Gun Policy in America
A RAND Research Initiative
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.Essay: Gun Policy in America
Latest Update: February 2023
A new interactive visualization provides information about how firearm death rates differ across U.S. states and demographic groups within states, by gender, race, age, and urbanicity. Users can turn firearm laws on and off nationally to explore RAND estimates of how state laws may contribute to these differences.
Research Review: How Gun Policies Affect Outcomes: What the Evidence Shows Us
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 18 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 eight of the 18 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 10 policies affect one or more of four of the outcomes, as shown below. For example, evidence shows that waiting periods 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.
Gun Policies That May Increase Outcomes
Gun Policies That May Decrease Outcomes
For four of the outcomes we studied— defensive gun use, hunting and recreation, mass shootings, and police 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.In-depth analysis of current gun policy research
Firearm InjuriesHospitalizations from Firearm Injuries
Gun deaths are only part of the social and public health impact of gun violence—thousands of Americans are also hospitalized each year with non-fatal gun injuries.
To address a gap in the available data on firearm injuries, RAND researchers have developed a longitudinal database of state-level estimates of inpatient hospitalizations due to firearm injury from 2000 to 2016. Use the Firearm Injury Hospitalizations in America visualization to see rates of firearm injuries in your state, and how trends in firearm injuries differ between states.
Firearm Law Effects
Firearm Law EffectsUnderstanding Firearm Deaths by State—and How to Reduce Them
Gun violence is a nationwide problem, but the burden of firearm violence is not shared equally across states or population groups.
RAND researchers have analyzed the effects of several common gun policies, including laws that are more restrictive and more permissive about gun ownership, storage, and use. The result is a clearer understanding of where firearm-related deaths are concentrated and how changes to state laws might alter that picture.
This interactive visualization shows how firearm death rates differ across U.S. states and demographic groups within states, by gender, race, age, and urbanicity. Turn firearm laws on and off nationally to explore RAND estimates of how state laws may contribute to these differences.
If all states adopted restrictive firearm-access and -carrying laws, firearm deaths would decline by 5 to 10 percent in most states. In contrast, a permissive law regime would be expected to increase firearm deaths in most states, but especially in those states that currently have more-restrictive firearm laws.Understanding firearm deaths by state
Gun OwnershipHow Many Americans Own Guns?
Information about gun ownership in America, and how it has changed over time, is important for understanding the effects of gun laws and policies.
RAND has developed a longitudinal database of State-Level Estimates of Household Firearm Ownership, derived from a statistical model that draws on a wide range of survey and administrative data sources. The Gun Ownership in America visualization draws on this database to show how gun ownership rates differ across the United States, and have changed over time.
Law NavigatorWhich States Have Enacted Four Key Firearm Laws?
Research on the effects of gun laws requires good data on when and where different types of laws have been implemented. The State Firearm Law Navigator shows where and when four types of laws have been enacted: background checks, child-access prevention, concealed-carry, and stand-your-ground laws.
The visualization is developed from RAND's longitudinal database of state firearm laws, which includes state implementation data for 17 classes of gun laws.
Gun Policy Expert-Opinion ToolUpdated Do Experts Agree on Any Gun Policy Effects?
With limited scientific evidence on the effects of gun laws, policymakers and the public frequently rely on the views of experts, including those associated with advocacy organizations. These experts sometimes have opposing views on the probable effects of gun laws, and their merits. In 2021, RAND updated a survey of experts from academia, advocacy organizations on all sides of the gun debate, and professional associations. The 173 experts fell into two clear groups: those who favor more-permissive regulatory approaches to gun access and use and those who favor more-restrictive approaches. The survey can be used to explore where these groups agree and disagree on the likely effects that different combinations of gun policies will have on each state and nationwide.
Key Findings: Highlights from the Gun Policy in America Initiative
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.
The research behind the RAND Gun Policy in America initiative is fully documented in many peer-reviewed research products. These include the methods and results from RAND's comprehensive review of studies examining the effects of gun policies, analysis of the results from a survey of gun policy experts about the likely effects of gun laws, and other publicly available tools and databases.