Gun Laws, Legislators, and Lobbying: The Precarious Relationship With Gun Violence in the United States

Introduction

In 2014, guns resulted in the death of 33,599 or approximately 92 deaths per day. [1]

According to a 2013 poll, 91 percent of American voters support universal background checks. But what’s the link between gun laws and gun violence? Do tougher laws actually result in fewer deaths and injuries? This story looks at available data that suggests there is a relationship between gun laws, legislators, special interests, and gun violence. Should lawmakers change their stance on gun laws, or will the human cost shift opinion? Using widely available data, we examine these relationships in one of the most contentious issues in the United States.

From early interpretations of the Constitution to recent changes due to heavy lobbying; gun laws are often in flux due to voter and organizational support. The last several decades are notable for the rise of strong interest groups such as the National Rifle Association and Americans For Responsible Solutions. Mass shootings also raise the issue frequently, however, few significant gun law changes have been made as a result.

Data suggests that gun laws do correlate with less gun violence, however, more data is needed. Unfortunately, the amount of data available for victims of gun violence has been suppressed for the past two decades by congress. The topics explored in this story warrant further research and show the importance of taking advantage of recent executive orders by President Obama for further gun violence data collection.[2]

Please help us to gather more data by answering several questions presented at the end.

The Constitution Shifting Opinions

Gun ownership advocates justify their position with the 2nd amendment of the US constitution; however, gun laws and guns themselves have evolved significantly since 1789 when the constitution was passed. In fact, the interpretation of the Constitution in defense of individual gun ownership mostly evolved since the 1970’s when the number of law review articles in favor of individual rights increased.[3]

During debate over the 1934 National Firearms Act, the first attempt at federal gun-control legislation, and a subsequent supreme court case, the president of the National Rifle Association wrote that “the right to personal firearms could not be found in the Constitution.” [3]

Militia members using simple rifles during the American Revolution no longer represents the average gun owner. Semiautomatic rifles and handguns are now popular alternatives to hunting rifles. Gun ownership is higher than ever.[4]

The Supreme Court ultimately has authority to interpret the 2nd amendment which states: “A well regulated militia, being necessary to the security of a free state, the right of the people to keep and bear arms, shall not be infringed.” With the ideological balance of the court in question, the next court may significantly change the interpretation of the Constitution. This timely decision makes a review of the impact of gun laws on gun violence critical.

Gun Violence State by State

To understand the implications of 33,000+ deaths per year, we look at several contributors. First, the geographic distribution normalized by population to look for any patterns was examined. Initially, the Southern states and Mountain West states stand out for their unusually high number of gun deaths. The top five states impacted by gun violence per capita are:

1. Alaska
2. Louisiana
3. Mississippi
4. Alabama
5. Wyoming

Deaths Per 100k in the United States

Among the top five states only Louisiana has a large urban population in New Orleans. Perhaps more surprising, the states with the worst gun violence average either an A or B on the National Rifle Association rankings of their senators-the most senior lawmakers. Wouldn’t a state with higher gun violence per capita want to reduce it? In many cases they do. The conventional wisdom is making gun laws stricter will help reduce gun violence.

Gun Laws What Impact Do They Have?

Gun laws range from background check requirements to ammunition regulations. To aggregate the impact of several categories of legislation, gunlawscorecard.org has a system that examines the strength of legislation state by state. They evaluate gun laws with respect to consumer and child safety, gun dealer sales and transfers, classes of weapons and ammunition, background checks and access to firearms, gun owner responsibilities, gun crime investigations, firearms in public places, and several other laws. Combining the scores on each peace of legislation provides for a grading structure based from A to F shown in the following map.

Among all gun laws, universal background checks remain the most popular legislation. Even in households with gun owners, a staggering 88% of voters support universal background checks. However, many voters are skeptical that background checks will lead to confiscation of legally owned guns- a major concern for many gun owners.[5]

Background Checks And Gun Law Grade [6]

Geographically, higher gun law grades are closely correlated with a lower gun death rank.

Versus Gun Death Rank [6]

Tougher gun laws do correlate with less gun violence.

The remainder of the industrial world has shown us there’s an alternative. European countries with moderate gun laws have much less gun violence than the United States. Australia provides the best example where strong gun reforms were made two decades ago and the rate of gun deaths has declined dramatically.[10]

gun-deaths_5113379a44657

If the evidence for stricter gun laws is obvious why hasn’t anything changed? In recent years, no event has shifted public opinion on gun laws more than the mass shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary. In 2012, 20 year old Adam Lanza killed 20 children between 6 and 7 years old using a semiautomatic rifle. In a January 2013 poll, the majority of respondents were more likely to support gun control laws.

GunPolling_fig1

Unfortunately, child deaths continue since the tragic event in Newtown. So why hasn’t public opinion shifted the balance and resulted in the adoption of more gun control legislation? Lawmakers are deeply entrenched due to special interests that prevent them from making meaningful gun law changes.

Children Killed from Gun Violence Since 2013 [12]

NRA Shifts Support to Individual Gun Rights What's the Impact on Gun Violence?

NRA Mission Statement: To protect and defend the Constitution of the United States, especially with reference to the inalienable right of the individual American citizen guaranteed by such Constitution to acquire, possess, collect, exhibit, transport, carry, transfer ownership of, and enjoy the right to use arms. [7]

The shift during the 1970’s toward support and promotion of individual gun rights means an increased level of gun ownership.

Picturegunowners

Gun ownership strongly correlates with gun violence.

gun-ownership-vs-gun-deaths_2

As the NRA has strengthened it’s political lobbying all national law makers are now graded on their support of gun control legislation. Again, we see a correlation between the average grade of the State’s Senators and the amount of gun violence in each state. The better the NRA grade, generally the higher the gun violence per 100k.

The NRA uses direct political candidate contributions, lobbying, and outside spending as a three pronged approach to influence lawmakers. In the 2014 election cycle, they were in the top 10 of hundreds of outside spenders with approximately $28 million spent on election influence. [8]

When lawmakers are heavily reliant on special interests and lobbying, they have little political will to vote against those supporters on gun control legislation. Similar to the way the NRA lobbies for less restrictive gun law candidates, the Super PAC that Rep. Gabby Gifford started, Americans for Responsible Solutions, and Michael Bloomberg’s Everytown for Gun Safety financially influence elections by supporting candidates in favor of more restrictive gun laws.

Next, we examine the cost of gun violence, another reason to overcome these special interests if the increased gun violence isn’t motivation enough.

The Cost of Gun Violence Why Should we Care?

There’s a human cost associated with gun violence. While the gun and ammunition manufacturing industry bring in 16 billion of revenue, others have tried to estimate the cost of gun violence both direct and indirect costs. [9] According to an investigative report by Mother Jones, the total cost of gun violence is approximately $229 Billion annually. See how they estimated that amount:

If correct, the total direct and indirect costs on gun violence including locking criminals up, court cases, and loss of productivity nearly matches the annual spending on Medicaid by the federal government.

What Do You Think? What is the relationship in your state?

Based on analysis of gun laws, lawmakers, and lobbying there is a clear correlation with gun violence. The stricter the gun laws the less gun violence states face. Lawmakers and lobbying compound the problem by resisting to enact meaningful changes to existing gun legislation despite clear evidence that states suffering the worst gun violence could use the reform most. Much of the cost of gun violence, both direct and indirect, are shared by American taxpayers. Congress has gone as far as to prevent government sponsored research on gun violence. [11] Therefore, we wish to know your opinion on gun laws based on the data presented.

Resources

[1] CDC http://www.cdc.gov/nchs/fastats/injury.htm

[2] http://www.npr.org/2014/09/28/352036040/to-counter-gun-violence-researchers-seek-deeper-data

[3] http://www.armedwithreason.com/gun-control-and-the-evolving-second-amendment/

[4] ATF https://www.atf.gov/file/89561/download

[5] Quinnipiac University Poll https://www.qu.edu/news-and-events/quinnipiac-university-poll/national/release-detail?ReleaseID=1877

[6] http://gunlawscorecard.org/

[7] NRA bylaws http://www.newsmax.com/t/newsmax/article/600067

[8] https://www.opensecrets.org/orgs/summary.php?id=d000000082

[9] http://www.ibisworld.com/industry/default.aspx?indid=662

[10] http://www.businessinsider.com/australia-gun-control-shootings-2015-10

[11] http://www.theatlantic.com/politics/archive/2016/01/gun-control-laws-research/424956/

[12] http://www.gunviolencearchive.org/reports

Photo Credits

Constitution Photo http://www.history.com/topics/american-revolution/american-revolution-history/pictures/american-revolution-events-and-battles/print-of-british-troops-shooting-at-crowd-in-boston-massacre-by-paul-revere

Gun Violence – http://patriotstatesman.com/2013/01/let-no-tragedy-go-to-waste-the-lefts-view-of-gun-violence/

Gun Law http://www.nationofchange.org/2015/11/19/reframing-and-preventing-american-gun-violence/

Washington Post/ABC Poll https://cdn.americanprogress.org/wp-content/uploads/2013/03/GunPolling_fig1.png

Gun Ownership http://www.motherjones.com/politics/2015/06/gun-owners-study-one-in-three

Congressional Budget Research https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/wonk/wp/2015/10/05/guns-in-the-united-states-one-for-every-man-woman-and-child-and-then-some/

Mother Jones – Gun Ownership and Gun Violence and Gun Cost Graphic – http://www.motherjones.com/politics/2013/01/pro-gun-myths-fact-check

World Wide Gun Deaths – http://i1.wp.com/mediam1.files.wordpress.com/2013/02/gun-deaths_5113379a44657.jpg

Heston – https://saylordotorg.github.io/text_american-government-and-politics-in-the-information-age/s13-interest-groups.html

Money – http://picz.in/img254.htm

Handguns – https://fstoppers.com/composite/shooting-point-blank-high-resolution-gun-photography-2966

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