A nationwide study led by Boston University researchers that analyzes the impact of gun-control laws in the US has found that just 9 of 25 state laws are effective in reducing firearm deaths.
The research, published in The Lancet, suggests that three laws implemented in some states could reduce gun deaths by more than 80 percent if they were implemented nationwide. Laws requiring firearm identification through ballistic imprinting or microstamping were found to reduce the projected mortality risk by 84 percent; ammunition background checks by 82 percent; and universal background checks for all gun purchases by 61 percent.
Federal implementation of all three laws would be projected to reduce the national firearm death rate—10.1 per 100,000 people in 2010—to 0.16 per 100,000, the study says.
“Very few of the existing state-specific firearms laws are associated with reduced mortality, and this evidence underscores the importance of focusing on relevant and effective firearms legislation,” said senior study author and School of Public Health Dean Sandro Galea. “Implementing universal background checks for the purchase of firearms or ammunition, and firearm identification nationally could substantially reduce mortality in the US.”
Lead author Bindu Kalesan, director of the Evans Center for Translational Epidemiology and Comparative Effectiveness Research at the School of Medicine, said the study is the first to assess a broad array of gun laws and other relevant state-level data.
“The findings suggest that very few of the existing state gun-control laws actually reduce gun deaths, highlighting the importance of focusing on relevant and effective gun legislation,” she said. “Background checks for all people buying guns and ammunition, including private sales, are the most effective laws we have to reduce the number of gun deaths in the US.”
The research team constructed a state-level dataset using counts of firearm-related deaths in each state in 2010; information on 25 state laws implemented in 2009; and state-specific characteristics including gun ownership rates, non-firearm homicide rates, and unemployment rates. Of the 25 laws, 9 were associated with reductions in mortality, while 9 others—such as the so-called “Stand your Ground” laws, allowing individuals to use deadly force in self-defense when faced with a perceived threat—were associated with increased mortality. Seven other laws were found to have no correlation with gun-related death rates.
The researchers used a statistical model to determine the independent association of various firearms laws with gun-related homicides, suicides and overall deaths. They also projected the potential reduction of mortality rates if the three most effective firearms laws were enacted at the federal level.
Laws requiring background checks for both guns and ammunition were the most effective legislation identified in the study, showing “the protective effect” of state laws that close loopholes in the federal Brady Law, which requires criminal background checks only for guns sold through licensed firearm dealers.
Only seven states had universal background checks in 2010, while just three states had firearm identification laws that require ballistic identification or micro-stamping of guns that leave markings on the cartridge cases they expel when fired, making it possible to link the cases to particular guns.
The authors noted that their findings corroborated an earlier, smaller state-level study that found local background checks were associated with a 22 percent lower homicide rate.
More than 90 people are killed every day by guns in the US. In 2010, 31,672 gun deaths were recorded, equivalent to 10.1 deaths per 100,000 people. Analyzed by state, Hawaii had the lowest rate (3.31 per 100,000), while Alaska had the highest rate (20.3 per 100,000).
The link between state levels of gun ownership and gun deaths has been well established, but less is known about the effectiveness of existing gun laws. US states have introduced a broad range of laws to strengthen or deregulate the main federal gun control law, the Brady Law, which requires background checks for gun purchases from federally licensed dealers. However, about 40 percent of all gun sales are estimated to be private transactions that do not require background checks.
Co-authors on the study were from Columbia University and the University of Bern, Switzerland.
ADDENDUM. A commentary published by The Lancet accompanying this article raised challenges to this paper. The authors subsequently released a response to the comments.