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Firearms and Violence: A Critical Review
accuracy of survey responses to sensitive questions and the methods of data collection have resulted in estimated prevalence rates that differ by a factor of 20 or more. These differences in the estimated prevalence rates indicate either that each survey is measuring something different or that some or most of them are in error. Accurate measurement on the extent of defensive gun use is the first step for beginning serious dialogue on the efficacy of defensive gun use at preventing injury and crime.
For such measurement, the committee recommends that a research program be established to (1) clearly define and understand what is being measured, (2) understand inaccurate response in the national gun use surveys, and (3) apply known methods or develop new methods to reduce reporting errors to the extent possible. A substantial research literature on reporting errors in other contexts, as well as well-established survey sampling methods, can and should be brought to bear to evaluate these response problems.
A total of 34 states have laws that allow qualified adults to carry concealed handguns. Right-to-carry laws are not without controversy: some people believe that they deter crimes against individuals; others argue that they have no such effect or that they may even increase the level of firearms violence. This public debate has stimulated the production of a large body of statistical evidence on whether right-to-carry laws reduce or increase crimes against individuals.
However, although all of the studies use the same basic conceptual model and data, the empirical findings are contradictory and in the committee’s view highly fragile. Some studies find that right-to-carry laws reduce violent crime, others find that the effects are negligible, and still others find that such laws increase violent crime. The committee concludes that it is not possible to reach any scientifically supported conclusion because of (a) the sensitivity of the empirical results to seemingly minor changes in model specification, (b) a lack of robustness of the results to the inclusion of more recent years of data (during which there were many more law changes than in the earlier period), and (c) the statistical imprecision of the results. The evidence to date does not adequately indicate either the sign or the magnitude of a causal link between the passage of right-to-carry laws and crime rates. Furthermore, this uncertainty is not likely to be resolved with the existing data and methods. If further headway is to be made, in the committee’s judgment, new analytical approaches and data are needed. (One committee member has dissented from this view with respect to the effects of these laws on homicide rates; see Appendix A.)