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Research Questions

  1. What does the scientific evidence say about the effects of various firearm policies on societally important outcomes?
  2. What steps might policymakers and other stakeholders take to improve the scientific evidence base on how gun policies affect outcomes?

In this report, part of the RAND Corporation's Gun Policy in America initiative, researchers seek objective information about what the scientific literature reveals about the likely effects of various gun laws. In this second edition of an earlier work, the authors add five gun policies to the 13 examined in the original analysis and expand the study time frame to incorporate a larger body of research. With those adjustments, the authors synthesize the available scientific data on the effects of 18 policies on firearm deaths, violent crime, the gun industry, defensive gun use, and other outcomes. By highlighting where scientific evidence is accumulating, the authors hope to build consensus around a shared set of facts that have been established through a transparent, nonpartisan, and impartial review process. In so doing, they also illuminate areas where more and better information could make important contributions to establishing fair and effective gun policies.

Key Findings

Scientific evidence on gun policies' effects is modest but supports a few conclusions

  • Of more than 200 combinations of policies and outcomes, surprisingly few have been the subject of methodologically rigorous investigation. Notably, research into five of the examined outcomes is either unavailable or almost entirely inconclusive, and three of these five outcomes represent issues of particular concern to gun owners or gun industry stakeholders.
  • Available evidence supports the conclusion that child-access prevention laws, or safe storage laws, reduce self-inflicted fatal or nonfatal firearm injuries, including unintentional and intentional self-injuries, among youth.
  • There is supportive evidence that stand-your-ground laws are associated with increases in firearm homicides and moderate evidence that they increase the total number of homicides.
  • There is moderate evidence that state laws prohibiting gun ownership by individuals subject to domestic violence restraining orders decrease total and firearm-related intimate partner homicides.
  • There is moderate evidence that waiting periods reduce firearm suicides and total homicides and limited evidence that they reduce total suicides and firearm homicides.
  • No studies meeting the authors' inclusion criteria have examined the effects of gun-free zones, laws allowing armed staff in kindergarten through grade 12 schools, or required reporting of lost or stolen firearms.

Recommendations

  • States without child-access prevention laws should consider adopting them as a strategy to reduce firearm suicides and unintentional firearm injuries and deaths.
  • States with stand-your-ground laws should consider repealing them as a strategy for reducing firearm homicides.
  • States without laws prohibiting gun ownership while individuals are subject to domestic violence restraining orders should consider passing such laws as a strategy for reducing total and firearm-related intimate partner homicides.
  • States without waiting period laws should consider adopting them as a strategy for reducing suicides and homicides.
  • To improve understanding of the real effects of gun policies, Congress should consider appropriating funds for a significant program of research on gun policy and gun violence reduction at levels comparable to the government's current investment in other threats to public safety and health.
  • To improve understanding of outcomes of critical concern to many in gun policy debates, the U.S. government and private research sponsors should support research examining the effects of gun laws on a wider set of outcomes, including crime, defensive gun use, hunting and sport shooting, officer-involved shootings, and the gun industry.
  • To foster a more robust research program on gun policy, Congress should consider eliminating or loosening the restrictions it has imposed on the use of gun trace data for research purposes.
  • Researchers, reviewers, academics, and science reporters should expect new analyses of the effects of gun policies to improve on earlier studies by persuasively addressing the methodological limitations of earlier studies, such as problems with statistical power, model overfitting, covariate selection, and poorly calibrated standard errors.

Table of Contents

  • Part A

    Introduction and Methods

    • Chapter One

      Introduction

    • Chapter Two

      Methods

  • Part B

    Evidence for the Effects of Policies Regulating Who May Legally Own, Purchase, or Possess Firearms

    • Chapter Three

      Minimum Age Requirements

    • Chapter Four

      Prohibitions Associated with Mental Illness

    • Chapter Five

      Prohibitions Associated with Domestic Violence

    • Chapter Six

      Surrender of Firearms by Prohibited Possessors

    • Chapter Seven

      Extreme Risk Protection Orders

  • Part C

    Evidence for the Effects of Policies Regulating Firearm Sales and Transfers

    • Chapter Eight

      Background Checks

    • Chapter Nine

      Licensing and Permitting Requirements

    • Chapter Ten

      Waiting Periods

    • Chapter Eleven

      Firearm Safety Training Requirements

    • Chapter Twelve

      Lost or Stolen Firearm Reporting Requirements

    • Chapter Thirteen

      Firearm Sales Reporting, Recording, and Registration Requirements

    • Chapter Fourteen

      Bans on the Sale of Assault Weapons and High-Capacity Magazines

    • Chapter Fifteen

      Bans on Low-Quality Handguns

  • Part D

    Evidence for the Effects of Policies Regulating the Legal Use, Storage, or Carrying of Firearms

    • Chapter Sixteen

      Stand-Your-Ground Laws

    • Chapter Seventeen

      Child-Access Prevention Laws

    • Chapter Eighteen

      Concealed-Carry Laws

    • Chapter Nineteen

      Gun-Free Zones

    • Chapter Twenty

      Laws Allowing Armed Staff in K–12 Schools

  • Part E

    Summary of Findings and Recommendations

    • Chapter Twenty-One

      Summary and Conclusions

  • Appendix A

    Changes from the First Edition of This Report

Research conducted by

Funding for this philanthropically supported research was originally provided through unrestricted gifts from RAND supporters and income from operations and supported by a grant from Arnold Ventures. The research was conducted by the Justice Policy Program within Social and Behavioral Policy Program.

This report is part of the RAND Corporation research report series. RAND reports present research findings and objective analysis that address the challenges facing the public and private sectors. All RAND reports undergo rigorous peer review to ensure high standards for research quality and objectivity.

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