More Gun Laws Means Fewer Gun Deaths, Study Says
States with more gun-related laws in place see fewer gun-related deaths, according to a study released last week by the Journal of American Medical Association.
The research was accompanied by an editorial cautioning that the data shows correlation, not causation, and couldn’t be considered comprehensive due to the number of variables involved.
According to the findings, states with the most gun laws have a rate of firearm-related fatalities, including murders and suicides, that is 42 percent lower than states with fewer laws.
The study looked at the four years between 2007 and 2010, during which there were 121,084 firearm deaths in the country. Among the laws scrutinized were those that dealt with background checks, gun trafficking, assault weapons and public carry rules.
“When you’re talking about 300 million people, you’re talking about thousands of deaths that would not otherwise have occurred,” Dr. Eric W. Fleegler, assistant professor of pediatrics at Harvard Medical School and the study’s lead author, told CNN.
Along with the numbers, however, was a critical take by Dr. Garen Wintemute, director of the Violence Prevention Research Program at the University of California. Wintemute noted the study’s limitations; namely, it only took into account how many laws a state has, not what the laws actually do or how well they are enforced.
Wintemute points out that states with more laws also have fewer gun owners, and brought up two possible reasons. “One is that these laws work, and that they work by decreasing the rate of gun ownership in a state, because we know that the rate of gun ownership is associated with the rate of violent death in a state,” he said. “But the other possibility, that’s at least as plausible, is that it’s easier to enact these laws in states that have a low rate of gun ownership to begin with.”
As a result of unanswered questions, the doctor asserts, the research isn’t useful for policy making without further study.
The Second Amendment Foundation, a gun rights group, did not respond to request for comment.
Shooting in the Dark
The limitations of the study highlight a major problem for researchers: The nation’s capacity to conduct comprehensive, empirical research on gun violence has been effectively crippled for the last two decades.
In the mid-1990s, the gun lobby, lead by the NRA, had language inserted into federal law that stated, “None of the funds made available for injury prevention and control at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention may be used to advocate or promote gun control.”
The agency essentially stopped looking at gun violence at all, for fear of violating the rule. Consequently, recent data, statistics and objective analysis about gun violence are extremely limited.
However, President Obama this winter did announce that he would direct the CDC to once against use its resources to research the causes and prevention of gun violence.
“There is no other public health problem or industry in America that is as shielded from public exposure as the gun industry,” says Jonathan Lowy, director of the Legal Action Project for the Brady Center to Prevent Gun Violence. “It makes absolutely no sense.”
The CDC intervention isn’t the only place that research has been blocked, Lowy points out. In 2003, the gun lobby got Congress to exempt gun-trace data from the Freedom of Information Act, crippling the ability of law enforcement to discover and intervene against dealers who serve as a pipeline to criminal gangs.
“Basic information about where crime guns are coming from, that for decades was shared with researchers and the public, is now kept secret,” says Lowy. “Even lawmakers and officials can’t get access to that basic information.”
Without access to basic data, we don’t even know what we don’t know — which is the whole point.