way or the other."
Crime and correlation
We asked Cruz spokesman Sean Rushton for backup on the senator’s statement. He emailed us links to news stories, commentary pieces and research.
The material most directly related to the Cruz claim -- that stricter laws coincide with higher murder/crime rates -- boiled down to:
- Descriptions from conservative writer John Lott and the National Rifle Association’s lobbying arm (the NRA Institute for Legislative Action) of rising homicide rates in Chicago and Washington, D.C., after those locales banned handguns.
- An undated commentary piece from the conservative American Civil Rights Union that described a review in the Spring 2007 issue of the Harvard Journal of Law and Public Policy. The review looked at results of various studies and described individual cases of European countries with high gun ownership/low murder rates and vice versa.
- A description from an NRA-ILA fact-sheet of increased violent crime/burglaries and robberies in two other Illinois cities, Oak Park and Evanston, after they banned handguns.
- A Feb. 12, 2012, critique from NRA-ILA of the 2011 scorecard issued by the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence, saying that Brady gave high rankings (based on the presence of certain gun control laws) to states where crime rates were high.
- A Dec. 16, 2012, Washington Post opinion column that said handgun crime doubled in Britain after a ban and confiscations and that homicides declined slightly in Australia after a 1996 ban on semiautomatic rifles and semiautomatic and pump-action shotguns.
- An undated (London) Daily Mail news story describing a study of 17 countries that included the U.S. The study concluded that in 1999, citizens of Britain and Australia were most likely to be violent crime victims.
By phone, Rushton singled out research by Lott, an economist and author of "More Guns, Less Crime," which concluded that crime rates dropped in U.S. states and counties after "right to carry" laws were passed. PolitiFact mentioned Lott’s work in its LaPierre fact-check, but also noted it had been contradicted by other research, such as a 2004 review in which the National Research Council of the National Academies of science, engineering and medicine concluded data available at the time did not show any "link between right-to-carry laws and changes in crime."
Cruz’s materials covered a range of "jurisdictions" from local to international, but gave limited or case-by-case evidence rather than comprehensive or across-the-board comparisons.
They also illustrated a significant issue regarding such claims: Plenty of gun/crime research is out there, but with so many variables that comparisons are difficult.
One example: A Dec. 14, 2012, Washington Post blog entry said economist Richard Florida found that "states with tighter gun-control laws appear to have fewer gun-related deaths." Sounds like it disproves Cruz’s claim, right?
Well, but: Cruz specified crime and murder rates; Florida’s basis was the rate of firearm deaths (not limited to crime, thus including suicides and accidents). Cruz and the Post both talked about tight gun laws, but Cruz’s claim was not specific (Rushton later said he meant gun bans) while Florida identified states as "stricter" if they had any one of three specific gun laws (assault weapon ban, trigger lock law or safe storage requirement).
In other words, gun/crime data can be used to construct statements that appear to prove diametrically opposed points.
Another big caveat: Just because two conditions crop up together (i.e., they correlate) doesn’t mean one caused the other. Many firearms studies and news stories we reviewed included a statement to that effect -- and then went ahead and plunked down the stats together anyway.
And all that’s before you get to the issue of whether political bias has affected the research.
State by state
Cruz’s claim is bold: Strict laws "almost without exception" correlate with the "highest" crime and murder rates, he said.
Seeking a common-sense way to test that, we compared state-by-state FBI crime statistics, as PolitiFact did in 2011. State laws cover a lot of territory, because local gun laws can’t be stricter than state laws in most of the U.S., according to the NRA-ILA and Florida State University criminology professor Gary Kleck, who spoke with us via email.
To determine states which had the tightest gun laws, we looked at three tallies: one each from the NRA and two gun-control advocacy groups, the Washington-based Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence and the San Francisco-based Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence.
Kleck pointed us to the NRA’s "Compendium of State Firearms Laws," which showed 11 states with four or more restrictions as of July 9, 2010. Nine of those made the Top Ten on Brady’s 2011 gun-law scorecard and the Law Center’s list of "10 states with the strongest gun laws."
The nine: California, Connecticut, Hawaii, Illinois, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Jersey, New York and Rhode Island.
We charted crime and murder rates per 100,000 residents for those states using the FBI’s most recent complete Uniform Crime Reports: 2011.
- Crime rate: Hawaii had the highest crime rate of the nine states, coming in at 17th place overall, and New York the lowest, 47th. The average ranking for all nine states was 33rd place, reflecting the fact that most were in the bottom half.
- Murder rate: The nine states’ average position was 28th, with Maryland having the highest rate among them (fourth nationwide) and Rhode Island and Hawaii having the country’s lowest murder rates (49th and 50th, respectively).
The FBI discourages using its crime report data to create rankings, and in any case our method here is flawed. Kleck and Lott described for us how a "cross-sectional" study like this -- checking many places at one point in time -- misses history that might be relevant; for example, information on whether local crime was already high or low before a gun law passed.
City rates, global rates
Looking at states also excludes two Cruz-proferred examples: Washington, D.C., and Chicago. National Public Radio reporter Carrie Johnson summarized those situations in a Jan. 18, 2013, broadcast:
"There were two places in the country ... that still had sweeping bans on handguns. They were Chicago and Washington, D.C. But the Supreme Court in a pair of cases in 2008 and 2010 threw out those sweeping bans, so no more outright bans on handgun ownership in these places, but still some pretty tight restrictions. It's worth noting … homicide rates for D.C. are at record or near-record lows as of 2012, but Chicago had a sharp spike in murders last year."
We took the U.S. Census’ 25 largest cities as of July 1, 2011, and looked at their 2011 FBI statistics. Detroit, Baltimore, Philadelphia and Memphis, Tenn., each had higher murder rates than D.C. and Chicago. Crime rates did not compare as neatly, because Chicago’s data for rape (and thus for total violent crime) are excluded for reporting differences. Though property crime rate isn’t a perfect substitute in a discussion about guns and the law, we checked anyway and found that D.C. had the 12th and Chicago the 14th highest property crime rates among the 25 biggest cities.
Going from the micro level to the macro: International comparisons are tricky because many factors vary, from data collection methods to countries’ cultural backgrounds. Laws aren’t uniform either, said Sarah Parker, a co-author of the annual Small Arms Study compiled by the Graduate Institute of International and Development Studies in Geneva, Switzerland.
By email, Parker named a few countries with some of the strictest gun controls: Australia, Japan, Singapore, South Africa and the United Kingdom.
We checked United Nations homicide rates for 2008 in 187 countries, which ranged from 61.3 murders per 100,000 citizens in Honduras down to zero murders in Palau, Iceland and Monaco. Among the "strict" nations that Parker suggested, four were low (UK, 1.3 murders per 100,000; Australia, 1.2; Japan, 0.5; Singapore, 0.4) and one was high -- 10th overall, in fact (South Africa, 36.8).
Cruz said that "almost without exception," locales with the tightest gun laws have the highest crime and murder rates.
This point might hold for some places. However, we found multiple exceptions -- among cities, states and nations -- making this claim False.