In the “Science Of Gun Policy,” a new analysis of research by the RAND Corporation on 18 types of gun laws, the non-partisan think tank found that evidence of these laws’ effects remains limited, leaving the public with a shortage of information on gun policies.
The report’s authors called for more research funding, concluding that “rigorous research” examining the effects of many state gun policies is “virtually nonexistent.”
The report, in its second edition, analyzes research on the effects of firearms policies on areas like gun violence, gun ownership, and participation in hunting and shooting. For example, researchers considered studies examining how minimum age requirements could impact suicide and how gun-free zones could impact mass shootings.
In one of the paper’s clearest findings, multiple studies showed that child access prevention or “safe storage” laws, which hold gun owners liable when children access their guns in a dangerous way, are associated with a reduction in suicides and accidents among young people.
Rosanna Smart, the lead author of the report, said that these laws may encourage adults to lock their guns away or may dissuade some potential gun buyers, but that RAND’s work did not dig into why gun laws were having a particular effect.
According to the report, studies showing how CAP laws impact gun owners are scarce. That’s a hole in much of the literature, according to Smart.
“We have a lot of research that’s looked at effects on deaths and on violent crime but almost no research into how these laws affect defensive gun use, hunting and recreational gun use, outcomes related to the gun industry,” Smart said, “and those are really important outcomes for a lot of stakeholders involved in these policy debates.”
The effects of many common gun laws were found by the researchers to be inconclusive, including research on so-called red flag laws.These laws, also known as extreme risk protection order laws, allow a judge to order the removal of guns from someone deemed to be a risk to themselves or others and have been signed into law in at least 19 states and Washington, D.C. Some studies suggest that red flag laws can reduce suicide rates, giving many gun control groups fuel. But Smart says too few states have been included in these studies to extrapolate the results nationally.
“These are relatively recent laws and as time goes on and we have time to observe the effects of what these laws are, I think research will begin to accumulate and we can update the science on what we find from these new experiences in these new states,” Smart said.
RAND researchers recommended that states consider repealing “stand your ground” laws, policies that allow gun owners to use deadly force in self-defense. Multiple studies showed an association between stand-your-ground laws and an increase in firearm homicides.
“So while the stated purpose of these laws is to allow individuals to use guns in certain cases of self-defense more readily and to improve public safety, that didn’t appear to be the effect as it came out in the literature,” Smart said. “It appeared to be more of a threat of public safety.”
Guns & America is a public media reporting project on the role of guns in American life.