Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) cherry picked data and misled the public about gun research in a Senate Judiciary hearing on Tuesday, painting a picture of America’s gun problem entirely at odds with reality. Cruz made two false arguments when questioning US Attorney Tim Heaphy — first, that gun regulations resulted in higher crime rates in American cities; second, that there was no empirical evidence that gun law reform would reduce crime:
CRUZ: San Antonio has 7 murders per 100,000 people. Austin has four murders per 100,00 people. El Paso has two murders per 100,000 people. That means Detroit, the murder rate is 24 times higher than it is in El Paso…None of those cities I discussed, Houston, Austin, San Antonio, El Paso, are isolated islands. Indeed, in the entire state [of Texas] you can purchase firearms and what we see with the murder rates is that the murder rates are consistently lower. My question to you, is not your subjective beliefs, but are you aware of any empirical data — every one of us wants to reduce murder rates — my question to you is there any basis to say that stripping the constitutional rights of law-abiding citizens would result in decreasing murder rates rather than increasing them which, unfortunately, is the pattern I think we’ve seen.
State level data contradicts Cruz’s assertion. The two states with the highest per capita murder rates in 2011, Louisiana and Mississippi, received F ratings from the pro-reform Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence (the third highest, South Carolina, has a D-). Louisiana and Mississippi don’t require background checks on private sales, demand that firearm dealers acquire licenses in order to sell guns legally, or limit the number of guns any one person can purchase at once.
Moreover, there are many factors that go into total homicide rates beyond gun laws, like lead saturation or gang violence) in addition to gun laws. Indeed, a recent crime spike in Chicago (one of Cruz’s examples of places with firearm regulation and high rates of death) predated gun regulations, indicating that the cause of the recent increase in violence isn’t the result of a change in gun laws.
So the question isn’t simply whether we can point to cities or states with lax gun regulation that have higher gun murder rates than those that don’t; it’s whether stricter regulations in any given city would reduce that particular city’s homicide rate relative to its current baseline. That’s something that’s best tested by empirical evidence that takes into account confounding factors.
And this systematic evidence suggests that gun regulations save live and that there is no real proof for Cruz’s suggestion that more guns lead to less crime. Three papers that studied homicides by county found that, when you control for factors like poverty, counties with more guns have more gun deaths. Another study found that, at the state level, stronger gun regulations are reasonably well correlated with fewer gun deaths. And research comparing the United States to other countries found that America’s greater access to guns contributes to higher murder rates.