Tighter Gun Laws Produce ‘Small But Meaningful’ Drop in Firearm Deaths: Study

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Protecting children from access to firearms in the home can lower firearm deaths by an estimated 6 percent, according to a new RAND study.

RAND researchers also found that when Child Access Prevention regulations are in place in states which also do not have stand-your-ground or concealed-carry laws, the total estimated firearm deaths are 11 percent lower than in states where such laws are in force.

RAND said it conducted the study to resolve often-conflicting interpretations of statistics based on analyses of the impact of firearms policies.

“Although 39,000 individuals die annually from gunshots in the U.S., research examining the effects of laws designed to reduce these deaths has sometimes produced inconclusive or contradictory findings,” said the study, which was released Tuesday.

Researchers noted that “sharp disagreements about the effects of policy can persist in part because of the often-contradictory scientific evidence supporting claims about the causal effects of specific gun laws.”

For example, a survey of the work of 35 economists suggested laws allowing the concealed- carry of firearms would reduce murder rates, while a separate survey by other researchers found the opposite. Similarly, another estimate suggested that “stand your ground” laws led to a 5 percent increase in homicides, in contrast to studies indicating that homicides decreased by 10 percent in states which didn’t enact those laws.

To reach their conclusions, the RAND researchers conducted what they called a large-scale simulation to identify the most reliable model for analyzing the data, based on ”examining hundreds of different methods” for assessing the impact of state gun laws.

They focused on laws relating to Child Access Prevention (CAP), Stand Your Ground (SYG) and concealed-carry or Right-to-Carry (RTC), because they were “some of the most common state regulations on firearms.”

CAP laws, which set legal penalties for storing a handgun in a manner that allows access by a minor, “showed the strongest evidence of association with subsequent changes in firearm deaths,” the researchers wrote.

They added: “Our findings suggest that a small but meaningful decrease in firearm-related deaths may be associated with the implementation of more restrictive gun policies.”

There are currently 18 states that implement the most permissive combination of these laws (RTC and SYG laws, but no CAP law), including Georgia, Colorado, South Carolina, and Nevada.

In Georgia, according to the Giffords Law Center, three out of four suicide deaths involve a firearm. Georgia law does not require a locking device to accompany the sale of a firearm, the Center said, adding, “Georgia law also does not generally require firearm owners to lock their weapons.”

Researchers noted that it takes time for gun-related laws to achieve their full effects. So, the study looks at the sixth year following the implementation of the laws as a time point for the estimation of the overall effects. As expected, the probability of the change being associated with a decrease in firearm deaths, after the time factor is considered, remains high.

This analysis acknowledges the existence of divergent results from differing research methods but maintains their findings can serve as a critical tool for policy makers.

“When policy makers must decide whether to support or oppose a (gun-related) law, it is useful for them to know whether the likelihood of a decrease in death rates following passage is a 95/5 wager rather than a 50/50 proposition,” the study concluded.

“This type of information acknowledges the scientific uncertainty but still communicates the evidence that restrictive policies on firearms storage and use are likely to be followed by meaningful reductions in firearm deaths.”

To download the full study and supporting data, please click here.

This summary was prepared by TCR news intern Tayler Green

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