Do Firearm Laws Reduce Gun-Related Deaths?

Research helps explain the best way to prevent gun violence.

Posted Mar 22, 2018

CC0 Public Domain
Source: CC0 Public Domain

The school shooting in Parkland, Fla. last month re-ignited the national dialogue on gun control.

Since the shooting, President Donald Trump has held a meeting with legislators on gun control, and Florida lawmakers passed a new law that raises the minimum age to purchase guns from 18 to 21, creates a waiting period for gun buyers, bans bump stocks, and other measures. Last week, students across the country staged school walkouts to honor the 17 victims and ask legislators to enact gun control laws.

While the issue is at the forefront of our national consciousness, it is important to think about what the evidence says about guns, violence, and safety.

In recent history, there was little evidence on the connections between gun control laws and violence in the U.S. But over the past several years, researchers have assembled and analyzed the data available to draw some significant conclusions. Here’s what the evidence says:

More than 30,000 people die in the U.S. each year because of gun violence, and another 78,000 are injured. These rates are substantially higher than those of almost every other nation in the world and are at least seven times higher than those in other developed nations including Australia, Canada, France, Germany, India, Italy, Japan, South Korea, Spain, Sweden, and the United Kingdom.

The largest analysis of the link between gun violence and gun control legislation was published last year by a group of public health researchers in the journal Epidemiological Reviews. They analyzed 130 studies from 10 countries that explored the connections between firearm regulations and gun violence.

The analysis uses data from a wide variety of firearms regulations including laws about sales and ownership, storage regulations, laws targeting specific types of firearms and ammunition, and punishments for gun offenders.

The authors conclude that specific laws combining different types of firearm regulations are the best way to reduce deaths from gun violence. They also found that some specific regulations – such as background checks – are the most effective. And laws that relax restrictions on the sale and use of guns lead to more gun-related deaths.

The authors did find some limits in the data, including incomplete or missing data, and the difficulties of creating a valid control group for studies. But, on the whole, they find that more restrictions on gun ownership lead to fewer gun-related deaths.

A second review published last year in the Journal of the American Medical Association looked specifically at firearms laws in the U.S. to determine whether increased restrictions lead to fewer gun-related deaths. The researchers split laws into five categories: laws that target gun trafficking, laws that strengthen background checks, laws that improve child safety, laws that ban military-style assault weapons, and laws that restrict people from carrying guns in public places.

On the whole, they found that increased restrictions led to lower rates of gun deaths, even after they adjusted for demographical differences in the studies. The research clearly showed that laws strengthening background checks and requiring a permit to purchase firearms decreased homicide rates. Laws focused on firearm trafficking, improving child safety, or the banning of military-style assault had no effect on gun-related deaths. And there was some, but not convincing, evidence that restricting guns in public places reduced deaths.

The take-home message is clear: The evidence shows that laws restricting guns – and specifically calling for background checks and increased use of permits – can save lives.