Unexplained link between crime victimization, gun ownership

Gallup analysts said Monday they can’t explain the “statistically significant” relationship between crime victimization and gun ownership found while studying 16 years of survey results.

Riley Brands and Jeffrey M. Jones compared answers taken from 11,165 adults since 2000 during Gallup’s annual crime survey and found of the 17 percent overall who reported being the victim of a crime — such as assault, theft or property crime — 29 percent said they owned a gun.

For those victimized within the last 12 months, 33 percent owned a gun versus only 28 percent of those who hadn’t been the victim of a crime.

Brands and Jones said the “obvious answer” — that victimization influences gun ownership — cannot be proven because Gallup never asks when the weapon was bought in relation to the crime.

“Being a crime victim can understandably motivate someone to purchase a gun, but so can the fear of becoming a victim, even for those who have not been victims,” Brands and Jones wrote. “The relationships between crime fears and gun ownership are complex, largely because subgroups who are more likely to own guns, particularly men, are also much less likely to say they are afraid of crime.”

While Brands and Jones said gender is typically the greatest predictor of gun ownership, crime victimization has “a unique effect” on who buys a weapon and continues to be “one of the more important factors in the likelihood to own a gun.”

The analysts said, however, for those who admit “being afraid to walk alone at night where they live,” gun ownership among crime victims is six percentage points higher than non-victims at 27 percent to 21 percent, respectively.

For those unafraid of crime, the margin is even wider — eight percentage points separate victims from non-victims, 40 percent to 32 percent.

The results, Brands and Jones said, means fear alone can’t explain the relationship.

“It is possible some other unmeasurable psychological, cultural or situational characteristics could be related to both one’s likelihood of buying a gun and one’s vulnerability to being a crime victim.”

During a 2013 survey, Gallup reported 60 percent of gun owners said they keep a weapon for “personal safety or protection.” The analysts said past surveys also indicate Americans “tend to believe” a gun in the home or carrying concealed weapons “would do more to keep people safe than to put them at risk of harm.”