In the last few weeks, Democratic presidential candidates, Congressional leaders, and even the President, have been proposing various gun control policies to curb gun violence in America. But a recent study from the Journal of Rural Health shows that certain firearm laws are more effective at reducing violence than others, depending on if you live in an urban or rural area.
What Researchers Looked At
Michael Siegel, a researcher at Boston University’s School of Public Health, and a team of researchers compared the effectiveness of gun laws on the firearm homicide rate of an area.
“We wanted to give policy makers a sense of priorities,” Siegel said. “There’s a limited amount of political capital, in the sense that they’re not going to pass 10 different laws. So, if you can pass only a few, what are the ones that will have the greatest impact?”
Siegel and his colleagues categorized various gun laws into six categories:
- Universal Background Checks: Universal background checks are required at point-of-sale for all firearms sales
- Permit-to-Purchase Requirements: Permits are required to obtain all firearms
- Possession of Firearms By Violent Offenders: Law prohibits firearm possession by people convicted of a violent misdemeanor crime
- Concealed Carry Permitting: Law provides authorities with a high level of discretion in deciding whether to grant a concealed carry permit; The applicant must make a heightened showing of a need to carry a concealed firearm.
- Stand Your Ground Law: State has a law that allows the use of deadly force without a duty to retreat when a person is threatened
- Gun Trafficking: No person may purchase a firearm with the intent to re-sell to a person who is prohibited from buying or possessing a firearm.
Then, they compared the firearm homicide rates in an area before and after a firearm law was implemented.
What They Found
Siegel and his team found that laws that regulate the types of weapons that are available for purchase don’t seem to be effective at reducing homicide rates.
Many candidates, including former Rep. Beto O’Rourke, Sen. Cory Booker, Mayor Pete Buttigieg, Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand and Sen. Kamala Harris, have included the banning of assault weapons in their gun control plan.
Siegel says, contrary to popular belief, his research shows assault weapons bans aren’t as effective at preventing gun violence.
Siegel points out that handguns can be just as lethal with high- magazine capacities and that definitions of “assault-style” weapons are inconsistent.
“The only ways that people have come up with to define an assault weapon have been essentially the cosmetic features of a gun,” he said. “Features of a gun that are largely cosmetic and don’t actually affect the lethality of the gun.”
Further, he says these proposed laws focus on mass shootings, which don’t make up the majority of gun violence cases.
The Most Effective Approach
“The most effective approach to reducing gun violence is to regulate the highest risk situations,” Siegel said.
His research found that the laws which regulate who has access to firearms were associated with the greatest reduction in firearm homicide rates.
Siegel defines “high risk” as someone who has a history of violence.
“We know that the way to have the greatest impact is to intervene in situations where there’s the highest risk,” said Siegel.“And so, the greatest risk factor for violence is a history of violence.”
He points the gunman in the shooting at First Baptist Church in Sutherland Springs in November 2017. He had a history of domestic violence against his ex-wife, but was still able to purchase a firearm.
Siegel believes that laws, which require permits to purchase firearms, would help prevent situations like this from happening.
“Having a permit requirement means that in order to obtain a gun possess a gun, you have to obtain a permit,” Siegel said. “And of course, to obtain a permit, they have to check to see if you have a criminal history.”
Siegel and his colleagues also found a geographic difference in the effectiveness of some gun regulations.
They found that two policies, universal background checks and “may issue” laws, were associated with lower firearm homicide rates in larger cities. These laws were not associated with lower firearm homicide rates in suburban or rural areas.
“May issue” laws gives law enforcement discretion in deciding whether to grant a concealed carry permit.
Siegel’s team also found that laws that prohibit people convicted of violent misdemeanors from purchasing firearms are more effective in rural and suburban areas than in more urban areas. Permit-to-Purchase requirement laws were the only kinds of laws that were found to be universally effective.
Siegel is working on new research to better understand why some gun control laws are more effective in certain areas and not others.
Guns & America is a public media reporting project on the role of guns in American life.