Everyone knows and trusts the RAND Corporation to conduct serious and valid research on issues of paramount concern, which it has been doing now since 1948. In particular, their work is often cited by government agencies both to define challenges, as well as to help set priorities to meet specific needs.

              The company’s motto is ‘objective analysis, effective solutions,’ which together guide the organization’s research resulting last year in more than 800 reports and journal articles – whew!

              One of the areas where RAND has been creating a presence and doing research is gun violence, covered by RAND in a specific research initiative, Gun Policy in America, which attempts to examine the role and value of different laws and programs on current gun violence trends.

              I happen to have just finished looking at a database published by RAND in 2020 which gives an estimate for the number of gun-owning households in each state. This is a fundamental issue in the whole question of gun violence because it is taken as a given that our excessive rate of gun violence is somehow connected to a civilian arsenal which numbers somewhere between 300 million up to above 400 million guns.

              The data on ownership covers the years 1980 through 2016 and shows an overall national gun-owning average in 2016 of 32%, down from 45% in 1980. Of course, given that the national population has increased from 226 million to 327 million over those 36 years, if these estimates are correct, it means that there are at least 3 million more households with guns at the latter date.

              To arrive at the national; and state-level estimates of gun ownership, the research group tracked 4 data trends: (1). Firearm suicides; (2). Hunting licenses; (3). subscriptions to Guns and Ammo magazine; and (4). background checks. This is a rather interesting collection of data used to count households with guns, since background checks in most states didn’t start to begin until 1998 or 1999. As for Guns and Ammo magazine, although its monthly printing runs some 10 million, at least half that total goes to newsstands and other retail outlets whose locations aren’t known.

              All that being said, however, I have a much more fundamental problem with the attempt by RAND to correlate gun ownership with gun violence on a state-by-state basis and my problem is simply this: the data being used to calculate or estimate household gun ownership is counting different categories of legally owned guns. Individuals who are not legally allowed to own guns aren’t in the habit of buying hunting licenses, nor are they going to undergo background checks.

              On the other hand, the behavior which constitutes 80% of all gun violence events (homicides and aggravated assaults) is overwhelmingly committed by individuals who are not using legally acquired or legally owned guns. How can you make any kind of correlation between the number of legal gun owners on the one hand, and the number of gun assaults committed by individuals who are not legally entitled to own guns?

              You can make such a correlation all the time, and such correlations have been floating around gun violence research circles for years. But there is no valid reason to assume that such correlations explain anything about gun violence at all.

              I am still waiting for anyone from RAND or anywhere else to try and figure out how many guns are in households where guns, legally speaking, don’t belong. I would also be happy to see one gun violence researcher who even admits that maybe, just maybe, we need to figure out the reasons for gun violence from the perspective of crime, as opposed to the seemingly endless wringing of hands about how all those shootings occur because the poor kids in the inner city have nothing better to do with their time.

              Don’t get me wrong. Like Hobbes, I believe that human lives are nasty, brutish, and short, particularly when those lives have to be lived on a shoestring budget or less. But this doesn’t take away from the fact that gun violence as a response to social dislocation and gun violence as a crime are two differing explanations where the gap seems to be getting wider all the time.

              Is it therefore any surprise that the amount of gun violence also keeps growing all the time?