Opinion Columns & Blogs

Do gun laws reduce gun homicide rates?

After nearly 60 people were killed and more than 500 were wounded at a shooting at a concert in Las Vegas, debate immediately emerged about whether gun control legislation might have stopped the shooter, who amassed 23 weapons (more than half had “bump stocks) and 1,600 rounds of ammunition. So my students and I tested a gun control law to see if it might have preventing gun-based killings, and here is what we found.

We started by looking at a series of studies, to see what others found. The first graph compared state gun ownership (percentage of households) with gun deaths per 100,000 residents in each state, showing a positive relationship. That means states where gun ownership is more plentiful will have a higher gun death rate. But, as one student pointed out, it dealt with gun ownership, not gun deaths. Another student asked “What about all of the guns we don’t know about?”

We also found a study that showed states with at least one firearm law designed to protect children were more likely to have a lower number of deaths due to injury by firearm (as a rate). But that wouldn’t have covered the Las Vegas shooting case.

A “smartgunlaws.org” scorecard gave states an A, B, C, D or F, based upon enacting legislation, as well as the “gun death rate.” But the grade, as well as the state ranking (1-51, including D.C.) seemed arbitrary. Among all of the B’s, or F’s, are they ranked in order to correlate with the gun death rate? Plus, if a gun control group put it together, could it really be unbiased? So we passed on that one.

We also looked at the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) website on gun mortality rates. But these deal with all deaths by guns: accidental (non-homicide shootings), suicides, folks killed while cleaning their guns, etc. It doesn’t cover gun homicides.

So finally we found a study with data from the CDC, the NRA-ILA, and The Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence. It sounds like as unbiased a source as any. It compared the averages of states where background checks are required for all gun sales, including private ones. And the average gun-related homicide rate per 100,000 people among gun control states (3.31) was lower than those with no regulation of private gun sales (4.28).

But there’s a problem. Two gun control states, and nine gun rights states, had too few gun homicides to calculate a rate, and were left out of the study. Rather than ignore this important result, my students and I created a 2x2 table, with high (1) and low (0) gun homicide rate states, and those that regulate private sales (1), and those that do not (0). And here are our results.

In comparing our observations to a random model, we found that there was little to no difference in the results. We cannot conclude that states that regulate private gun sales have a higher, or lower, gun homicide rate.

Throughout the rest of the semester, we’ll look at the efficacy of rules on mental health ownership of firearms, as well as conceal and carry laws, to see if they have any impact on gun homicide rates.

John A. Tures is associate professor of political science at LaGrange College; jtures@lagrange.edu. Twitter: @JohnTures2. Contributors to this report include Seth Golden, Hank Harrison, Richard Howell, Mimi Loftus, and Kailey Riley.