Gun control laws actually work – both ways, unfortunately

In this week’s obvious news, laws that allow people to kill other people with guns have led to more people killing other people with guns. According to two new research papers, stricter firearm laws are associated with fewer firearm homicides, and the implementation of Florida’s stand-your-ground law was associated with increased firearm homicides.

These findings, released today by the JAMA Internal Medicine, may sound obvious. But since Congress has essentially withheld all funding for gun violence research for the last 20 years, large-scale studies of this sort have been few and far between. As The Atlantic reported, “In the mid-1990s, Congress declared that funding at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention shouldn’t be used to advocate for gun control, and it effectively blocked funding for the study of gun violence at the agency.” Despite studies showing that gun violence is a threat to human health and safety, the CDC, a federally funded public health agency with a seven billion dollar annual budget, still withholds support from gun research. Perhaps these new findings will bolster the case for federal funding.

Don’t hold your breath waiting for chickenshit Congress-critters to act.

One paper released today, first-authored by Lois K. Lee of Harvard Medical School, examined five types of gun laws: “those that (1) curb gun trafficking, (2) strengthen background checks, (3) improve child safety, (4) ban military-style assault weapons, and (5) restrict firearms in public places and leniency in firearm carrying.” The researchers found strong evidence that laws strengthening background checks and purchase permits helped decrease gun homicide rates. Interestingly, the researchers did not find strong evidence that laws focusing on trafficking, child safety and assault weapons decreased firearm homicides. The evidence for the effects of laws regarding guns in public places was not conclusive either way. On the whole, though, they found that, “stronger gun policies were associated with decreased rates of firearm homicide, even after adjusting for demographic and sociologic factors.”

Another paper released today, also in JAMA Internal Medicine, tracked the effects of Florida’s stand-your-ground law since its implementation in 2005. This law allows a person to use deadly force instead of retreating from what they believe to be a life-threatening encounter. To conduct this research, David K. Humphreys of University of Oxford and his colleagues examined gun death data for the years leading up to 2005 and the years after, then compared them to other states’ data for the same years. They found that gun homicides increased in the years following 2005, while prior to 2005 they had remained relatively stable. The comparison states (New York, New Jersey, Ohio, and Virginia) which don’t have stand-your-ground laws, did not have similar increases, strengthening the evidence that this is a Florida trend associated with stand-your-ground laws, not part of a national trend…

Informed discussion requires sound data. When public bodies, from the Republican Party and Blue Dog Democrats to the NRA oppose the collection of any data at all they only illuminate their cowardice, their fear of law and public practice reflecting conclusions about best practices. Ideology trumps evidence quite easily when evidence collection is forbidden.

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