The horrific massacre at the Pulse Orlando nightclub has prompted calls for new restrictions on firearms. Those calls are understandable—fight mass murder by restricting some of the tools of mass murder, the thinking goes—but would such restrictions really reduce violent crime? Or, in a country with a robust black market, would gun restrictions merely constrain the lawful, giving violent criminals greater opportunity for mayhem?
To answer that question, researchers John Lott Jr. and Gary Mauser decided to ask the experts. They surveyed fellow academics who published empirical research on guns and violent crime in peer-reviewed academic journals over roughly the last 15 years. Specifically, Lott and Mauser asked about their perceptions of legal firearms possession’s associations with crime and suicide, and the effects of gun-free zones (which Pulse apparently was required to be, under Florida law) and concealed carry laws.
The respondents can be divided into two groups: economists (many of whom act as applied statisticians) and criminologists. The two groups differ in an important way: economists are much more mindful that policy changes can affect incentives and expectations. This likely explains the difference between the groups’ responses. Economists were highly skeptical of the idea that greater restrictions on legal gun ownership would reduce violent crime, while criminologists were considerably more mixed, with a lean (that sometimes wasn’t statistically significant) toward skepticism. Importantly for the current gun control debate, neither group supported the notion that more restrictions would reduce violent crime.