In the aftermath of the June 2016 mass shooting in Orlando, a debate has again turned to whether gun control legislation actually works to reduce gun-related violence. Over the years studies have produced mixed results, which fuels the debate, providing science-based arguments on both sides. However, researchers at Columbia University's Mailman School of Public Health have now settled the debate by conducting a massive international review of studies published all the way back to 1950. They found that gun control laws are in fact associated with lower rates of gun-related violence in most countries.
About the Study
The study, titled "What Do We Know About the Association Between Firearm Legislation and Firearm-Related Injuries?" was published in Epidemiologic Reviews in February 2016. Lead by Dr. Julian Santaella-Tenorio, a team of researchers examined the findings from 130 studies from 10 countries published between 1950 and 2014. The studies reviewed were all conducted to examine the connection between gun laws and gun-related homicides, suicides, and unintentional injuries and deaths.
The laws in question covered a range of issues related to citizen access to guns. They included laws that govern the use of guns, like the right to carry and stand your ground laws; the sale of guns, including background checks and waiting periods; ownership restrictions, like bans on purchasing for persons with a felony record or documented mental condition; storage-related laws designed to prevent child access in the home; and laws that regulate access to certain guns like automatic and semi-automatic weapons and high-capacity magazines. The studies reviewed included numerous other laws within these categories, which are listed in full in the report.
The Convincing and Consistent Evidence
While the researchers did find some conflicting findings within their review, they found enough convincing and consistent evidence across various locations to conclude that laws that restrict access to and govern the use of guns are associated with reductions in gun-related deaths, lower rates of intimate partner homicide, and reductions in unintentional gun-related deaths of children. The researchers, however, emphasize that their findings from the review of these 130 studies do not prove causality between gun control legislation and reduced rates of gun violence. Rather, the findings point to an association or correlation between the two variables. Santaella-Tenorio summed this up for Columbia University's online news outlet, saying, "In most countries, we saw evidence of the reduction in the firearm death rates after the enactment of firearm legislation.”
A Look at Other Nations
Honing in on specifics, the study found laws that target multiple aspects of gun control reduced gun-related deaths in some countries. They highlight the well-known clear evidence from Australia that followed the passage of the country's 1996 National Firearm Agreement. Studies that have examined rates of gun violence following the passage of this legislative package found that it led to a decline in gun-related deaths, gun-related suicides, and mass shootings. The researchers point out that similar studies found similar results in other nations.
Studies of Targeted Laws
Focusing on studies of more targeted laws, the researchers found that in some cases, restrictions on purchasing, access, and use of guns are associated with reduced gun-related deaths. Studies from the U.S. show that when background checks include restraining orders, fewer women are killed by current or former romantic partners through the use of guns. Further, some studies from the U.S. show that laws that require background checks to include local mental health facility records are associated with fewer gun-related suicides.
Studies of Legislation in Place
The review also found that studies that focused on legislation that relaxes gun laws, like stand your ground and right to carry laws, and the repeal of existing laws leads to an increase in gun-related homicides. So, contrary to the belief of the NRA and many others in the U.S., the right to carry laws do not reduce gun violence.
There's never been more compelling evidence that legislative control of our access to and use of guns is a benefit to society.