Making it illegal for an adult to store a gun in a place where a child might access it could result in nearly 2,500 fewer gun deaths a year in the US, new research shows
- Every year, about 40,000 people in the US die from homicides and suicides involving firearms.
- Despite some restrictions on gun control research, scientists have evaluated how certain policies affect gun deaths.
- According to new research, strict child access prevention laws — which make it illegal for an adult to store a gun in a place that makes it easy for a child to access and fire it — result in a 6% reduction in gun deaths.
- Strict background checks and prohibiting domestic abusers from owning weapons are also policies associated with reduced rates of gun violence.
Nearly 40,000 Americans die from firearm injuries every year. Most of these firearm deaths are not from mass shootings, but from suicides and homicides, according to the CDC.
The number of gun deaths in the US is much higher than in other nations with similar rates of gun ownership (like Switzerland), but certain policies can help prevent these fatalities.
According to a study published Monday, stricter laws regulating firearm storage can reduce US gun deaths by 6% — resulting in nearly 2,500 fewer deaths per year. These laws, called child access protection (CAP) laws, make it illegal for an adult to store a gun, or ammunition, in a place that makes it easy for a child to access and fire it.
The study authors also found that right-to-carry (RTC) laws, which make it easy to carry concealed firearms, and stand your ground (SYG) laws, which limit legal liability of people who use guns in self-defense, were each associated with a 3% annual increase in gun deaths.
"These are modest effects, and yet even a small effect in terms of deaths caused is a lot of dead people — thousands per year," Terry Schell, lead author of the study and scientist at RAND, a nonprofit research organization, told Business Insider.
Stricter laws that prevent children from easily accessing guns reduce gun deaths
To reach their conclusions, Schell and his colleagues tracked data of gun deaths in the six years following the implementation of each law.
"We're looking at three specific types of laws that don't dictate how you buy a weapon, or who may buy and possess a weapon, but rather dictate what are the restrictions on how people store and use a weapon once they have it," Schell said.
They looked at data across different states between 1980 and 2016, and found that CAP laws were associated with 6% fewer firearm-related deaths.
According to Giffords Law Center, 4.6 million minors in the US live in homes with at least one loaded, unlocked firearm. One 2006 study showed that 73% of children in Alabama under age 10 living in homes with guns reported knowing the location of their parents' firearms, and 36% admitted they had handled the weapons without the knowledge of their parents.
But only 27 states have enacted CAP laws.
In 2015, 13 million US households with children contained firearms. Fewer than one in three of those households, however, followed the American Academy of Pediatrics' recommendations to store all household firearms locked and unloaded.
A 2019 study found that up to 32% of youth suicides and accidental firearm deaths (with youth defined as any person 19 years old or younger) could have been prevented if the remainder of these households were to lock up their guns.
Specifically, the researchers found that if 20% of households that keep at least one gun unlocked started locking up all their guns within a year, between 72 and 135 youth firearm fatalities could be prevented.
Right-to-carry laws and stand-your-ground laws are associated with higher rates of gun deaths
Schell's team found that RTC and SYG laws were associated with 3% more gun deaths per year.
Schell said his group hasn't explored why these laws are associated with such outcomes.
"We don't know if that it's because people who carrying concealed weapons are now committing more crimes, or are victims of more crimes, or are more likely to be shot by police because they're carrying a gun," he said.
But the study authors did note that states with the most restrictive combinations of these policies — places that have a CAP law and no SYG or RTC laws — had 11% fewer firearm deaths per year than states without CAP laws that did have SYG and RTC policies in place.
That results in an estimated 4,475 fewer firearm deaths annually across the US.
Other policies that reduce rates of gun violence
While Schell and his colleagues' new study examined only the effects of child-access-prevention, right-to-carry, and stand-your-ground laws, other policies are proven to lower rates of gun violence and injury.
Currently, US law only requires background checks when people buy guns from licensed firearms dealers. However, other research from RAND estimates that universal background checks could prevent 1,100 homicides per year.
Data shows that states that require background checks on all gun sales had 35% fewer gun deaths per capita between 2009 and 2012.
A 2018 study found that states that have stricter background-check laws for gun purchases have fewer school shootings. Though not the most common form of gun violence, school shootings have spiked in the US: There was an average of one per year from 1966 to 2008, but an average of one per week from 2013 to 2015, the same study found.
Longer prison sentences for crimes involving a gun — like armed robbery and assault with a deadly weapon — have also been shown to help reduce violent firearm use.
Gun-robbery rates have gone down in states that approved longer sentences for assault or robbery with a gun.
Barring people convicted of domestic abuse from owning guns also decreases the number of gun deaths.
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