In the 1996, the U.S. Congress enacted a federal ‘ban’ on gun control and violence research. Even twenty year later, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, a public health agency with an annual budget of seven billion dollars and tasked with saving lives, is essentially castrated. Instead, the public has had to rely on studies made by universities and independent agencies which performed surveys on their own dime. Even so, studies suggest that gun control laws, which can vary wildly from state to state, are associated with a decrease or increase in homicides compared to baseline.
“Gun violence is one of the top public health problems in the nation. If you’re in an urban area and African American, it’s probably the number one public health problem you’re going to face,” Michael Siegel, an epidemiologist and member of the Violence Prevention Research Unit at Boston University, told Wired.
Previously, we reported how the largest and most comprehensive study of its kind, which studied the effects of gun control policies in ten different countries, found strict gun control reduces firearm-related homicides. Many critics might argue however that the United States is unique and comparing the nation with others is biased and bound to lead to false conclusions.
Not one, but two recent studies blow this sort of thinking out of the water. One of the papers made by researchers at the Harvard Medical School looked at five types of gun laws that:
- curb gun trafficking;
- strengthen background checks;
- improve child safety;
- ban military-grade assault weapons;
- restrict firearms in public places and leniency in firearm carrying;
The research found “that stronger firearm laws are associated with reductions in firearm homicide rates,” with the strongest evidence of such an effect observed for laws that strengthen background checks. There was no strong evidence that laws that focus on trafficking, child safety, and assault weapons lead to fewer gun-related homicides, both homicides or suicides. The effects held true even after adjusting for demographics and sociological factors.
The other study looked at the effects of Florida’s controversial stand-your-ground law. Enacted in 2005, the law allows residents to use deadly force instead of running away or calling for help when faced with a life-threatening situation. This gave people the legal immunity to shoot other people, which critics vehemently voicing concerns that the law — which has since passed in ten other states — will lead to more homicides. One particular disturbing incident involved the killing of 17-year-old Trayvon Martin by George Zimmerman in 2012. Zimmerman was acquitted after claiming self-defense despite the fact that the teenager was unarmed.
Researchers first looked at the effects of Florida’s law by analyzing injury and homicide rates collected by the CDC prior and after 2005. They then compared their results with known injury and homicide rates in four other states — New York, New Jersey, Ohio, and Virginia.
After Florida’s stand-your-ground law was implemented, the researchers found the state’s overall monthly homicide rate jumped by 24.4% and homicide by firearm rate increased by 31.6%. It’s worth considering at this point that homicide rates in Florida were falling in the intervening years before the law was passed but shot up after. Property crimes and robberies, the very crimes the stand-your-grand law was supposed to deter, weren’t impacted by the law. It seems the only thing that changed was that a lot more people got killed.
“As the first state to implement a ‘stand your ground’ law, Florida is an important test case about the removal of the ‘duty to retreat’ principle,” the study published in JAMA wrote.