How Do State Laws Affect Firearm Deaths?

Can enacting gun laws prevent deaths from firearm homicides, suicides, or accidental injuries? What combination of laws provides the most benefit?

Each state’s unique firearm policy environment contributes to its mortality and crime outcomes, but other state factors—such as household firearm ownership rates, poverty and unemployment rates, and population characteristics—are also important.

RAND researchers estimated the individual and combined effects that multiple laws have on firearm deaths and other outcomes while statistically controlling for these and other important state differences that contribute to firearm death outcomes.

For more information on firearm death rates in the United States, explore visualizations on death rates by state and population group and the change in death rates over the past four decades.

Type Policy Definition
Restrictive Bans on the sale of assault weapons or high-capacity magazines

Bans certain semiautomatic firearms with detachable magazines or other features, such as pistol grips, folding stocks, or the ability to mount a bayonet, or bans magazines that hold more than 15 rounds of ammunition.

Restrictive Child-access prevention (safe storage) laws

Establishes civil or criminal penalties for adults who store a handgun in a manner that allows access to minors.

Restrictive Comprehensive state preemption of local gun regulations

Prohibits municipal or county ordinances concerning gun sales, gun use, or gun-free zones.

Permissive Concealed-carry laws

Specifies who may carry concealed weapons and the procedures that those people must follow when they wish to exercise this right.

Shall-issue: Guarantees the right of all who meet concealed-carry permit requirements to receive such a permit. Law enforcement may not exercise discretion in issuing permits.

Permitless: Allows concealed carry without a permit for anyone who is legally eligible to possess the weapon.

Restrictive Extreme-risk protection orders ("red-flag" laws)

Authorizes police and family to request a court order prohibiting individuals deemed at imminent risk to themselves or others from possessing firearms, requiring them to temporarily relinquish all firearms to the police.

Restrictive Minimum age of 20 for purchase of handguns

Federal law allows the sale of handguns to individuals 18 and older, except by licensed dealers who may sell only to those 21 or older. This law prohibits anyone from selling a handgun to someone under 20.

Restrictive Prohibitions on gun possession by subjects of domestic violence restraining orders

This law prohibits gun possession by individuals subject to domestic violence restraining orders. This is a state version of a federal prohibition against firearm possession that may include provisions for ensuring that any firearms currently held by the subject of the order are relinquished by the subject of the order.

Emergency (ex parte) orders: Domestic violence restraining order laws with ex parte provisions that allow for temporary emergency firearm removal orders before the subject of the order appears in court.

Restrictive Expanded mental health prohibitions

When a judge has committed someone to an inpatient mental institution or has found the person to be unable to manage their own affairs, federal law prohibits that person from having firearms. This law expands the mental health histories leading to prohibition to include people ordered to receive outpatient mental health treatment, those voluntarily committed to inpatient care, and those involuntarily confined because a mental health professional determined that they present a danger to themselves or others.

Restrictive Prohibition on gun possession by those convicted of violent misdemeanor crimes

Federal law does not prohibit firearm ownership by those convicted of a violent misdemeanor punishable by less than one year of imprisonment. This law prohibits firearm purchase and possession by those with such convictions.

Permissive Stand-your-ground laws

Permits the use of lethal force for self-defense outside of the defender’s home or vehicle, even when a retreat from danger would have been possible.

Restrictive Universal background checks

Requires all handgun sales, including private sales, to include a background check.

Restrictive Waiting period

Requires a waiting period of at least 24 hours to acquire a purchased handgun.

In the visualization below, the default map shows model-based predictions of how firearm homicide rates would change under a restrictive set of usage and storage laws: child-access prevention laws are turned on in all states, while stand-your-ground and shall-issue concealed-carry laws are turned off. Some states already have this combination of laws, so they show no change in firearm homicide; other states show a reduction in firearm homicides.

Users can create their own law combinations to explore expected changes in five mortality outcomes over the first five years after laws are implemented (compared with Centers for Disease Control and Prevention [CDC]–reported mortality rates in 2021; CDC, undated-b) by selecting the outcome above the map and selecting laws below it.

Many law effects could not be estimated with good precision, meaning that the available data do not provide good information on which to base estimates. See the individual state estimates for descriptions of the range of uncertainty for each estimate and note when a yellow warning box appears, indicating that the estimate has a high level of uncertainty.

How Adding or Removing Firearm Laws Could Affect Firearm Deaths

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Change in Outcome Based on Law Changes

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  • No Change
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Select Laws Manually Turn laws 'ON' nationwide to enact them in all U.S. states. Turn them 'OFF' to repeal them in states where they are currently in place. Turn the current state laws 'ON' to see the existing ways laws are implemented in each state.
Bans on the sale of assault weapons or high-capacity magazines

Bans certain semiautomatic firearms with detachable magazines and other features, such as pistol grips, folding stocks, or the ability to mount a bayonet, or bans magazines that hold more than 15 rounds of ammunition.

Child-access prevention (safe storage) laws

Establishes civil or criminal penalties for an adult storing a handgun in a manner that allows access to minors.

Comprehensive state preemption of local gun regulations

Prohibits municipal or county ordinances concerning gun sales, gun use, or gun-free zones.

Concealed-carry laws

Specifies who may carry concealed weapons and the procedures those people must follow when they wish to exercise this right.

Shall-issue: Guarantees the right of all who meet concealed-carry permit requirements to receive such a permit. Law enforcement may not exercise discretion in issuing permits.

Permitless: Allows concealed carry without a permit for anyone who legally eligible to possess the weapon.

Shall-issue
Permitless
Extreme-risk protection orders (“red-flag” laws)

Authorizes police and family to request a court order prohibiting individuals deemed at imminent risk to themselves or others from possessing firearms, requiring them to temporarily relinquish all firearms to the police.

Minimum age of 20 for purchase of handguns

Federal law allows the sale of handguns to individuals 18 and older, except by licensed dealers who may sell only to those 21 or older. This law prohibits anyone from selling a handgun to someone under 20.

Prohibitions on gun possession by subjects of domestic violence restraining orders

This law prohibits gun possession by individuals subject to domestic violence restraining orders. This is a state version of a federal prohibition against firearm possession that may include provisions for ensuring that any firearms currently held by the subject of the order are relinquished by the subject of the order.

Prohibitions on gun possession by subjects of emergency (ex parte) domestic violence restraining orders

Domestic violence restraining order laws with ex parte provisions that allow for temporary emergency firearm removal orders before the subject of the order appears in court.

Prohibition on gun possession by those convicted of violent misdemeanor crimes

Federal law does not prohibit firearm ownership by those convicted of a violent misdemeanor punishable by less than one year of imprisonment. This law prohibits firearm purchase and possession by those with such convictions.

Expanded mental health prohibitions

When a judge has committed someone to an inpatient mental institution or has found the person to be unable to manage their own affairs, federal law prohibits that person from having firearms. This law expands the mental health histories leading to prohibition to include people ordered to receive outpatient mental health treatment, those voluntarily committed to inpatient care, and those involuntarily confined because a mental health professional determined that they present a danger to themselves or others.

Stand-your-ground laws

Permits the use of lethal force for self-defense outside the defender’s home or vehicle, even when a retreat from danger would have been possible.

Universal background checks for handguns

Requires all handgun sales, including private sales, to include a background check.

Waiting period of at least 24 hours

Requires a waiting period of at least 24 hours to acquire a purchased handgun.

Key Takeaways

  • Restrictive combinations of firearm storage and use laws (child-access prevention laws paired with repealing shall-issue concealed-carry and stand-your-ground laws) are associated with relatively large reductions in firearm homicides for many states and with smaller and less certain reductions in all the other outcomes.
  • In 2022, the U.S. Supreme Court, in its New York State Rifle & Pistol Association v. Bruen decision, made shall-issue concealed-carry permitting the state standard. We estimate that without new regulations to limit the effects of this change, states that are affected by this change, such as New York, California, Massachusetts, and Maryland, could expect their firearm homicide rates to increase by between 2 and 12 percent.
  • Our estimates of the effects of many laws are uncertain, meaning we cannot determine the effects of these laws with high precision using the available data. This can happen when law effects are small or when too few states have implemented a law to get a precise effect estimate.
  • We find that some restrictive laws are associated with reduced firearm deaths, while others (such as prohibiting gun ownership by those convicted of violent misdemeanors) are associated with increased firearm deaths. While these results are consistent with some other research, the mechanism underlying these differential associations is unclear.

Data Sources

As part of RAND’s Gun Policy in America project, this visualization allows users to explore how firearm deaths might be affected by the implementation of a set of common state firearm laws, according to estimates of those effects produced by the RAND project team.

For more details on the methodology and data sources, see the tool documentation.

Law Data

Data on state laws are drawn from the RAND State Firearm Law Database, version 5.0 (Cherney et al., 2024). Law data are current through January 1, 2024, but do not capture more recent law changes.

Law Effects Data

Statistical and modeling methods used to create these estimates are described in the tool documentation.

References

  • CDC—See Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
  • Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, “Underlying Cause of Death, 1999–2020,” WONDER data system, undated-b. As of August 17, 2022: https://wonder.cdc.gov/ucd-icd10.html
  • Cherney, Samantha, Andrew R. Morral, Terry L. Schell, Sierra Smucker, and Emily Hoch, Development of the RAND State Firearm Law Database and Supporting Materials, RAND Corporation, TL-A243-2-v3, 2024. As of February 26, 2024: https://www.rand.org/pubs/tools/TLA243-2-v2.html

Digital Credits

Kekeli Sumah (design), Lee Floyd (development), Maria Gardner (content), Chara Williams (additional design), Theo Jacobs (back-end programming), Joel Kline (back-end development), Elias Peterson (back-end development), and Heather McCracken (project management)