Purpose: Previous studies have shown a correlation between measures of social capital and morbidity, mortality, and violent crime. This article examines the association across U.S. states between social capital (as measured by mutual trust and civic engagement) and firearm availability.
Methods: The analysis uses OLS to determine degrees of association across U.S. states. Measures of mutual trust come from responses to questions on the U.S. General Social Survey that "you can't be too careful in dealing with people," and most people "would try to take advantage of you." Measures of formal civic engagement come from responses to Lifestyle Survey questions concerning times volunteered, club meetings attended, community projects worked on, and church services attended. Informal civic engagement measures come from responses to number of times bowled, played cards, entertained at home, and gave or attended dinner parties, and number of greeting cards sent. The Lifestyle Survey also asked whether respondent believed whether "most people are honest." The percentage of suicides from firearms, and the average percentage of suicides and homicides from firearms, are used as proxies for state firearm ownership rates. Control variables are the degree of urbanization, the rates of poverty, and the percentage of nonwhites in the state.
Results: Across the U.S. states, higher levels of firearm ownership are associated with significantly lower levels of mutual trust and civic engagement.
Conclusion: While the analysis cannot show causation, states with heavily armed civilians are also states with low levels of social capital.