Do gun violence prevention laws work? What evidence shows


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(NewsNation) — The dramatic rise in gun violence has many Americans across the political spectrum looking for solutions. But with such an emotionally charged issue, it can be difficult to know what actually works.  

NewsNation analyzed research collected by the RAND Corporation for its Gun Policy in America initiative —  a comprehensive review of American gun policy with the goal of improving the factual quality of gun debates, without advocating for any side. 

The latest version of this research was released in 2020. Many of the policies RAND investigates have never been rigorously studied in part due to a ban on federal funding for research on gun violence, which was lifted in 2021. While that doesn’t mean other policies don’t work, it does limit possible insights that data might have revealed.


An estimated 4.6 million children live in homes with at least one loaded and unlocked gun, according to the 2021 National Firearm Survey. That’s a significant number when you consider 40% of suicides and 86% of homicides by juveniles were with a gun.

There are a number of Child Access Prevention (CAP) measures, including gun locks, ammunition storage, and levying penalties against adults who fail to keep guns away from kids.


There’s strong evidence that fewer children die when adults are required to restrict access to guns — in fact, no other policy showed stronger evidence, according to RAND’s research.

One study found that CAP laws lowered the suicide rate among children ages 14-17 by more than 8% in places where they were implemented.

Another found that unintentional shooting deaths dropped by 23% for children under the age of 15 in 12 states that had CAP laws between 1990 and 1994.

Many advocates say child access prevention laws are “basic, common sense measures to reduce gun violence,” because the tools are cheap and easily accessible.

“The techniques are not very complicated,” said Tom O’Connor, co-founder of Gun Owners for Responsible Ownership. “A simple cable lock costs about five bucks.”

But the research shows that to work, adults need to feel the consequences. One study found that child access laws were more likely to reduce child accidental deaths and suicides when negligent or reckless adults were charged with a felony


Background checks are designed to prevent people with dangerous histories from accessing guns. According to federal law, all gun purchases from a licensed firearms dealer must be accompanied by a background check conducted by the National Instant Criminal Background Check System (NICS). 

But, in many states, you don’t need a background check when buying from private sellers, such as those at gun shows. 

Some federal lawmakers have proposed a universal background check system that would include these private sales. Opponents argue background checks fail to stop criminals from getting guns and that universal background checks could criminalize families or friends lending out their firearms.


There’s moderate evidence that dealer background checks reduce firearm homicides, according to RAND’s analysis. 

But data on whether private sales checks prevent violence is less clear, perhaps in part due to the inconsistency across state laws.  

In fact, RAND did not find rigorous evidence that background checks for private sales — a requirement imposed by a little under half of states — reduce killings with a gun.

Domestic Violence Restrictions

The presence of a gun during a domestic violence incident increases the risk of homicide by 500%, according to the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence.


Several studies have found less access to firearms results in significantly lower rates of intimate partner homicide.

When people are screened out due to a history of domestic violence, research also shows the overall rate of homicides is reduced. 

A study of homicides over 20 years found that the most successful versions of these laws prohibited both purchase and possession (versus possession only).

Federal law stops individuals from owning guns if they have been convicted of domestic violence. But at the state level, the rules are conflicting.

In Wisconsin, a man was given back his gun rights despite breaking into his estranged wife’s home because the state’s disorderly conduct law didn’t match the federal government’s definition of domestic violence.

Also, prohibiting guns from those with misdemeanor domestic violence or stalking convictions may actually increase the likelihood of rape or assault. Still, due to the disparity in how these state laws are written, the findings of this study are in dispute.


For a period from 1993 to 1998, the federal Brady Law required buyers to wait five days before completing a handgun purchase. This was seen as a stopgap measure that would be put into place while the federal government assembled the NICS. Much of the research on waiting periods is derived from the Brady Law. 

Today, 10 states have their own waiting periods, implemented under the theory that they could prevent impulsive acts of violence. Some of those policies apply to all firearms, while others apply only to handguns, assault weapons or semiautomatic rifles. 


There is moderately strong evidence that waiting periods reduce total homicides and firearm suicides.

In one study RAND cites, the researchers estimated that waiting periods reduce firearm-related suicides by 2-5 percent. Another 2014 study estimated that the 17 states (plus Washington D.C.) avoided around 750 gun homicides due to waiting periods.

Additional research found that waiting periods reduced intimate-partner homicides, but these effects were found to be significant only for waiting periods between two and seven days. Alarmingly, waiting periods of longer than seven days were found to significantly increase intimate-partner homicides.

If you or someone you know needs help, resources or someone to talk to, you can find it at the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline website or by calling 1-800-273-8255. People are available to talk to 24/7.

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