These Three Firearm Restrictions Could Help Reduce Gun Deaths in Your State
Regulations on how guns are stored, carried, and used may save lives in states that lack these restrictions.
Nearly 40,000 Americans died from gun-related injuries in 2017—more than any other year on record.
There is a widespread consensus in the United States that policies should be designed to reduce those deaths. But there is still disagreement about which laws would accomplish that.
Researchers at RAND evaluated three common gun laws that regulate how people use, carry, and store their firearms, estimating the effects these policies have on gun deaths.
Their findings suggest that states that put the most restrictive combination of these three policies into effect could see a small but meaningful reduction of firearm deaths.
Most Restrictive Combination of Firearm Policies and Their Associated Reduction in Gun Deaths
Reduction in firearm deaths associated
with adding restriction*
Storage: Restricts the way individuals store handguns and ammunition openly in their homes
State has a child-access-prevention (CAP) law
Carry: Restricts who can carry a concealed weapon
State does not have a right-to-carry (RTC) law, and restricts who can carry a concealed weapon
Use: Restricts circumstances in which individuals can use deadly force in self-defense outside of their own homes
State does not have a stand-your-ground (SYG) law, and requires that a person claiming self-defense try to avoid the conflict before using deadly force.
*Percentage change in total firearm deaths six or more years after implementation. See the methodology for more detailed definitions of the law classes.
States that currently do not have a CAP law could restrict gun storage by adding a CAP law. This is likely to reduce gun deaths. States that currently have RTC and/or SYG laws could reduce gun deaths by replacing these laws with tighter restrictions on who can carry a concealed weapon and/or when they can use deadly force.
While there is some uncertainty in the researchers' estimates, they concluded that there is a 97 percent chance that restricting firearm storage at home is associated with a subsequent reduction in firearm deaths. Certainty is lower for associations between lower firearm deaths and restrictions on the right to carry outside the home (87 percent) and defensive gun use (77 percent).
Since states' current combinations of these three common gun policies vary, the extent to which a given state could see a reduction in deaths depends on the level of restriction already present.
Each of the eight potential combinations of these common firearm restrictions is rated on a four-point scale from least restrictive to most restrictive.
Restrictiveness by policy combination
Level of restriction
Restricts the way individuals store handguns and ammunition openly in their homes (Has a Child Access Prevention law)
Restricts who can carry a concealed weapon without discretion (Lacks a Right to Carry law)
Restricts right of individuals to use deadly force in self-defense outside of their own home. (Lacks a Stand Your Ground law)
Potential to Reduce Firearm Deaths Varies from State to State
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—six or more years after putting the most restrictive combination of these laws into effect.
For instance, in Georgia, which currently has the least restrictive combination of these policies, moving to the most restrictive combination is estimated to reduce firearm deaths by 11 percent.
For states that have some but not all three restrictions, the potential effect on gun deaths is less pronounced but still important. For example, by adding restrictions on firearm storage, New York may be able to reduce gun deaths by six percent.
Eight states already have the most restrictive combination of these policies: California, Connecticut, Delaware, Hawaii, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Jersey, and Rhode Island. Thus, the study does not identify actions these states could take to further reduce gun deaths.
However, if these states were to reduce their restrictions on how firearms are stored, then this could result in a six percent increase in gun deaths. This finding suggests that these states have already prevented annual deaths since implementing their CAP laws.
If All States Put the Most Restrictive Combination of Policies into Effect
If All States Put the Least Restrictive Combination of Policies into Effect
The exclusive focus on firearm deaths introduces the question of whether gun deaths prevented by these restrictions would still occur by other methods. For instance, if firearm restrictions prevent someone from using a gun to commit a homicide, would that person commit that homicide by using a knife instead?
To address this limitation, the researchers modeled the effects of firearm restrictions on total suicides and total homicides, with and without the use of a firearm. Their analysis shows that the effects of firearm restrictions on homicides and suicides is very similar to the effects on firearm deaths. This suggests it’s unlikely that implementing these firearm restrictions would be followed by a meaningful increase in non-firearm deaths.
The research examined changes in state-level child-access prevention (CAP) laws, stand-your-ground (SYG) laws, and right to carry (RTC) laws from 1970 to 2016, using data from publicly available sources.
We code a state as having a CAP law if the law specifies either civil or criminal penalties for storing a handgun in a manner that allowed access by a minor.
We code a state as having an SYG law if the state has a law that 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. Without such laws, individuals who use deadly force in self-defense may face criminal or civil penalties if they could have avoided the threat by leaving the situation or using non-deadly means of defense.
We code a state as having an RTC law if concealed carry permits are issued whenever legally permissible without the discretion of law enforcement. Specifically, states that either prohibit concealed carry of firearms, or that “may issue” concealed carry permits are coded as not having an RTC law; states that either “shall issue” concealed carry permits to those who meet legal requirements or that allow concealed carry without any permit are coded as having an RTC law.
We use Bayesian methods and a modeling approach that addresses several methodological limitations of prior gun policy evaluations.
Bayesian methods allow us to directly estimate the probability that a given law is associated with an increase or a decrease in firearms deaths. These probabilities directly correspond to the likely effects of the yes-or-no decisions facing policymakers who are considering such legislation, rather than tests of a null hypothesis.
Second, our simulations revealed that estimates of the effects of state gun policies generally lack sufficient statistical power to detect effects of the size likely to be found for common gun policies, even when these effects are of a magnitude that would interest policymakers. Conducting significance testing with such low statistical power results in a high probability of inconclusive or inaccurate results, even when there is useful information about the true effect within the available data. Using Bayesian inference generally avoids these problems in the same data when estimated with modestly informative priors.
Finally, we estimated the effects of the law by computing marginal effects in each year after implementation. This helped produce unbiased treatment estimates within an autoregressive model by estimating effects of the law in a specific year that take into account both the direct effect of the law on the outcome in that year and the indirect effect of the law in the prior year that is mediated through the autoregressive term into that year.
In addition to examining the three classes of laws individually, we also estimate their joint effects. Each of these three laws can be seen as either restricting firearm access and use or permitting firearm access and use. As such, we examine whether having a restrictive policy regime (a CAP law but no RTC or SYG laws) is associated with different firearm death rates than having a permissive policy regime (no CAP law but RTC and SYG laws).
Consistent with our findings about the effects of individual law, estimation of the joint effects of these laws indicates that a restrictive policy regime (with CAP laws, but without either RTC or SYG laws) is associated with a subsequent decrease in deaths relative to a permissive regime (with RTC and SYG laws but without CAP laws). We estimate that there is a 0.98 probability that the restrictive regime is associated with a subsequent decrease in firearm deaths by the sixth year after implementation.
Complete details about the methods and materials used to conduct this research can be found in the full study.
Maria Gardner (Content), Haley Okuley (Design), and Lee Floyd (Development)