Gauging the Effectiveness of Gun Control Laws

Evidence Shows How Legislation Can Lower U.S. Firearm Mortality Rates, in a New Report in the Medical Journal, The Lancet, Co-Authored by Columbia Law Professor Jeffrey Fagan

New York, March 10, 2016—The impact and limitations of specific gun laws on firearm mortality in America are documented in a new study published today in the British medical journal The Lancet and co-authored by Columbia Law School Professor Jeffrey A. Fagan, a leading expert on crime, law, and social policy. 

Gun violence is a major public health concern in the U.S., with about 90 people killed each day by firearms. More than 31,600 gun-related deaths occurred in 2010, or slightly more than 10 per every 100,000 Americans. To reduce gun mortality rates, states have enacted a range of legislation over the past decade to augment the federal government’s main gun-control law, the Brady Handgun Violence Prevention Act of 1993.
Other state legislation has restricted the reach of the Brady Act, simplifying the purchase of firearms and ammunition. Of the 25 state gun laws identified in the report, nine were credited with reducing firearm mortality, nine were associated with increased firearm mortality, and seven had an inconclusive association. Three of the state laws were strongly associated with lower numbers of firearm deaths, and at least one was associated with higher firearm mortality rates.
The authors of the article, Firearm Legislation and Firearm Mortality in the USA: A Cross-sectional, State-level Study, conclude that federal implementation of three specific laws alone would substantially cut gun mortality rates nationally:
  • Universal background checks for gun purchases, which could reduce national firearm deaths from 10.3 to 4.46 per 100,000 people;
  • Background checks for ammunition purchases, which could reduce the mortality rate to 1.99 deaths per 100,000 people; and
  • Firearm identification, by either microstamping or ballistic fingerprinting, which could reduce the death rate to 1.81 per 100,000 people.
“Very few of the existing state-specific laws are associated with reduced firearm mortality, and this evidence underscores the importance of focusing on relevant and effective firearms legislation,” the authors write. 
Fagan is available for media interviews on the report and can be reached directly by email: [email protected] 
The report’s authors are legal and medical experts, including Fagan (who also serves as a professor of epidemiology at Columbia University’s Mailman School of Public Health) ; Bindu Kalesan, director of the Evans Center for Translational Epidemiology and Comparative Effectiveness Research at the Boston University School of Medicine;  Matthew E. Mobily of the Mailman School of Public Health at Columbia University; Olivia Keiser, head of research for the Institute of Social and Preventive Medicine at the University of Bern, Switzerland; and Sandro Galea, dean of the Boston University School of Public Health and the former chair of the department of epidemiology at Columbia University.