Does Making Gun Ownership Information Public Drive Property Values Down?
The nature of gun ownership is in transition in the US. There are many factors that are affecting the attitudes of Americans towards guns ownership. Mass shootings, from years ago in Columbine to the more recent incident in Connecticut, have led many to question the ease of gun ownership and its role in American life. Sport-hunting participation in America has been decreasing as compared to past decades, making less people directly familiar with the workings of guns than before, and increasing skepticism as to why firearm acquisition should be so easy. As people move from a rural to an urban or suburban lifestyle, the sense of need for a gun for protection changes. All of these factors are affecting how people view gun ownership in America today.
Does More Guns Mean Less Safe?
Along with these changes there is one area where gun ownership can potentially affect everyone directly, regardless of whether they have guns themselves. A possible tie between gun ownership and real estate or property values is gaining traction in the US. Many studies have been performed showing a correlation between the presence of guns in a household and the likelihood that someone will be killed in gun violence, NORC Publication, Gun Policy 2001, Article, Journal of Epidemiology, 2004, and San Diego Free Press, 2013. Now some people are asking about whether the presence of guns in a neighborhood has another, less obvious impact. If guns make a neighborhood less safe, does that affect real estate values? Should the presence of gun licenses in a neighborhood be a reason to move into or away from a neighborhood?
Some real estate specialists say that if the information is available to the public it will have an impact on housing values over time. There are groups of people who may want to avoid neighborhoods with significant gun ownership. Families may especially want to avoid neighborhoods with a lot of guns. In addition, single women, with or without children, are more likely to avoid guns, AOL Article, Guns Permits and Home Values, 2013.
Perception vs. Reality
The impression of the real estate industry is that people will start avoiding neighborhoods with significant gun ownership when they can find out about it. At least one real estate leader said the real impact on real estate values comes from the fear that will be generated, rather than the guns themselves. If the press and the public become concerned about where guns are, that fear will drive property values down. As New York Realtor Jason Saft explains, “If you have three children, for example, you probably wouldn’t want to buy a house in a neighborhood where there are a number of registered gun owners. It just puts thoughts you don’t want to think in your head.”
Making Gun Ownership Information Public
The way such information could be made public may also lead to other problems. Maps showing where the guns are may affect safety of the people who live there due to external threats. If the information is available to the public, that public is not just nice, law abiding people. It includes burglars and other violent criminals, who may want to know where to go and where to avoid. In New York, shortly after a map of gun ownership was published in the local news, burglars targeted a house and went directly to the gun safe. While it has not been proven, it is speculate that the place was targeted due to the publication of the gun data, New York Burglary Article, 2013. The map, which allowed one to click on a specific point for the address and information of each gun owner, was subsequently taken down after receiving heavy criticism from the public.
There have not been many studies on the impact of licensed guns on home values in a neighborhood. At least in part, it is not that easy to determine who has guns in a given area. While states may require licenses for people to legally have guns that information is not usually available to the public. To determine where people who legally have guns are, an individual usually has to file a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request. Even then, a request would usually be filed with a state’s gun registry office or an equivalent office. Most states do not require registration of guns Gun Legislation in US by State, Washington Post, 2008.
For someone who wants to know where the licensed guns are, even a registry is of limited help. The interested person would then need to generate a map themselves of where the licensed guns are. Since substantial numbers of guns are gained through theft from other people, the presence of registration or licensing of guns may not be a good indicator of a neighborhood’s safety, DOJ Statistics on Gun Thefts from 2005-2010.
It is likely that with the increased attention on gun control due to recent steps by the Obama administration and legislation being introduced on the state level, more states may require registry of guns. Additionally, information about gun licensing and even applications may become available to the public. As that happens, it is possible that licensed gun ownership may begin to have an impact on real estate values. If studies determine that gun licenses, as opposed to gun presence in a home affect safety, there is a greater chance that the public will be interested in the information. If such a shift in understanding happens, gun ownership is likely to impact housing values over time.
Effects of Gun Laws in Massachusetts
Whatever approach is taken going forward, stricter laws alone do not see to prevent gun violence. Massachusetts has some of the strictest state laws in the country. It is very difficult to legally have guns in Massachusetts, and to have assault weapons has a higher requirement than a standard handgun. If licenses expire, however, there is no action taken to determine if someone still has their guns, Overview of Mass. Gun Laws, masslive.com, 2012.
The possibility for stockpiling weapons, and the potential for violence at the hands of someone who has acquired a lot of weapons, is a real one. While the number of weapons has declined tremendously in Massachusetts since gun control went into effect nearly 15 years ago, the number of violent crimes has increased nearly 200 percent, Massachusetts Gun Laws, 2013 Article. It is entirely possible that gun control is helping and that gun violence would be far higher without it. Still, it has not solved all of the problems of safety in Massachusetts or nationwide. As these trends persist, it becomes clear that making this information available to the public may drive property values down in certain areas due to our increasing sensitivity to this issue.