What science says about gun laws

  • 9 March 2018
  • NormanL
The science has spoken

The left is quite proud of its love of science. Their beliefs, their policy proposals, their wordview is based on science, or so they say. As such, science should be the sole objective measure of what is good for the people, and what is not.

So let's take them at their word and look at what science says about gun laws. The RAND corporation conducted a study of existing gun laws to determine which, if any, improved safety and public health. The findings were illuminating:

Across all of the 13 policies that we examined, only one—child-access prevention laws—had evidence that we classified as supportive, our highest evidence rating, for an effect on a particular outcome. Specifically, there is supportive evidence that child-access prevention laws reduce firearm self-injuries (including suicides) and unintentional firearm injuries and deaths among children. These laws differ from many of the other policies we considered in our analysis. Most of the others affect either the small proportion of guns that are newly acquired every year (e.g., background checks, waiting periods) or a relatively small proportion of gun owners (e.g., prohibitions that target the mentally ill; firearm surrender laws, which usually target domestic violence offenders). Child-access prevention laws, in contrast, are designed to influence how all guns in a state are stored when children could be expected to encounter them. This likely represents a large proportion of all guns because, according to U.S. Census Bureau research published in 2013, one-third of all households in the country have children under age 18, and many more have children as occasional visitors. With such large numbers of guns potentially affected, child-access prevention laws (even with imperfect compliance) may have a greater chance of producing observable effects in population-level statistics than other types of laws.

The RAND study includes a quick reference table showing whether the available evidence indicates whether a particular gun law produces a desired outcome. In the case of mass shootings, which dominate today's headlines, RAND discovered the evidence was "inconclusive" as to whether waiting periods, high capacity magazine bans, or other proposals reduced mass shootings. At the same time, there was "moderate" evidence that some pro-Second Amendment laws, particularly "stand your ground," are effective against violent crime

As noted in the excerpt above, RAND found only that age requirements had sufficient evidence to show they work -- as a means of lower accidental deaths and suicides. While we would say that a person determined to harm themselves will find a way to do so, regardless of any gun laws, we would also add that gun safety instruction can limit accidents (but no law can successfully ban intentionally reckless behavior).

As we have written before, we do not oppose measures that can increase public safety and health. What we opose are meaures that would needlessly, and unconstitutionally, infringe on an individual's Second Amendment rights. We also oppose fell good measures that add layers of red tape to the exercize of gun rights, but do nothing to imporve safety, let alone public health.

Science tells us many of the gun bills under consideration fall into the fell good category. They make it possible for politicians to get headlines, and appear as though they are doing something good and effective. Science says they are wasting their time.

RAND also identifies the larger issue in the debate: the number of firearms already in public hands:

...the United States has a large stock of privately owned guns in circulation—estimated by Philip Cook and Kristin Goss of Duke University in 2014 to be somewhere between 200 million and 300 million firearms. Laws designed to change who may buy new weapons, which weapons they may buy, or where and how they can use guns will predictably have only a small effect on, for example, homicide rates or participation in sport shooting, which are affected much more by the existing stock of firearms. But although small effects are especially difficult to identify with the statistical methods common in this field, they may be important. Even a 1-percent reduction in homicides corresponds to more than 1,500 fewer deaths over a decade.

Eliminating the existing stock of firearms is a goal of many gun rights opponents. But reaching that goal would take such draconian measures as to make the idea unworkable. That's not to say some tweaks to existing law might not be effective. As RAND notes, there is already evidence that some laws keep firearms out of the hands of those who should not and must not have them. We should explore those further, and leave the widespread gun grabbing rhetoric alone. 

The science has spoken.