The economic conditions of failing gun control

For the 2006 – 2007 period covered by the US Census Bureau, New York City metropolitan area had 1212 gun related homicides while the Dallas area had 538.  Despite having very different gun control legislation, the total incidents in each city seem to indicate that gun violence is actually scalable.  That is, gun violence may be related to population as much as anything else and experience only minimal impact from gun control legislation.

In order to see just how accurate this is, I selected 15 metropolitan areas from around the US and compared their populations to their gun related homicides.

Here are the numbers, with population based on the 2010 census and gun related homicides derived from the 2006-2007 reporting period (what was readily available).

Gun Homicides Chart


With the cities laid out pretty much top to bottom in terms of population, you can already see that there is a general correlation to gun homicides.  Wanting to make sure, I calculated the actual correlation coefficient.  The result was 0.77309 or basically 77%, suggesting that there is a moderate to strong correlation between gun homicide totals and population.  But, statistically speaking, that shouldn’t be earth shattering news.  More people = more incidents of homicide is not exactly a baffling finding.  Again wanting to make sure the data made sense I graphed out the numbers.

Homicide v Population Graph


As you can now see, the data seems to be skewed.  There is a cluster of cities with a population around 5 million which are keeping the correlation high.  In actuality, the correlation should be closer to about 0.55, suggesting only a moderate linkage to overall population. So gun related homicides aren’t actually as scalable with population as we’d like to assume. But out of this comes some observations of importance.

Despite nearly identical metropolitan populations, there is a remarkable differential in gun related homicides between Boston and Detroit.  While Detroit experienced 792 gun related homicides, Boston was incredibly low at 167.

Clearly Boston must be doing something right and Detroit must be doing something wrong.  Very wrong.  But it’s not that simple.  Even a cursory look at gun control legislation in Massachusetts and Michigan will tell you they’re relatively similar.  Assault weapons are essentially banned in both states (they can be acquired in Massachusetts but only with a very rare license).  Handguns are licensed in both states.  There seems to be no difference in legislation that could account for a gap nearly as large as 625 homicides.  Something else had to be inflating the numbers in Detroit.

One of those factors may have been unemployment.  While Boston was experiencing a very low unemployment rate of 3.6%, roughly 7.5% of the population of Detroit was without a job.  The difference is big enough that it would be tempting to place the entirety of the blame on unemployment.  That’s simply inaccurate though.  There are greater cultural differences.  Boston has a healthy mix of blue collar jobs and white collar financial and hight tech sector jobs.  Detroit is dependant on one industry – the auto industry.  Detroit is a rough, tough blue collar town.  The cultures are different. And because the industries are different, education levels are different. And these things matter.  They create the structure on which high unemployment can create more volatile environments.  But the one thing that doesn’t seem to be a factor, is gun legislation itself as both states are relatively strict by American standards.

Another interesting gap exists between the two largest metropolitan areas in the US.  Los Angeles, with a population of roughly 6 million less than New York, experienced 400 more gun related homicides.  And this could be the case that places the blame on culture and economics.

First, let’s look at Los Angeles.  Here’s a map of homicide clusters within LA for 2007:

LA 2007 Homicide Map

As you can probably see, South Central LA is kinda dangerous.  I don’t think this should be shocking to anybody.  And less shocking even still will be this map of income distribution in LA:

LA Income Map


The poorest areas are coloured in that light yellow.  The more affluent areas are those orangey-reds.  As it turns out, Malibu is doing alright for itself, but South-Central LA is not.  So, in the areas where people are the poorest, there are more homicides.  Doesn’t seem shocking, really.  But what about New York?

Here’s the homicide distribution map for New York city in 2007:

NYC 2007 Homicide Map

As it turns out, the Bronx, and a large part of Brooklyn are really the epicentres for homicide in New York City.  And when we compare it to income distribution?

NYC Income Map


Again, homicides are occurring at a disproportionate rate in poor neighbourhoods.

Just like Michigan and Massachusetts, California and New York have relatively similar gun control laws.  In this case is there is one slight difference that could account for a small part of the difference between New York City and LA.  While California has strict limitations on assault rifles, New York City has an all-out ban.  Still, with such a large difference in population combined with the higher gun related homicide numbers in LA, this isn’t enough to explain the difference.

Getting to the answers in one simple blog post is next to impossible.  You wouldn’t read for that long.  Not only that, but the numbers tell us the answers to solving general gun crime and specifically homicide are complex.  It also has to be noted that these numbers do not explain mass shootings.  Mass shootings have an entirely different set of metrics. I’ll get into those at some point, I’m sure.

For now, given the information I’ve provided, I want to know what you think.  What do you think the solution is? What other metrics do you think need to be explored?  Is there even a solution at all outside of the blatantly utopian?

Let me know what you think in the comments below.  We all need to have a conversation about gun control and that starts with smart, interested people proposing smart, interesting ideas.