Empirical Economics

, Volume 56, Issue 1, pp 13–22 | Cite as

The social costs of gun ownership: a reply to Hayo, Neumeier, and Westphal

  • Philip J. CookEmail author
  • Jens Ludwig


We respond to the new article by Hayo, Neumeier, and Westphal (HNW), which is a critique of our 2006 article. The principal contribution of that article was to use a greatly improved proxy for gun prevalence to estimate the effect of gun prevalence on homicide rates. While the best available, our proxy, the ratio of firearms suicides to total suicides in a jurisdiction (FSS), is subject to measurement error which limits its use to larger jurisdictions that have enough suicides to stabilize the ratio. In this response, we report estimates for four different specifications and two data sets, the 200-county data and the data for the 50 states. We develop the claim that measurement error in FSS helps explain the observed pattern of results. Adopting the assumption that FSS follows a binomial process with a number of trials equal to the number of suicides, we characterize the relationship between measurement error and size of the jurisdiction, and thereby justify our conclusion that restricting the estimation to large jurisdictions reduces measurement error in FSS and hence the attenuation bias in the key coefficient estimate. We conclude that for the county-level data, the measurement error in FSS is of greater concern than using a specification that is flexible with respect to population. HNW focus on the latter but at the cost of increasing the effects of the former. We then demonstrate that the state-level data provide a robust case that more guns lead to more homicides.


Measurement error Crime Guns Homicide Panel regression 

JEL Classification

C23 C43 K42 



Thanks to Lauren Speigel for outstanding assistance with the data analysis, to Dan Black and Seth Sanders for helpful conversations. Any errors and all opinions are of course our own.

Compliance with ethical standards

Conflict of interest

The authors declare that they have no conflict of interest.

Ethical approval

This article does not contain any studies with human participants or animals performed by any of the authors.

Supplementary material

181_2018_1497_MOESM1_ESM.docx (16 kb)
Supplementary material 1 (DOCX 15 kb) (104 kb)
Supplementary material 2 (ZIP 103 kb)


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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag GmbH Germany, part of Springer Nature 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Sanford School of Public PolicyDuke UniversityDurhamUSA
  2. 2.NBERCambridgeUSA
  3. 3.School of Social Service AdminstrationUniversity of ChicagoChicagoUSA

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