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Three Evidence-Based Strategies for Reducing Gun Violence

PTP laws, safe storage practices, and red flag laws are examined.

Eleven people were killed in a synagogue, in what appears to be a hate crime. The suspect used an assault rifle and several handguns. Soon after, Trump suggested the shooting had “little to do” with gun laws.

In an article published in the October 2018 issue of Applied Health Economics and Health Policy , Cassandra Crifasi—of Johns Hopkins Center for Gun Policy and Research—reviews evidence-based strategies to reduce firearm violence. 1 As Crifasi notes, though mass shootings—such as the horrific shootings involving the Stoneman Douglas High School or Santa Fe High School—capture public’s attention, we should not forget gun violence occurs regularly; it kills an average of 100 people every single day.

The risk of gun violence is not the same everywhere. For example, firearm suicides are more likely to occur in rural areas, while firearm homicides often occur in urban settings. 2

Over 38,000 people died as a result of gun violence in 2016 . Nearly 500 of these were accidental; of the ones that were violence-related, 14,000 were categorized as homicide and 23,000 as suicide.

Other statistics from CDC show that homicide is the leading cause of death for 15- to 24-year-old black men. Over 3,100 of 3,840 deaths, or 94% of the total, were committed with a firearm.

Among white males, aged 15-45 years, suicide is the second leading cause of death; firearms are used in over half of these suicides.

These statistics on firearm deaths raise the question of how to prevent or reduce gun violence.

Source: LauritaM/Pixabay

3 Strategies for reducing gun violence

1. Permit-to-purchase (PTP) laws

These laws require an individual interested in purchasing firearms to apply to law-enforcement agencies first. To do so, applicants are typically required to submit pictures or fingerprints.

Unlike the National Instant Criminal Background Check System ( NICS ), which typically allows only three business days for a background check, PTP regulations give enforcement agencies about a month to do a more detailed background search—See this PTP fact sheet (pdf file).

This additional time can have at least two benefits: One, individuals who might pose a danger to themselves or others—such as those diagnosed with a severe mental health condition or people with a criminal background—are more likely to be screened out. Two, the additional required time may reduce the likelihood of impulsive gun purchases.

Research supports the benefits of PTP. In one study, PTP laws were associated with a 14% reduction in firearm-related homicide (and not increases in other types of homicides) in large urban settings. In contrast, comprehensive background checks (without other regulations), stand-your-ground laws, and right-to-carry laws were associated with increases in firearm-related homicide. 3

2. Firearm safe storage practices

Aside from PTP laws, another way to reduce gun violence involves safe storage practices.

Storing guns safely—unloading guns when storing them; use of lockboxes, trigger locks, cable locks; and other safe storage practices—make it less likely that children or adolescents could access guns.

These practices also reduce the possibility of gun theft. Each year, about 380,000 guns are stolen, 4 some of which will enter the underground market for firearms and end up in the hands of dangerous criminals.

According to an online survey of 2016 gun storage practices in U.S., only 46% of gun owners use safe storage practices for all their guns. Gun owners were more likely to store their guns safely if they had a child living with them, owned only handguns, or had been convinced to use such practices because of family discussions or gun safety courses. 5

When gun owners refuse to store their guns safely, child access prevention laws might become necessary. These laws impose criminal liability on a gun owner when a child gains access to guns the owner had not stored in a safe manner.

3. Red flag laws

A third strategy to reduce gun violence involves red flag laws (also called gun violence restraining orders, or extreme risk protection orders).

Source: Brett_Hondow/Pixabay

These regulations allow law enforcement agencies or a person’s family members who notice the person shows “red flags”—that the individual may pose a threat to themselves or others—to seek a court order to seize the person’s firearms temporarily.

Are red flag laws effective? They can be. A recent study examined red flag regulations and firearm suicide rates in two states, Connecticut and Indiana. It concluded these regulations resulted in firearm suicides in both states. 6

However, there was evidence for a “replacement effect” in Connecticut. After the enactment of the red flag regulations, though the firearm suicide rate was lower, the non-firearm suicide rates were higher. 6

Needless to say, more research is needed.

Concluding thoughts on preventing firearm violence

“There is still much we do not know about gun violence,” such as the source of firearms used in crimes and the “burden of nonfatal shootings at the state level,” says Crifasi.

But one thing is clear. As far as gun policy, there is no unbridgeable chasm between Democrats and Republicans, or between those who own guns and those who do not. Public opinion, especially since the shootings involving Sandy Hook Elementary school and Stoneman Douglas High School, shows significant support for reducing gun violence, and for “reasonable, evidence-based policies.” 1


1. Crifasi, C. (2018). Gun Policy in the United States: Evidence-Based Strategies to Reduce Gun Violence. Applied Health Economics and Health Policy, 16, 578-581.

2. Branas, C. C., Nance, M. L., Elliott, M. R., Richmond, T. S., Schwab, C. W. (2004). Urban-rural shifts in intentional firearm death: different causes, same results. American Journal of Public Health, 94, 1750-5.

3. Crifasi, C., Merrill-Francis, M., McCourt, A., Vernick, J. S., Wintemute, G. J., & Webster, D. W. (2018). Association between firearm laws and homicide in urban counties. Journal of Urban Health, 95, 383-390.

4. Hemenway, D., Azrael, D., & Miller, M. (2017). Whose guns are stolen? The epidemiology of gun theft victims. Injury Epidemiology, 4, 11.

5. Crifasi, C., Doucette, M. L., McGinty, E. E., Webster, D. W., & Barry, C. L. (2018). Storage Practices of US Gun Owners in 2016. American Journal of Public Health, 108, 532-537.

6. Kivisto, A. J., & Phalen, P. L (2018). Effects of risk-based firearm seizure laws in Connecticut and Indiana on Suicide Rates, 1981–2015. Psychiatric Services, 69, 855-862.