Deer season for hunting with firearms in Maryland is coming up soon, from Nov. 30 to Dec. 14, and then again for one quick weekend in mid-January.
Eggheads and gunpowder don’t often mix, and some might say you could find a study to prove a point about nearly anything in the academic world. But here’s one to chew on in this ongoing era of mass shootings and gun control debates: An economics professor in the Midwest, who has spent his career focusing on rural issues, has concluded after two decades of research that the increased use of rifles or shotguns for hunting does not cause or influence more violent crime among non-urban males.
Before you react, let him explain himself.
Paul Niekamp, from Ball State University in Indiana, analyzed daily crime data with statistics from deer hunting seasons spanning 20 years and 21 states for his study.
“In the least populous areas, where long gun prevalence increased 530% [during the study period ending in 2018], estimates suggest that male violent crime decreased,” he wrote.
Niekamp’s research provides the first measures of the effect of rural recreational gun use on crime. Each year, more than 10 million Americans, comprising 18% of all American gun owners, use firearms to hunt deer during restricted seasons. According to the Maryland Department of Natural Resources, the state has consistently sold more than 90,000 hunting licenses to adults in recent years, as well as 18,000 nonresident licenses in 2018.
“The enormous changes in firearm use caused by hunting regulations are unparalleled by any other policy in existence,” he wrote. “There are no other policies that induce 600,000 Wisconsin males or 530,000 Michigan males to systematically and temporarily carry and use firearms.”
There are approximately 12% fewer violent crime incidents on the first two days of a given firearms season for deer in rural areas, the study also found. “Estimated effects on long gun prevalence disappear for agencies covering more than 50,000 people, which corresponds with lower hunting participation in urban areas,” it reads. Not surprising. After all, we’d point out, deer don’t regularly walk the streets of downtown Baltimore.
Niekamp cites several reasons deer hunting does not lead to an increase in violent crimes, including:
• “Hunting is a time-consuming activity that is inherently incapacitating, which may decrease crime,” he wrote. In other words, if you’re in a tree stand for six hours or more, you’re hopefully not stalking your fellow man, waiting to draw a bead. And if you shoot a deer, you have to field-dress it. These things take time.
• “Hunters may face more regulation than other gun owners,” he added. “These regulations may improve firearm etiquette and discourage high-risk individuals from hunting.” Well, yes. You need a license to hunt.
• “Another reason that hunters may be a low-risk sample is that patient individuals may select into deer hunting,” Niekamp wrote. “It is possible that only patient individuals are willing to participate in this gun-related recreational activity.” Indeed, patience is paramount. Deer don’t arrive on hunters’ schedules, and they don’t cross the road where the yellow warning signs indicate. They are wild animals.
Quite coincidentally, the study also found that alcohol-related arrests of juvenile males fall by 22% and narcotic offenses fall by 15% at the start of hunting season, suggesting that firearm hunting may have positive effects on behavior. So in rural areas, Niekamp hypothesizes, recreational opportunities like hunting may help keep young people out of trouble. Fresh air, purposeful activity, ample lean protein to eat and share if you bag a deer. Fair enough.
So Niekamp spent 20 years of his life coming to the conclusion that people who live in the country who hunt are generally not likely to shoot other people.
His new project will examine the relationship between guns and crime, investigating programs that may reduce gun-related mortality. There’s something to ponder as you hang out in the woods waiting to bag a buck later this fall.