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Gun Violence Prevention Research Report: Summer 2018


9/17/2018

By Nina Vinik, Program Director, Gun Violence Prevention & Justice Reform Program

We’re pleased to share our Summer 2018 Gun Violence Prevention Research Report, which highlights new research published by Joyce Foundation grantees. This issue features data from a new study evaluating state gun laws, and what’s been learned from research on firearm storage by gun owners with children.

We hope you find this information valuable, and welcome your feedback.

This version of the report was updated on September 17, 2018.

Handgun Permit Laws Lead to Fewer Homicides in Urban Areas, New Research Shows

A new paper published in the Journal of Urban Health finds that handgun permit-to-purchase (PTP) laws are associated with a 14 percent decrease in gun homicides in large, urban counties. This builds on a growing body of research finding PTP laws that include a background check reduce homicide and gun trafficking. 

The study, “Association between Firearm Laws and Homicide in Urban Counties,” by Cassandra Crifasi and colleagues from Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health and Garen Wintemute of the University of California Davis, also examined the impact of comprehensive background check laws, right-to-carry laws, stand your ground laws, and laws prohibiting firearm purchase and possession by persons with violent misdemeanor convictions.* 

A unique feature of the study was its focus on the impact of these laws on homicides in large urban counties. The authors looked at these counties because firearm homicides tend to be concentrated in these areas. 

While the researchers found a significant impact from PTP laws, they concluded that comprehensive background check laws without a PTP did not lead to a reduction in homicides. The study discusses several reasons why that might be the case: the process of obtaining a permit often requires contact with a law enforcement agency and fingerprinting, thereby creating greater accountability and deterring straw purchasers; additional time to conduct a background check may more effectively screen prohibited persons; and the built-in waiting period associated with the permitting process may deter impulse purchases. 

The authors also found that large, urban counties in states with laws that enable people to carry and use guns in public places experience more gun homicides. Right-to-carry laws, which allow people to carry concealed, loaded weapons in public with minimal (or no) screening, are associated with a 4 percent increase in firearm homicide in urban counties. The study did not evaluate differences in right-to-carry laws, an area for future research. Likewise, stand-your-ground laws were associated with a 7 percent increase in firearm homicide. Stand your ground laws remove the duty to retreat before using deadly force in self-defense in public places.  

The study further found that homicides increased following the enactment of violent misdemeanor prohibitions; but the authors surmise that this may be a product of increasing homicide rates in years leading up to the enactment.    

This research adds to our understanding of the importance of permit-to-purchase laws as a policy that can reduce firearm homicide. Such laws should be considered by jurisdictions to improve the implementation and enforcement of comprehensive background check laws. It also points to a number of areas for further research, including:

  • What are the specific mechanisms of PTP laws that impact homicide rates?
  • Are there elements of right-to-carry laws that mitigate the dangerousness of carrying concealed, loaded weapons in public places?
  • How can jurisdictions improve the implementation and enforcement of comprehensive background check laws?
  • What is the impact of these policies on firearm suicides, and on non-fatal firearm injuries

Media coverage of the study appeared in US News & World Report, The Crime Report and NPR.

*A correction to: Association between Firearm Laws and Homicide in Urban Counties was posted online on August 16, 2018. The correction includes the following revised findings: (1) PTP laws were associated with an 11% reduction in firearm homicide in large, urban counties. (2) Right-to-carry laws were associated with a 7% increase in firearm homicide. (3) Stand Your Ground laws were associated with an 8% increase in firearm homicide.

21 Percent of Gun-Owning Households with Children Have Guns Stored Loaded and Unlocked

The presence of a gun in the home is a known risk factor for suicide and unintentional gun injuries to children, and guns used in suicides and accidental gun deaths of children often come from the child’s home. New research using data from the National Firearms Survey sheds light on how guns are stored in homes with children.   

Research published in the Journal of Urban Health examined data from the 2015 National Firearms Survey to determine the self-reported storage practices of gun owners with children. The authors estimate that 21 percent of gun-owning households with children contain a loaded and unlocked gun. This translates to approximately 4.6 million children living in a home with a loaded and unlocked gun.

"Firearm Storage in Gun-Owning Households with Children: Results of a 2015 National Survey,” by Deborah Azrael of Harvard’s School of Public Health, Joanna Cohen of Columbia University, and Carmel Salhi and Matthew Miller of Northeastern University, is the first study in nearly two decades to examine firearm storage practices in homes with children. 

Overall, the researchers find that nearly twice as many children live in homes where guns are stored loaded and unlocked as compared with 2002. While some of that difference is the result of population growth and measurement differences, the authors note other factors that are likely at play: gun owners are more likely to cite owning guns for protection, as opposed to hunting or sport; they are more likely to own handguns; and Americans are less aware of the risks of guns in the home. 

The researchers identified some noteworthy demographic differences:

  • Storage practices tend to be safer when children live in the home, especially young children.
  • Female gun owners with children were more likely to store at least one gun loaded and unlocked.
  • Households owning guns for protection are significantly more likely to have guns stored loaded and unlocked.

Another paper published in Pediatrics drills down on gun storage in homes with children who are at risk for self-harm. Suicide is the second leading cause of death for children between 10-17 years old, and firearms are used in 40 percent of those suicides. Known risk factors for self-harm include depression and other mental health conditions.

The study, “Firearm Storage in Homes with Children with Self-Harm Risk Factors,” by John Scott, Deborah Azrael and Matthew Miller of Northeastern and Harvard universities, finds no difference in the prevalence of guns in homes where children have a history of risk factors for self-harm than in homes where no children have such a history. Similarly, there was no difference in the storage practices of gun owners when children in the home have these risk factors.

An earlier study described in the Joyce Foundation’s Winter 2018 Research Report found that firearms training courses rarely include information about suicide prevention. This research provides powerful evidence of the need for improved training and education on the risks of guns in homes with children, and the importance of storing guns safely to prevent unintended access to guns by children. 

Reporting about these studies appeared in The Trace, Forbes, and Psychiatric News.

Quick Takes: Other New Research of Note

U.S. Adds About 1 Million New Gun Owners Each Year

  • A paper analyzing data from the National Firearm Survey finds that new gun owners (those who became gun owners in the past five years) account for roughly 10 percent of all gun owners in the U.S. The researchers from Harvard and Northeastern Universities and the University of Pennsylvania estimate that one million Americans become new gun owners each year.  

CDC Documents Dramatic Rise in Suicides

  • In a report issued in June, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention issued a report detailing a significant increase in suicides since 1999. Suicides increased in 44 states, with 30 states experiencing an increase of more than 30 percent. Firearms are the most common method of suicides, accounting for just under half of all deaths. Reducing access to firearms is an evidence-based approach to suicide prevention. 

Gun Homicides on the Rise 

  •  The CDC also reports that firearm homicides increased 31 percent between 2014-2016, after remaining relatively flat in the previous four years. Firearms were used in more than 70 percent of all homicides during that period. Researchers attribute the increase in part to a surge in gun violence in cities including Chicago, Baltimore, and St. Louis.