Gun control laws are in the media spotlight once again in the wake of the Arizona shooting that killed six people and injured 13 including U.S. Rep. Gabrielle Giffords. Already, the Arizona Legislature has introduced two new bills that would loosen gun controls on college campuses. But what do we really know about gun control laws? Is there evidence that they reduce violence?
As unsatisfying as it sounds, the answer is that we just don’t know. One of the only systematic reviews available on this topic was published by the Community Guide, a resource at the U.S. Centers for Disease Control for evidence-based recommendations on improving public health. It reviewed more than 40 studies on gun control laws ranging from bans to restrictions to waiting periods. (You can read a summary of the report here.)
The conclusion: “The evidence available from identified studies was insufficient to determine the effectiveness of any of the firearms laws reviewed singly or in combination.”
Essentially, the review concludes that there is a lack of high-quality studies that evaluate specific gun control laws. One challenge is that information about guns and who owns them is limited to protect the privacy of firearms owners.
So what do we know about firearms in the U.S.?
We know that firearms are present in about one-third of U.S. households, and that there are handguns in about half of those homes.
We also have a National Violent Death Reporting System, which collects information from death certificates, medical examiner reports and police reports in 19 states. According to the reporting system, 66 percent of all murders and 51 percent of suicides are committed with guns. But that doesn’t tell us much – like whether the murders and suicides would occur by other means or, given stricter gun control laws, whether the perpetrators would find a way to obtain guns illegally.
The bottom line is that researchers and government officials need to step up to conduct more research and find a proven way to prevent gun violence from taking the lives of innocent citizens.