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RAND Assesses The 'Modest Scientific Evidence' On Gun Policy

A new RAND Corporation report, part of a "Gun Policy in America" project, seeks to provide objective information about what the scientific literature examining gun policy says about the likely effects of laws.

The study synthesizes the available scientific data on the effects of various firearm policies on firearm deaths, violent crime, the gun industry, participation in hunting and sport shooting, and other outcomes.

The authors say they "hope to build consensus around a shared set of facts that have been established through a transparent, nonpartisan, and impartial review process."

RAND says that "despite modest scientific evidence," the data support several conclusions:

--Of more than 100 combinations of policies and outcomes, "surprisingly few have been the subject of methodologically rigorous investigation."

--Evidence supports the conclusion that child-access prevention laws, or safe storage laws, reduce self-inflicted fatal or nonfatal firearm injuries among youth, as well as unintentional firearm injuries or deaths among children.

--There is moderate evidence that background checks reduce firearm suicides and firearm homicides, as well as limited evidence that these policies can reduce suicide and violent crime rates. There is moderate evidence that stand-your-ground laws may increase homicide rates and limited evidence that the laws increase firearm homicides in particular.

--There is moderate evidence that violent crime is reduced by laws prohibiting the purchase or possession of guns by individuals who have a history of involuntary commitment to a psychiatric facility. There is limited evidence these laws may reduce total suicides and firearm suicides.

--There is limited evidence that a minimum age of 21 for purchasing firearms may reduce firearm suicides among youth.

The RAND authors offer several recommendations. Among them,

--When adopting or refining child-access prevention laws, states should consider making it a felony to violate these laws

--States that do not require a background check investigating all types of mental health histories that lead to federal prohibitions on firearm purchase or possession should consider implementing robust mental illness checks, which appear to reduce rates of gun violence.

--Congress should consider lifting current restrictions in appropriations legislation that limit research funding and access to data. The Biden administration should invest in firearm research portfolios at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the National Institutes of Health, and the National Institute of Justice at levels comparable to its current investment in other threats to public safety and health.

--The U.S. government and private research sponsors should support research examining the effects of gun laws on a wider set of outcomes, including crime, defensive gun use, hunting and sport shooting, officer-involved shootings, and the gun industry.

--Congress should consider eliminating the restrictions it has imposed on the use of gun trace data for research purposes.

--Researchers, reviewers, academics, and science reporters should expect new analyses of the effects of gun policies to improve on earlier studies by addressing the methodological limitations of earlier studies.


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