The GVP community is abuzz with the recent publication of a study that is being advertised as showing that more gun-control laws equals less gun violence. At least this is the headline in a story about the study published by Vox which states that gun control “actually works.” Except that’s not exactly what the study says. The scholars analyzed 130 peer-reviewed articles published between 1950 and 2014, although only 58 articles were utilized to create a scale of responses to various changes in gun laws, of which 50 of the articles were published since 2001.
The article groups those 58 studies into three, broad categories: (1). studies which examine the effects of laws covering personal behavior with firearms (e.g., CCW, castle doctrine) on homicides and gun homicides; (2). studies covering changes in firearms laws that target gun access and homicides; (3). studies on the effects of changes in firearms laws that target gun access and suicide. Grouping the studies into these three categories produces results that are, to put it mildly, somewhat mixed.
On the question of the relationship between arming civilians and increasing or decreasing gun violence, the jury is exactly split. Half the articles cited found that laws which made it easier to walk around armed resulted in drops in homicides; the same number of articles found that the extension of CCW resulted in more homicidal deaths. It should be pointed out that a majority of articles on both sides of this issue were pro and con contributions to the John Lott ‘more guns = less crime’ thesis, including, of course, the seminal publications by Lott himself.
On the issue of whether gun-control statutes play a role in diminishing gun homicides, the studies listed appear to confirm the idea that more gun laws lead to less gun violence, at least this is what the articles appear to say. But when I looked at the article by Rosengart, which is cited no less than three times in support of the notion that more gun laws leads to less gun violence, the author in fact concludes that, “No law was associated with a statistically significant decrease in the rates of firearm homicides or total homicides.” Another article by T. B. Marvell is summarized as showing almost an 8% reduction in gun violence, but the author in fact states that, “even with many different crime measures and regression specifications, there is scant evidence that the laws have the intended effect of reducing gun homicides.”
As for the grouping of articles purporting to show a connection between more gun laws and less gun suicides, here again the articles all appear to support the idea that CAP laws, background checks, minimum purchase age and banning of small, cheap guns lead to reductions in gun suicide from 3% to as much as 45%. But once again I find myself drawn to the text of one of those cited articles which says, “No law was associated with a statistically significant change in firearm suicide rates.”
The authors of this study admit that “challenges in ecological design and the execution of studies limit the confidence in study findings and the conclusions that can be derived from them.” Which is a polite way of saying that their conclusions should be taken with several grains of salt. But I am not surprised that the public health scholarly landscape still has major gaps when you consider that research funding has been basically non-existent since 1998.
But let’s say for the sake of argument that the funding spigot gets turned back on and all those research gaps are filled in. And let’s further say that when the research holes are completely filled that it turns out that more gun-control laws really do result in gun violence going down. Do you think for one second that the NRA would accept the research as valid when it comes to gun control and begin to change its tune?