According to Everytown Research, firearms injure or kill approximately 136,000 Americans each year. While the majority of gun deaths are the result of suicide, a slew of mass shootings in recent years has inspired movements such as March for Our Lives, Moms Demand Action, and Everytown for Gun Safety that advocate for a comprehensive set of “common sense” firearm restrictions. But how effective are such policies when implemented at the state level? Given this context and the continued debate in Michigan’s Legislature on whether concealed pistol licenses should be optional, now is the time to analyze what academia has to say on the broader issue of gun legislation.
Disagreement over Red Flag Laws
Gun safety advocates believe the least government can do to protect its citizens from gun violence is to pass Extreme Risk Protection Orders (ERPOs), better known as Red Flag Laws. Essentially, ERPOs allow certain family members and loved ones to request that law enforcement officials temporarily confiscate guns belonging to a family member whose behavior is concerning. In addition to confiscating their guns, these protection orders also restrict new gun purchases while safeguarding the gun owner’s due process rights and setting a legal standard (usually probable cause) that must be met before a warrant for confiscation is executed. Some research suggests the implementation of these protection orders at the state level is highly effective, particularly when it pertains to domestic violence. According to Zeoli et al., Red Flag Laws that include firearm prohibitions for domestic violence perpetrators (including dating partners) bring about significant reductions in intimate partner homicide (2017). However, not all studies indicate similar merit in adopting ERPOs. In fact, one study attributes a slight increase in state murder and suicide rates immediately following the passage of Red Flag Laws to the heightened fear of confiscation/intervention among gun owners (Lott, Jr. and Moody 2018). Consequently, at least on the question of ERPOs, research remains indeterminate.
Consensus over State Permission
However, the evidence is much more clear with regard to various forms of state permission, including firearm permits, registrations, and licenses. One study finds that all three methods of state firearm authentication lead to reductions in both nominal and proportional suicide, with permits proving the most effective (Anestis et al. 2006). Meanwhile, another study’s findings further support the efficacy of gun permits by demonstrating a correlation between more permits and fewer firearm homicides (and vice versa) (Crifasi in Stockwell 2018). These conclusions are buoyed by yet more scholarly research, as Goyal et al. find that states with stricter gun policies - including firearm IDs, universal background checks for firearms, and universal background checks for ammunition - experience lower rates of firearm-related mortality for children (2019). Thus, on this issue, it appears there is consensus in academia: allowing states to identify who owns a firearm and authenticate his or her ability to own it consistently decreases gun tragedy.
Conclusion: An Overarching Correlation
Upon any serious reading of the literature, near-unanimity emerges around the issue of gun violence and ways to prevent it. While those like Lott, Jr., and Moody found negligible results around the “common sense” policy of Red Flag Laws, they are vastly outnumbered by scholars with findings that support measures such as various modes of state permission and universal background checks. Whether it is a decrease in intimate partner homicide shown in Zeoli et al., a lower firearm-related child mortality found in Goyal et al., or the population-wide reductions in suicide and mortality demonstrated in Anestis et. al and Stockwell, an overarching correlation in the research is clear: reasonable barriers to gun ownership save lives.
4, April. “Gun Violence in America.” EverytownResearch.org, Everytown For Gun Safety, 14 Aug. 2019, everytownresearch.org/gun-violence-america/.
Anestis, Michael D., et al. “The Association Between State Laws Regulating Handgun Ownership and Statewide Suicide Rates.” American Journal of Public Health, vol. 105, no. 10, 2015, pp. 2059–2067., doi:10.2105/ajph.2014.302465.
Goyal, Monika K., et al. “State Gun Laws and Pediatric Firearm-Related Mortality.” Pediatrics, vol. 144, no. 2, 2019, doi:10.1542/peds.2018-3283.
Lott, John R., and Carlisle E. Moody. “Do Red Flag Laws Save Lives or Reduce Crime?” SSRN Electronic Journal, 27 Jan. 2019, doi:10.2139/ssrn.3316573.
Stockwell, Serena. “Studies Document Reductions in Murder, Suicide Rates with Certain Gun Laws.” AJN, American Journal of Nursing, vol. 118, no. 9, 2018, p. 13., doi:10.1097/01.naj.0000544960.67496.6b.
Zeoli, April M, et al. “Analysis of the Strength of Legal Firearms Restrictions for Perpetrators of Domestic Violence and Their Associations With Intimate Partner Homicide.” American Journal of Epidemiology, vol. 187, no. 11, 2018, pp. 2365–2371., doi:10.1093/aje/kwy174.
Troy Distelrath is an IPPSR Undergraduate Policy Fellow and a second-year student in James Madison College and the Honors College at Michigan State University. He is majoring in Social Relations and Policy and Comparative Cultures and Politics. His policy interests include income and wealth inequality, environmental justice, and gun legislation. He’s pursuing an academic career in public policy.