Gun Policy Research Essays

The Gun Policy in America initiative produced detailed reviews describing what is and isn't known about the effects of gun policies. These essays summarize the available evidence on other gun policy topics that are frequently discussed—such as the lessons from other countries that have enacted restrictive gun policies, the definition of mass shooting, the relationship between mental health care access and suicide, and the challenges faced by researchers seeking to better understand gun policies and gun use.

Effects of Widespread Gun Availability

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

    Australia’s 1996 National Firearms Agreement (NFA) banned several types of firearms and resulted in the government buying hundreds of thousands of the banned weapons from their owners. This essay analyses the evidence from studies examining the effect of removing so many weapons from the community.

  • The Relationship Between Firearm Availability and Suicide

    Empirical research on the causal effects of firearm availability on the risk of suicide is consistent with the claim that firearms increase suicide risk, but this research cannot yet rule out some other explanations for observed associations between guns and suicide. There are, however, theoretical or logical arguments for believing firearms elevate suicide risk that are sufficiently compelling that individuals and policymakers might reasonably choose to assume that gun availability does increase the risk of suicide.

  • The Relationship Between Firearm Prevalence and Violent Crime

    In the past 12 years, several new studies found that increases in the prevalence of gun ownership are associated with increases in violent crime. Whether this association is attributable to gun prevalence causing more violent crime is unclear. If people are more likely to acquire guns when crime rates are rising or high, then the same pattern of evidence would be expected. An important limitation of all studies in this area is the lack of direct measures of the prevalence of gun ownership.

Gun Violence Reduction Strategies

  • Is Mental Illness a Risk Factor for Gun Violence?

    Although many Americans believe that people with mental disorders pose a danger to themselves or others, the science reveals a more nuanced picture.

  • Law Enforcement Approaches to Reduce Community Gun Violence

    Law enforcement agencies use a range of reactive and proactive strategies to respond to and prevent gun crime. While the rate of violent crimes committed with guns has declined substantially over the past 30 years, more research is needed on which approaches are most effective at reducing gun crime.

  • Education Campaigns and Clinical Interventions for Promoting Safe Storage

    Safe storage of firearms may prevent suicide and unintentional injuries and deaths. There is research evidence that child-access prevention laws, which require safe storage practices, can reduce suicides and unintentional injuries and deaths. While there is limited evidence that education campaigns have successfully promoted safe storage of firearms, there is evidence that clinicians who counsel families to store guns safely can influence behavior, particularly when devices, such as gun locks, are given away for free.

  • Firearm and Ammunition Taxes

    Taxation has been a standard policy lever used to limit the harms associated with potentially dangerous goods, but has rarely been used to manage risks associated with gun violence. Although several states and localities have imposed special taxes on firearms and ammunition, these have typically been used to generate revenue. There is little empirical evidence to indicate how taxation would influence firearm-related outcomes.

  • The Relationship Between Mental Health Care Access and Suicide

    Several studies have found an association between greater availability of mental health care and reduced rates of suicide. In many studies, it is not clear whether these associations are attributable to a causal effect of access to mental health care or to some other factor associated with both suicide risk and the availability of mental health care (such as urbanicity). Nevertheless, two studies that examine mental health parity laws using more-rigorous methods for establishing causal effects suggest that such laws, and improved access to care, may reduce suicide rates.

  • Mass Shootings in the United States

    There is no standard definition of what constitutes a mass shooting. Media outlets, academic researchers, and law enforcement agencies frequently use different definitions when discussing mass shootings, leading to different assessments of the frequency with which mass shootings occur and about whether mass shootings are more common now than they were a decade or two ago.

Research Challenges

  • The Challenges of Defining and Measuring Defensive Gun Use

    Self-protection is one of the primary reasons many people give for buying or carrying a gun. Estimates of the frequency of defensive gun use vary widely, in part reflecting difficulties in defining and measuring defensive gun use. The personal and social benefits associated with defensive gun use are controversial, and only a few new studies have been conducted to clarify these trade-offs in the past 15 years.

  • Methodological Challenges to Identifying the Effects of Gun Policies

    Research on the effects of gun policies has a history of producing contradictory results and contentious debates about appropriate research methods. Our review of this literature identified several problems that, if addressed in future research, could result in stronger and more compelling evidence.