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Is There a Relationship between Guns and Freedom? Comparative Results from 59 Nations:

The near-final version of this forthcoming article from the Texas Review of Law & Politics is now available on SSRN. I wrote the article with Carl Moody and Howard Nemerov. Here's the abstract:

There are 59 nations for which data about per capita gun ownership are available. This Article examines the relationship between gun density and several measures of freedom and prosperity: the Freedom House ratings of political rights and civil liberty, the Transparency International Perceived Corruption Index, the World Bank Purchasing Power Parity ratings, and the Heritage Foundation Index of Economic Freedom. The data suggest that the relationships between gun ownership rates and these other measures are complex. The data show that (although exceptions can be found) the nations with the highest rates of gun ownership tend to have greater political and civil freedom, greater economic freedom and prosperity, and much less corruption than other nations. The relationship only exists for high-ownership countries. Countries with medium rates of gun density generally scored no better or worse than countries with the lowest levels of per capita gun ownership.

I blogged on VC about an earlier draft of this paper last spring. As is usually the case, VC commenters offered a variety of useful comments, which made the final paper better.

D.O.:
Did you try to compare different states inside U.S.?
12.28.2008 9:49pm
ARCraig (mail):
I'm as radically libertarian as they come, but I think there's more likely a correlation than a causation at work here. Governments that, on the whole, respect freedom more are also more likely to respect firearm freedom, rather than any existing stable governments holding off on gun restrictions for fear of armed revolt. I think the ability of armed revolution is essential for a free people, but even under an absolutist interpretation of the 2nd Amendment it's extremely unlikely that civilian gun ownership is going to affect government policy until the s*** really hits the fan.
12.28.2008 10:51pm
Jim Ison (mail):
Could you let me know how Canada did, with respect to both your researchers' perception of freedom in that country, and its rate of gun ownership?

Thanks!
12.29.2008 12:57am
trad and anon (mail):
Just looking at your charts (pp. 22, 23, 24), it's pretty obvious that the bulk of the effect is due to a single outlier: the United States, which has 0.9 guns per capita. Of the 55 non-U.S. nations in your dataset, only three have even half as many: Finland (0.55), Switzerland (0.46) and Yemen (0.61). By contrast, nearly half (25) have less than 0.1 guns per capita.

An "effect" that's produced by a single outlier data point is no effect at all. Write a paper, if you wish, arguing that the United States's high gun ownership levels have caused our high degree of political freedom and transparency, low levels of corruption, and conservative economic policies, or that those things have caused us to own a lot of guns. But admit you're writing a paper about the United States, not about a nonexistent cross-national effect.

I find it incredibly unlikely that high levels of gun ownership here have any interesting relationship to our degree of freedom. I think it's much more plausibly explained as the result of our nation's relative wealth (guns are consumer goods, and more money means you can buy more stuff), low population density (more chances for a hunting culture to develop), and distinctive culture of gun ownership.
12.29.2008 2:20am
Donny:
I'm curious to read the response to trad and anon's criticism. I imagine that if this paper had been published somewhere other than a student-run secondary law journal and a lower-ranked school, editors would have required at least a discussion of the US outlier.

I'm all for empirical legal studies. But the current structure of student-run law reviews is entirely unprepared to handle them. To have any credibility, you should attempt to publish this work in a journal that knows how to properly vet and edit quantitative analysis.
12.29.2008 4:20am
Jim at FSU (mail):

An "effect" that's produced by a single outlier data point is no effect at all. Write a paper, if you wish, arguing that the United States's high gun ownership levels have caused our high degree of political freedom and transparency, low levels of corruption, and conservative economic policies, or that those things have caused us to own a lot of guns. But admit you're writing a paper about the United States, not about a nonexistent cross-national effect.


Which is the exact same problem with 99.999 percent of the "studies" that claim that high gun ownership rates (or alternatively, lax gun control) cause high rates of murder. These studies all essentially rely upon the US's status as an outlier and naturally exclude the entire third world and Eastern Europe, which all suggest their premise is flawed.

I agree that this study is profoundly flawed, however. It reeks to me of the sort of heavily hypothetical "calculations" that the global warming people are fond of, with the only real difference being that Kopel admits his flaws up front.

The premise of the article is based upon a series of compounded estimates of various unknowable things (how many guns are owned by civilians) compared to ratings produced through an essentially subjective process (asking people their perceptions of various things they have varying levels of direct knowledge of). And even this produces no real pattern. The article is meaningless.
12.29.2008 7:36am
pintler:

Just looking at your charts (pp. 22, 23, 24), it's pretty obvious that the bulk of the effect is due to a single outlier: the United States, which has 0.9 guns per capita.


Just off the top, I'd think the social effects of guns, good bad or indifferent, would best be correlated with % of gun owning households or something like that. Once an individual has a couple of guns you've got all the social effects; the rest of the safe full affect the per capita numbers but have little additional social effect.
12.29.2008 10:50am
pintler:

Governments that, on the whole, respect freedom more are also more likely to respect firearm freedom


Or to invert the argument, citizens who value what Vizzard calls 'personal sovereignty' may demand a broad spectrum of rights, including firearms rights.
12.29.2008 10:56am
CJColucci:
It's my understanding that large numbers of adult males in Switzerland are required to own guns of specified types because they are subject to being called up for military service and expected to report fully equipped, which would explain the numbers. Is that correct?
12.29.2008 11:53am
wandering by (mail):
I haven't read the article but the effects of the outlier would to some degree depend on the nature of the analyses (e.g. Spearman vs. Pearson correlations).
12.29.2008 1:07pm
Crust (mail):
Some comments:

1. For the regressions it Charts 1 to 4, it would be helpful to compute a t-stat for the regression slope and/or a p-value to test the statistical significance of the effects.

2. I agree with pintler that the percentage of gunowners would be a better measure than per-capita guns (so that e.g. a gun collector with 100 guns doesn't have undue influence). Then again, maybe that data isn't available.

3. trad and anon raises an interesting point about the US outlier. That said, my visual impression is different. Eyeballing the scatter plots, my sense is removing the US would not make a huge difference.

4. From Table 6, a majority of countries are missing firearm data (though many of these are smaller countries).
12.29.2008 4:33pm

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