V. Key Issues: Population Health >> E. Health Promotion >> Violent and Abusive Behavior (last updated 7.6.16)
“[F]irearms are the most heavily regulated consumer product in the United States. If someone wants to purchase an AR-15 or any other firearm, the store must first get permission for the sale from the FBI or its state counterpart. Permission is denied if the buyer is in one of nine categories of “prohibited persons,” including felons, domestic-violence misdemeanants, and persons who have been adjudicated mentally ill or alcoholic.”
- Constitutional Limitations. The U.S. Supreme Court declared in a 5-4 decision that blanket firearms bans unconstitutional in District of Columbia v. Heller (2008); this ruling found for the first time that the Second Amendment. In McDonald v. Chicago (2010), the Court ruled 5-4 that the Heller decision should be extended to all 50 states.
- Federal Statutes.
- Before the 1968 Gun Control Act, there were almost no federal gun-control laws. The exception was the National Firearms Act of 1934, which set up an extremely severe registration and tax system for automatic weapons and has remained in force for 78 years.
- The 1994 federal assault-weapons ban lapsed in 2004. It prohibited nineteen types of assault weapon but exempted more than six hundred other types of firearm.
- State Statutes.
- State Firearms Law Summaries (NRA)
- State laws restricting gun ownership in a single chart (Time, 1.17.13)
- National Journal (9.1.15). Shows which states require licenses/permits, background checks, registration or waiting periods, as well as which states have stand-your-ground laws and the difficulty of getting a concealed carry and open carry permits. The chart also shows total gun-related deaths per 100,000 by state, but Glenn Kessler, Washington Post’s fact-checker, has calculated that a very different ranking of the states results when suicides (which account for 60% of gun deaths) are removed from the calculation.
- No assault weapons law existed in the U.S. until California passed a ban in 1989.
- Waiting Periods. Current debates about gun reform include proposals for a three-day waiting period; in 1994, advocates pushed for a seven-day waiting period.
- Ban on Cheap Handguns. A ban on cheap handguns that was promoted in 1994 doesn’t even enter the discussion now.
- No Fly, No Buy. A bill proposed by Senator Susan Collins, of Maine calls for prohibiting people on some watch lists from buying guns, with fail-safes to make the prohibition less random.
- Agresti, James D. and Reid K. Smith. Gun Facts. Just Facts, September 13, 2010. Revised (6.19.15).
- Kessler, Glenn. Fact checking three Democratic claims on assault weapons and guns. Washington Post (6.17.16). “half of the 10 states with the lowest gun-death rates turn out to be states with less-restrictive gun laws.”
- “The hypothesis of “more guns = more deaths” is demonstrably false over the past 28 years of documented American history.” (WallsoftheCity.Net: September 16, 2011)
- In Other Countries, You’re As Likely to Be Killed by a Falling Object as by a Gun. New York Times (12.4.15).
- Cobb, Jelani. Random Shots. New Yorker (7.4.16).
- mass shootings constitute just two per cent of gun homicides
- According to the F.B.I., in 2014 rifles were used in only three per cent of all homicides committed with firearms in the United States. The larger problem, quite simply, is the superabundance of handguns.
Research and Analysis
Evaluation of U.S. Gun Control Policies
- CDC. First Reports Evaluating the Effectiveness of Strategies for Preventing Violence: Firearms Laws. Findings from the Task Force on Community Preventive Services (1993). This systematic review of 51 studies of the impact of alternative strategies for preventing firearm-related violence concluded “the Task Force found insufficient evidence to determine the effectiveness of any of the firearms laws reviewed for preventing violence.
- Knight, Brian G., State Gun Policy and Cross-State Externalities: Evidence from Crime Gun Tracing (September 2011). NBER Working Paper Series, Vol. w17469, pp. -, 2011. This paper provides a theoretical and empirical analysis of cross-state externalities associated with gun regulations in the context of the gun trafficking market. Using gun tracing data, which identify the source state for crime guns recovered in destination states, we find that firearms in this market tend to flow from states with weak gun laws to states with strict gun laws, satisfying a necessary condition for the existence of cross-state externalities in the theoretical model. We also find an important role for transportation costs in this market, with gun flows more significant between nearby states; this finding suggests that externalities are spatial in nature. Finally, we present evidence that criminal possession of guns is higher in states exposed to weak gun laws in nearby states.
- Manski, Charles F. and John V. Pepper. How Do Right-To-Carry Laws Affect Crime Rates? Coping With Ambiguity Using Bounded-Variation Assumptions. NBER Working Paper No. 21701. Issued in November 2015. We find there are no simple answers; empirical findings are sensitive to assumptions, and vary over crimes, years, and states. With some assumptions, the data do not reveal whether RTC laws increase or decrease the crime rate. With others, RTC laws are found to increase some crimes, decrease other crimes, and have effects that vary over time for others.
- Joe Palazzolo and Carl Bialik. Lack of Data Slows Studies of Gun Control and Crime. Wall Street Journal, 12/21/12. “The National Research Council, part of the congressionally chartered National Academies, analyzed the body of research on gun laws and gun violence and found no credible evidence that laws permitting residents to carry guns had decreased or increased violent crime, or that gun limits keep weapons out of the hands of criminals.”
- Jon Stokes. Why the NRA Hates Smart Guns. 4.30.16. Explains the severe limitations of the 1994 Automatic Weapons Ban and provides links explaining the limitations of smart gun technology.
- Jon Stokes. Why Millions of Americans–including me–Own the AR-15. 6.20.16.
- Firearm Safety Locks: Federal Agency Implementation of the Presidential Directive (GAO 9/30/98)
- C-SPAN. Stand Your Ground Laws. John Lott and Jon Lowy discussed “stand your ground” laws in states throughout the nation, the Castle Doctrine, and what the impact of such laws has been. They also reacted to a video clip of President (video: 1 hr. 28 min.)
- Bill Whittle. The Truth About Guns (video). Demonstrates that while U.S. leads world in guns per capita, it ranks 111th on murders per 100,000. If the higher-than-average murder rates of cities with strict gun control (e.g., Detroit) are removed, the U.S. ranking would be even lower.
Evaluation of Gun Control Policies in Other Countries
- Malcolm, Joyce Lee. Guns and Violence: The English Experience. Investigating the complex and controversial issue of the real relationship between guns and violence, Joyce Lee Malcolm presents an incisive, thoroughly researched historical study of England, whose strict gun laws and low rates of violent crime are often cited as proof that gun control works. To place the private ownership of guns in context, Malcolm offers a wide-ranging examination of English society from the Middle Ages to the late twentieth century, analyzing changing attitudes toward crime and punishment, the impact of war, economic shifts, and contrasting legal codes on violence. She looks at the level of armed crime in England before its modern restrictive gun legislation, the limitations that gun laws have imposed, and whether those measures have succeeded in reducing the rate of armed crime. Malcolm also offers a revealing comparison of the experience in England with that in the modern United States. Today Americans own some 200 million guns and have seen eight consecutive years of declining violence, while the English—prohibited from carrying weapons and limited in their right to self-defense—have suffered a dramatic increase in rates of violent crime.
- Anglemyer, Andrew, Tara Horvath, George Rutherford; The Accessibility of Firearms and Risk for Suicide and Homicide Victimization Among Household Members. A Systematic Review and Meta-analysis. Annals of Internal Medicine. 2014. Someone with access to firearms is three times more likely to commit suicide and nearly twice as likely to be the victim of a homicide as someone who does not have access, according to a comprehensive review of the scientific literature conducted by researchers at UC San Francisco.
- David Kopel. Guns, Mental Illness and Newtown. Wall Street Journal, 12/18/12.
- A 2000 New York Times study of 100 rampage murderers found that 47 were mentally ill.
- In the Journal of the American Academy of Psychiatry Law (2008), Jason C. Matejkowski and his co-authors reported that 16% of state prisoners who had perpetrated murders were mentally ill.
- A 2011 paper by Steven P. Segal at the University of California, Berkeley, “Civil Commitment Law, Mental Health Services, and U.S. Homicide Rates,” found that a third of the state-to-state variation in homicide rates was attributable to the strength or weakness of involuntary civil-commitment laws.
- Confronting Violence (by George A. Gellert, MD)
- Firearms Policy Research Centers
- Advocacy Organizations
- GunPolicy.org. Includes a comprehensive set of statistics, by country, on gun ownership, gun production and gun regulation.
- CeaseFire. An organization dedicated to savings lives by reducing the number of handgun-related deaths and injuries in the U.S.
- Handgun Control, Inc. (aka Brady Campaign)
- National Rifle Association (NRA: Fairfax, VA)