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The Effects of Gun Prevalence on Burglary: Deterrence vs Inducement


  • Philip J. Cook
  • Jens Ludwig


The proposition that widespread gun ownership serves as a deterrent to residential burglary is widely touted by advocates, but the evidence is weak, consisting of anecdotes, interviews with burglars, casual comparisons with other countries, and the like. A more systematic exploration requires data on local rates of gun ownership and of residential burglary, and such data have only recently become available. In this paper we exploit a new well-validated proxy for local gun-ownership prevalence -- the proportion of suicides that involve firearms -- together with newly available geo-coded data from the National Crime Victimization Survey, to produce the first systematic estimates of the net effects of gun prevalence on residential burglary patterns. The importance of such empirical work stems in part from the fact that theoretical considerations do not provide much guidance in predicting the net effects of widespread gun ownership. Guns in the home may pose a threat to burglars, but also serve as an inducement, since guns are particularly valuable loot. Other things equal, a gun-rich community provides more lucrative burglary opportunities than one where guns are more sparse. The new empirical results reported here provide no support for a net deterrent effect from widespread gun ownership. Rather, our analysis concludes that residential burglary rates tend to increase with community gun prevalence.

Suggested Citation

  • Philip J. Cook & Jens Ludwig, 2002. "The Effects of Gun Prevalence on Burglary: Deterrence vs Inducement," NBER Working Papers 8926, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  • Handle: RePEc:nbr:nberwo:8926
    Note: HE

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    References listed on IDEAS

    1. Deborah Azrael & Philip J. Cook & Matthew Miller, 2001. "State and Local Prevalence of Firearms Ownership: Measurement, Structure, and Trends," NBER Working Papers 8570, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
    2. Glaeser, Edward L & Glendon, Spencer, 1998. "Who Owns Guns? Criminals, Victims, and the Culture of Violence," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 88(2), pages 458-462, May.
    3. Ian Ayres & Steven D. Levitt, 1998. "Measuring Positive Externalities from Unobservable Victim Precaution: An Empirical Analysis of Lojack," The Quarterly Journal of Economics, Oxford University Press, vol. 113(1), pages 43-77.
    4. Mark Duggan, 2001. "More Guns, More Crime," Journal of Political Economy, University of Chicago Press, vol. 109(5), pages 1086-1114, October.
    5. Levitt, Steven D, 1998. "Why Do Increased Arrest Rates Appear to Reduce Crime: Deterrence, Incapacitation, or Measurement Error?," Economic Inquiry, Western Economic Association International, vol. 36(3), pages 353-372, July.
    6. David M. Cutler & Edward L. Glaeser & Karen E. Norberg, 2001. "Explaining the Rise in Youth Suicide," NBER Chapters,in: Risky Behavior among Youths: An Economic Analysis, pages 219-270 National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
    7. Levitt, Steven D, 1997. "Using Electoral Cycles in Police Hiring to Estimate the Effect of Police on Crime," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 87(3), pages 270-290, June.
    8. Ludwig, Jens & Cook, Philip J, 2001. "The Benefits of Reducing Gun Violence: Evidence from Contingent-Valuation Survey Data," Journal of Risk and Uncertainty, Springer, vol. 22(3), pages 207-226, May.
    9. Laub, John H., 1981. "Ecological considerations in victim reporting to the police," Journal of Criminal Justice, Elsevier, vol. 9(6), pages 419-430.
    10. Jonathan Gruber, 2001. "Risky Behavior among Youths: An Economic Analysis," NBER Books, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc, number grub01-1, January.
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    Cited by:

    1. Carlisle E. Moody & Thomas B. Marvell, 2010. "On the Choice of Control Variables in the Crime Equation," Oxford Bulletin of Economics and Statistics, Department of Economics, University of Oxford, vol. 72(5), pages 696-715, October.
    2. Wolfgang Stroebe, 2014. "Firearm possession and violent death: A critical review," CREMA Working Paper Series 2014-07, Center for Research in Economics, Management and the Arts (CREMA).
    3. Carlisle E. Moody, 2010. "Firearms and Homicide," Chapters,in: Handbook on the Economics of Crime, chapter 17 Edward Elgar Publishing.
    4. Philip J. Cook, 2008. "Assessing Urban Crime And Its Control: An Overview," NBER Working Papers 13781, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
    5. Daniel Cerqueira & João Manoel Pinho de Mello, 2013. "Evaluating a National Anti-Firearm Law and Estimating the Causal Effect of Guns on Crime," Textos para discussão 607, Department of Economics PUC-Rio (Brazil).
    6. H. Naci Mocan & Erdal Tekin, 2003. "Guns, Drugs and Juvenile Crime: Evidence from a Panel of Siblings and Twins," NBER Working Papers 9824, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.

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    JEL classification:

    • K42 - Law and Economics - - Legal Procedure, the Legal System, and Illegal Behavior - - - Illegal Behavior and the Enforcement of Law

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