Gun Policy in America

A RAND Research Initiative

Gun Policy in America

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

Essay: 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 Updates: September 2020

These Three Firearm Restrictions Could Help Reduce Gun Deaths in Your State

Earlier this year, RAND research found that restrictions to the way guns are stored, carried and used could save American lives. A newly released visualization of the findings breaks down each of the restrictions examined in the report and their potential to save lives if implemented individually or in combination. It also visualizes the varying potential to reduce—or increase—gun deaths in each state relative to the level of restriction already present.

RAND State Firearm Law Database Expanded

A new update to RAND's longitudinal data set of state firearm laws adds six new laws, including required reporting of lost and stolen firearms and firearm removal at the scene of domestic violence. This update also includes usability improvments and corrects some errors. The State Firearms Law Navigator has also been updated to reflect the latest data.

Updated Resource for High School Teachers

The interdisciplinary unit plan based on the Gun Policy in America website now includes an editable, student-facing slide deck to support educators in implementing the unit.

Research Review: How Gun Policies Affect Outcomes: What the Evidence Shows Us

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 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.

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.

In-depth analysis of current gun policy research

Gun Restrictions: NewCertain Gun Restrictions Could Save Lives—But the Extent Varies by State

Firearm restrictions and their potential to reduce gun deaths

Experts agree that policies should be designed to reduce gun deaths in the U.S. But there is still disagreement about which laws will accomplish that reduction.

RAND examined three categories of state gun laws—child access prevention laws, right-to-carry laws and stand-your-ground laws—and estimated their association with changes in state-level firearm deaths. We found that states that put the most restrictive combination of these three policies into effect could see a small but significant reduction of firearm deaths.

Because each state’s current combination of these three common gun policies varies, the extent to which a given state could see a reduction in deaths depends on the level of restriction already present.

The 18 states that currently have the least restrictive combination of these three policies could see the most significant reduction in firearm deaths—11 percent—after the effects have phased in, six or more years after putting the most restrictive combination of these laws into effect.

Firearm restrictions and their potential to reduce gun deaths

Gun Ownership: How Many Americans Own Guns?

State-level estimates of gun ownership over time

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.

State-level estimates of gun ownership over time

Law Navigator: UpdatedWhich States Have Enacted Four Key Firearm Laws?

Where and when firearm laws have been enacted

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.

Where and when firearm laws have been enacted

Outcome Explorer: Do Experts Agree on Any Gun Policy Effects?

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 those associated with advocacy organizations. However, these experts are also divided, with some favoring policies that others find intolerable. RAND surveyed experts from academia, advocacy organizations on all sides of the gun debate, and professional associations. The 95 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 how combinations of gun policies will affect different outcomes in each state and nationwide according to the two groups of experts.

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

Key Findings: Highlights from the Gun Policy in America Initiative

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.​​​​​​​

Key findings from the project

In Depth: Updated Reports, Research Tools, and Data

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.​​​​​​​

Research bibliography

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

    Mar 2, 2018

    "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 the Gun Policy in America initiative was originally provided from unrestricted philanthropic contributions to RAND and income from operations.

Since June 2018, this initiative has been supported by a grant from Arnold Ventures.

To support RAND's efforts and enable initiatives like the 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

Learn more about the Gun Policy in America initiative