Tuesday, February 14, 2012

GUNS: The geography and demography of guns

Richard Florida, who is a Senior Editor with Atlantic magazine and Director of Martin Prosperity Institute of the University of Toronto, has done a study that determines the circumstances that run parallel with firearms deaths at the state level.  He recounts all the accusations that might have caused Jared Loughner’s massacre in Tucson, Arizona, just over a year ago, some blaming politics others the shooter’s mental state.  Florida says we must look deeper for the answers.

Arizona then and now is the center for the fight against immigration with known bigot and racist state senator Russell Pearce, author of the state’s anti-immigration bill, SB-1070, recalled and voted out of office, while his buddy, neo-Nazi J.T. Ready, continues to foster hate against all ethnic groups.  Arizona also has the loosest gun laws of any state in the U.S.  Richard Florida asks if “tighter gun control laws” could have made a difference.  Arizona ranks eighth nationally with 15.1 firearms deaths per 100,000 population.

Florida decided to go to the state level to analyze “…the statistical correlations between firearm deaths and a variety of psychological, economic, social, and political characteristics of states.  But he cautions, “…that correlation does not imply causation, but simply points to associations between variables.” 

Findings: no statistical association between gun deaths and mental illness or stress levels; no association between illegal drug use and death from gun violence at the state level; no evidence in association with unemployment and higher levels of inequality.  So what are the elements associated with firearms deaths at the state level?

Dr. Richard Florida

According to Florida’s study, poverty is one. The correlation between death by gun and poverty at the state level is .59.  An economy dominated by working class jobs is another.  Having a high percentage of working class jobs is closely associated with firearm deaths (.55).  And, not surprisingly, firearm-related deaths are positively correlated with the rates of high school students that carry weapons on school property (.54).

Based on politics and the 2008 presidential election, firearm-related deaths were positively associated with states that voted for McCain (.66) and negatively associated with states that voted for Obama (-.66).  Firearm deaths were far less likely to occur in states with higher levels of college graduates (-.64) and more creative class jobs (-.52).  And states with more immigrants have lower levels of gun-related deaths, which runs counter to the fact that Arizona ranks eighth nationally with 15.1 firearms deaths per 100,000 population.

So back to the question of gun control and whether tougher laws could make a difference.  Florida’s analysis suggests that they do.  He says if you look at the second U.S. map on the above link, “It highlights states which have one of three gun control restrictions in place - assault weapons' bans, trigger locks, or safe storage requirements.”  The highest injury states, Arizona, Alaska, Arkansas, Mississippi, Alabama and Louisiana have none.  Even Texas has at least one.

Though admittedly with some small sample sizes, the study says “Firearm deaths are significantly lower in states with stricter gun control legislation.”  Correlations are substantially negative when considering firearms deaths in states that ban assault weapons (-.45), require trigger locks (-.42), and mandate safe storage requirements for guns (-.48).  In other words, with more control you end up with less gun injuries and deaths.

The Pew Research Center also did a survey on the demographics of Americans who have views on protecting guns rights and those who feel the need for more gun control.  50% of the country felt more gun control was necessary compared to 46% who didn’t.  52% of those preferring more control were under age 50, 56% under 30.  54% wanting more gun freedom were white compared to 30% black and 21% Hispanic.  The more educated wanted more gun control

Those who were married wanted less control as did registered voters.  70% of Republicans want less control compared to 30% Democrat and 46% Independent.  67% of evangelicals want less control but 63% of Catholics want more.  Mountain states like AZ, CO, ID, MT NM and NV want less control compared to CA, OR and WA that want more.  Naturally, 78% of Tea Party members want less control in contrast to 18% who don’t.

It isn’t exactly overwhelming but it is abundantly clear that more gun control is needed.  As I have said before, it should start with strengthening background checks to catch the mentally ill before purchasing a gun, closing the gun show loophole and drastically limiting the concealed carrying laws for handguns with federal legislation.  Agreed, it won’t sit well with the gun fanatics but I do believe there is a rational faction of gun owners who agree somewhat with my thinking.

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