Cover: The Science of Gun Policy

The Science of Gun Policy

A Critical Synthesis of Research Evidence on the Effects of Gun Policies in the United States, Third Edition

Published Jan 10, 2023

by Rosanna Smart, Andrew R. Morral, Rajeev Ramchand, Amanda Charbonneau, Jhacova Williams, Sierra Smucker, Samantha Cherney, Lea Xenakis


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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 scientific literature reveals about the likely effects of various gun laws. In the third edition of this report, the authors incorporate more-recent research in their synthesis of the available scientific data regarding the effects of 18 state firearm policies on firearm deaths, violent crime, suicides, 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 in which more and better information could make important contributions to establishing fair and effective gun policies.

Note: This report was updated in February 2023 to revise the federal definition of a misdemeanor crime of domestic violence and the description of domestic violence restraining orders. The report was updated in April 2023 to correct the strength of evidence table to indicate limited evidence that waiting periods decrease total suicides.

Key Findings

Scientific evidence on gun policies' effects remains modest but supports several conclusions

  • Of more than 200 combinations of policies and outcomes, relatively 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. Evidence also supports the conclusions that such laws reduce firearm homicides among youth.
  • There is supportive evidence that stand-your-ground laws are associated with increases in firearm homicides and moderate evidence that such laws increase the total number of homicides.
  • There is supportive evidence that "shall-issue" concealed-carry laws increase both total and firearm 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 background check requirements reduce homicides.
  • There is moderate evidence that waiting periods reduce firearm suicides and total homicides.
  • There is moderate evidence that more-restrictive minimum age of purchase laws reduce firearm suicide.
  • No studies meeting the authors' inclusion criteria have examined the effects of laws requiring the reporting of lost or stolen firearms or of laws allowing armed staff in kindergarten through grade 12 schools.


  • States without child-access prevention laws should consider adopting them as a strategy to reduce firearm suicides, firearm homicides, and unintentional firearm injuries and deaths among youth.
  • States with stand-your-ground laws should consider repealing or amending them as a strategy for reducing firearm homicides.
  • States with shall-issue or permitless-carry laws should consider whether other regulations might ensure that the effects of concealed-carry laws are aligned with public safety.
  • States without laws prohibiting gun ownership while individuals are subject to domestic violence restraining orders should consider passing such laws as a strategy to reduce total and firearm-related intimate partner homicides.
  • States that do not require background checks for the private sale or transfer of firearms should consider mandating such checks as a strategy for reducing homicide rates.
  • States without waiting period laws should consider adopting them as a strategy for reducing suicides and homicides.
  • To improve the development of firearm violence prevention strategies, the federal government should commit to an ongoing program of research funding.
  • To improve understanding of outcomes of critical concern to many in gun policy debates, research sponsors should support studies examining the effects of gun policies on a wider set of outcomes, including crime, defensive gun use, hunting and sport shooting, police 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 ensure that new analyses of the effects of gun policies improve on earlier studies by persuasively addressing the methodological limitations of these studies.

Research conducted by

This research was supported by a grant from Arnold Ventures and conducted by the Justice Policy Program within RAND Social and Economic Well-Being.

This report is part of the RAND 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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