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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?

The RAND Corporation's Gun Policy in America initiative is a unique attempt to systematically and transparently assess available scientific evidence on the real effects of firearm laws and policies. Good gun policies require consideration of many factors, including the law and constitutional rights, the interests of various stakeholder groups, and information about the likely effects of different laws or policies on a range of outcomes. This report seeks to provide the third — objective information about what the scientific literature examining gun policy can tell us about the likely effects of laws. The study synthesizes the available scientific data on the effects of various firearm policies on firearm deaths, violent crime, the gun industry, participation in hunting and sport shooting, 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

Despite Modest Scientific Evidence, the Data Support a Few Conclusions

  • Of more than 100 combinations of policies and outcomes, surprisingly few have been the subject of methodologically rigorous investigation. Notably, research into four of the outcomes examined was essentially unavailable at the time of the review, with three of these four outcomes representing 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 among youth, as well as unintentional firearm injuries or deaths among children.
  • There is moderate evidence that background checks reduce firearm suicides and firearm homicides, as well as limited evidence that these policies can reduce overall suicide and violent crime rates. There is moderate evidence that stand-your-ground laws may increase homicide rates and limited evidence that the laws increase firearm homicides in particular.
  • There is moderate evidence that violent crime is reduced by laws prohibiting the purchase or possession of guns by individuals who have a history of involuntary commitment to a psychiatric facility. There is limited evidence these laws may reduce total suicides and firearm suicides.
  • There is limited evidence that a minimum age of 21 for purchasing firearms may reduce firearm suicides among youth.

Recommendations

  • When considering adopting or refining child-access prevention laws, states should consider making it a felony to violate these laws; there is some evidence that felony laws may have the greatest effects on unintentional firearm deaths.
  • States that currently do not require a background check investigating all types of mental health histories that lead to federal prohibitions on firearm purchase or possession should consider implementing robust mental illness checks, which appear to reduce rates of gun violence.
  • To improve understanding of the real effects of gun policies, Congress should consider lifting current restrictions in appropriations legislation that limit research funding and access to data. In addition, the administration should invest in firearm research portfolios at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the National Institutes of Health, and the National Institute of Justice at levels comparable to its 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 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, including problems with statistical power, model overfitting, covariate selection, and poorly calibrated standard errors, among others.

Table of Contents

  • Part A

    Introduction and Methods

    • Chapter One

      Introduction

    • Chapter Two

      Methods

  • Part B

    Evidence on the Effects of 13 Policies

    • Chapter Three

      Background Checks

    • Chapter Four

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

    • Chapter Five

      Stand-Your-Ground Laws

    • Chapter Six

      Prohibitions Associated with Mental Illness

    • Chapter Seven

      Lost or Stolen Firearm Reporting Requirements

    • Chapter Eight

      Licensing and Permitting Requirements

    • Chapter Nine

      Firearm Sales Reporting and Recording Requirements

    • Chapter Ten

      Child-Access Prevention Laws

    • Chapter Eleven

      Surrender of Firearms by Prohibited Possessors

    • Chapter Twelve

      Minimum Age Requirements

    • Chapter Thirteen

      Concealed-Carry Laws

    • Chapter Fourteen

      Waiting Periods

    • Chapter Fifteen

      Gun-Free Zones

  • Part C

    Supplementary Essays on Gun Policy Mechanisms and Context

    • Chapter Sixteen

      The Relationship Between Firearm Availability and Suicide

    • Chapter Seventeen

      The Relationship Between Firearm Prevalence and Violent Crime

    • Chapter Eighteen

      Firearm and Ammunition Taxes

    • Chapter Nineteen

      Mental Health Care Access and Suicide

    • Chapter Twenty

      Education Campaigns and Clinical Interventions for Promoting Safe Storage

    • Chapter Twenty-One

      Restricting Access to Firearms Among Individuals at Risk for or Convicted of Domestic Violence or Violent Crime

    • Chapter Twenty-Two

      Mass Shootings

    • Chapter Twenty-Three

      Defensive Gun Use

    • Chapter Twenty-Four

      The Effects of the 1996 National Firearms Agreement in Australia on Suicide, Violent Crime, and Mass Shootings

  • Part D

    Summary of Findings and Recommendations

    • Chapter Twenty-Five

      Summary and Conclusions

  • Appendix A

    Methodological Challenges to Identifying the Effects of Gun Policies

  • Appendix B

    Source Data Used to Produce the Forest Plot Figures

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