Gun Policy in America

A RAND Research Initiative

Overview: Facts About the Effects of Gun Policies Are Elusive but Important

Read: Gun Policy in America

RAND's Gun Policy in America initiative provides information on what scientific research can tell us about the effects of gun laws. Our goal is to establish a shared set of facts that will improve public discussions and support the development of fair and effective gun policies.

We analyzed thousands of studies to examine the effects of gun policies on defensive gun use, hunting participation, suicide rates, and other outcomes. We also evaluated the views of gun policy experts who have opposing perspectives on the likely effects of gun laws to understand where disagreements exist and where compromise might be possible.

By exploring this project, you can view summaries of our key findings, delve into our analysis of the existing evidence base, learn how the experts think policies would affect outcomes, download our historical database of state gun laws, and access the supporting research reports.

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  • Gun Policy in America: An Overview

    Americans are often divided on how to improve gun policies. Our research suggests that, among gun policy experts, these divisions are not primarily due to disagreements about what policies should achieve. Instead, the experts disagree on what the real effects of gun policies will be. This project seeks to clarify what is known and where new information could help build consensus about how to improve U.S. gun policies.

Policy Analysis: How Gun Policies Affect Outcomes: What the Evidence Shows Us

Explore: In-depth analysis of current gun policy research

To know whether a gun policy is fair and effective, we need to determine how it affects outcomes, such as suicide rates and hunting participation. Scientific research could provide the most-reliable proof of these effects.

We reviewed thousands of studies to identify all available evidence for the effects of 13 gun policies on eight outcomes. After excluding studies that did not meet our criteria for establishing a law's effects, we found little persuasive evidence for the effects of most policies on most outcomes.

For six of the 13 policies, either we found no studies examining the effects on any of the outcomes we considered or the evidence was inconclusive. However, we found some evidence that seven policies affect one or more of four of the outcomes, as shown below. For example, evidence shows that background checks may decrease (brown lines) suicide rates and that concealed-carry laws may increase (teal lines) violent crime. The thicker the line, the stronger the evidence.

Click on a policy, outcome, or relationship to learn more.

For four of the outcomes we studied— defensive gun use, hunting and recreation, mass shootings, and officer-involved shootings—we found inconclusive evidence, at best, on the effects of any of the policies. However, these understudied outcomes are often central concerns in gun policy debates. For instance, even though we found that child-access prevention laws have measureable benefits in reducing accidental and intentional self-injuries and deaths, the effects of these laws on defensive gun use—one of the principal objections raised against child-access prevention laws—have not been evaluated rigorously.

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  • What Science Tells Us About the Effects of Gun Policies

    To create fair and effective gun policies, we need to understand how they affect outcomes of concern to a range of stakeholders, including gun owners, communities struggling to contain crime, the gun industry, and those concerned with preventing suicide, among others. To establish what scientific research can currently reveal about such effects, we conducted a large-scale, critical review of available studies.

Interactive: Do Experts Agree on Any Gun Policy Effects?

Comparison Tool: Experts weigh in on the national and state-level effects of gun policies on outcomes

With limited scientific evidence on the effects of gun laws, policymakers and the public frequently rely on the views of experts, including researchers and policy analysts associated with advocacy organizations. However, these experts are also divided, with some favoring policies that others find intolerable. To better understand where policy experts disagree on the effects of gun laws, where there is a shared set of facts, and where better information could help build a consensus on gun policies, RAND surveyed experts from academia, advocacy organizations on all sides of the gun debate, and professional associations that have taken stands on gun policy questions. The 95 experts we surveyed fell into two easily distinguishable groups: those who favor more-permissive regulatory approaches to gun access and use and those who favor more-restrictive approaches. The survey results bracket the range of effects expected by diverse experts and can be used to explore how combinations of gun policies will affect different outcomes in each state and nationwide according to the two groups of experts.

 

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  • In Search of Common Ground: Expert Judgments on Gun Policy Effects

    Both groups of experts we surveyed favored laws that they believed would reduce homicides and suicides. Indeed, these groups appeared to be in complete agreement that reducing deaths should be the primary objective of gun policies. What they disagreed on was which laws would have those effects.

Key Findings: Highlights from the Gun Policy in America Initiative

Read: Key findings from the project

The Gun Policy in America initiative has produced dozens of detailed reviews describing what is and isn’t known about the effects of gun policies. The essays below offer short overviews of many of the project’s key findings and recommendations.​​​​​​​

In Depth: Reports and Research Tools

Reference: Research bibliography

The full findings from RAND's literature review of studies examining the effects of gun policies and from a survey of gun policy experts are published in two peer-reviewed reports. To help advance research on the effects of state gun policies, the RAND team also developed a new data set of state laws and their variants from 1979 to 2016. In addition, the team published a short technical report analyzing the methods and findings from a study of U.S. gun legislation and firearm mortality.​​​​​​​

About the Project

Objectives

The goal of the RAND Gun Policy in America initiative is to create resources where policymakers, researchers, and the general public can access unbiased information that facilitates the development of fair and effective gun policies.

  • Statement by Michael D. Rich, President and CEO

    "My decision to initiate a research project to study gun policy in the United States came after many years of watching what seemed like an increasingly polarized and acrimonious ‘debate’ that rested on a sparse foundation of analytical findings. I knew that, at RAND, we could bring a unique perspective on the issues as a fiercely nonpartisan organization devoted to objectivity and analytic rigor. So, I set the RAND Gun Policy in America initiative under way, investing in a comprehensive effort that draws from the best of RAND's interdisciplinary research talent."

Research Team

For this project, RAND assembled a large, multidisciplinary research team consisting of psychologists, economists, epidemiologists, criminologists, statisticians, legal experts, and mathematicians. In addition, the project team, led by Andrew Morral, consulted with leading researchers, gun policy analysts, and government and law enforcement experts.

Funding

Funding for RAND Ventures such as the Gun Policy in America Initiative comes from unrestricted philanthropic contributions to RAND and income from operations. Support our efforts by becoming a RAND donor. To enable initiatives like RAND’s Gun Policy in America project, please contact our office of development at (310) 393-0411, ext. 6901 or giving@rand.org.

Contact

For more information on the project, please contact:

Research initiative

Andrew Morral

Senior Behavioral Scientist

Media queries

Warren Robak

Senior Media Relations Advisor