Do More Gun Laws Lead to Fewer Gun Deaths?

The states with the most firearm legislation have fewer deaths from guns than the states with the least firearm legislation.

That’s the finding of a study just released in the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA). The authors of the study include Eric Fleegler, MD, Lois Lee, MD, Rebekah Mannix, MD and Michael Monuteaux, ScD of Boston Children’s Hospital, and David Hemenway, PhD of the Harvard School of Public Health. Using information collected by the Brady Center to Prevent Gun Violence about firearm legislation in different states, the researchers divided the states into quartiles based on the amount and breadth of their firearm legislation. They then compared this with data on firearm deaths reported to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

What they found was striking:

  • States with the most firearm legislation had 42 percent fewer deaths from firearms than states with the least legislation
  • It wasn’t just firearm-associated homicides that were lower (by 40 percent)—firearm-associated suicides were also lower, by 37 percent.
  • People didn’t find other ways to kill others or themselves—in the states with lower deaths from firearms, there weren’t more homicides or suicides from other causes.
  • States with the most firearm laws had the lowest levels of household gun ownership

The last point is an important one, because it gets at the chicken-or-egg question of this study.  As the authors point out, they can’t tell whether having more laws is the cause of the fewer deaths. It could actually be the other way around: it may be that in states with more guns, it’s harder to get gun laws passed because of the way people in those states feel about guns. And as other studies have shown, when there are more people who own guns, there are more deaths from guns.

So it may be that more gun laws don’t actually lead to fewer gun deaths.

But what if they do? Or—what if some particular laws do? In the study, the types of legislation most clearly associated with fewer fatalities  involved universal background checks and permits to purchase firearms.

In the United States in 2010, 31, 672 people died from firearms. Of them, 380 were less than 15 years old—including 11 infants, and 71 toddlers and preschoolers. And 6, 201 were between the ages of 15 and 24.

That’s a lot of lives cut short.

All of us, however we might feel about guns, want to keep our families, friends and neighbors safe.

So let’s take this study and really look at it and learn everything we can from it. Let’s work together to find the solutions that make sense—and save lives.