good research questions about gun control


10 Big Questions in the U.S. Gun Control Debate

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san jose shooting

In May 2021, a disgruntled employee at a public transit rail yard in San Jose, California, opened fire on co-workers, firing 39 rounds that killed eight of them and wounding a ninth who later died, before taking his own life in front of law enforcement officers who had rushed to the scene. The mass killer had three 9-millimeter semi-automatic handguns with him and 11 ammunition magazines on his belt. Later, authorities found 12 more firearms and 25,000 rounds of ammunition at the suspect's home [sources: Fernando, Hays and Hauck ; Hanna and Vera ].

The horrific slaughter was yet another shock to a nation that in recent decades has been traumatized again and again by mass shootings, from the killing of 20 elementary school students and six adults by a 20-year-old gunman in Newtown, Connecticut, in 2012, to the massacre of 58 spectators at a country music concert in Las Vegas by a 64-year-old sniper who rained fire down on them from the 32nd floor of a resort hotel [sources: Candiotti and Aarthun ; Hutchinson, et al .].

From 1999 to 2021, more than 2,000 people were killed in mass shootings, according to an analysis by Reuters [source: Canipe and Hartman ]. But mass shootings are just part of the larger pattern of firearm violence. In 2020, despite the pandemic, nearly 20,000 people were killed in homicides and 24,000 died in suicides involving guns [source: Thebault and Rindler ].That unceasing carnage has led many Americans to call for stricter gun laws.

"We need to treat gun violence as a public health issue, " Fred Guttenberg, whose 14-year-old daughter Jaime was killed in a 2018 mass shooting at a high school in Parkland, Florida, explained in a 2021 interview [source: Allen ].

But gun rights advocates say such laws would violate Americans' constitutional right to bear arms. They also argue that citizens need weaponry to defend against criminals. "The only way to stop a bad guy with a gun is with a good guy with a gun, " National Rifle Association executive vice president Wayne LaPierre said in 2012 [source: CBS DC ].

Others even say that gun rights are essential to stave off the possibility of government tyranny.

"The Second Amendment is about maintaining, within the citizenry, the ability to maintain an armed rebellion against the government if that becomes necessary, " Rep. Matt Gaetz, R-Fla., told an audience a political rally in May 2021 [source: Chamberlain ].

So which side is right? That's for you to decide. But to help you make an informed decision, here are answers to 10 big questions in the U.S. gun control debate.

  • How Many Guns Are in the U.S.?
  • What Does the Second Amendment Say?
  • Is the U.S. Gun Homicide Rate Really That High?
  • Are There Countries With as Many Guns as the U.S. but With Less Crime?
  • Could Technological Advances Make Gun Control Impossible?
  • How Often Do Gun Owners Actually Prevent Crimes?
  • How Often Are People Killed by Their Own Guns?
  • Did the Federal Ban on Assault Weapons Affect Crime?
  • Do States With Strict Gun Control Laws Have Less Gun Violence?
  • Has American Public Opinion Shifted on Gun Control?

10: How Many Guns Are in the U.S.?

gun control debate

The U.S. has a lot of guns — so many, in fact, that there's more than one firearm for every person who lives in the country. According to the Geneva, Switzerland-based Small Arms Survey, in 2017 there were an estimated 393 million guns in the U.S., including 114 million handguns, 110 million rifles and 86 million shotguns [source: Karp ]. This already huge privately held arsenal is growing at a very fast rate. In 2020 alone, Americans purchased nearly 40 million firearms, according to FBI data [source: McIntyre ].

That may lead you to the mistaken impression that everyone is packing heat. In truth, however, the majority of Americans still are unarmed. A 2020 Gallup Poll found that only 32 percent of Americans personally owned a gun, though 44 percent lived in households in which someone possessed a firearm. Firearm owners were most likely to be male, white, Republicans or politically conservative, live in the South and have a household income of over $100,000. In contrast, only 19 percent of women owned guns, and low percentages of nonwhite Americans, political moderates and liberals, people in the Eastern U.S. and those earning less than $40,000 owned firearms [source: Saad ].

But gun purchases — and gun manufacturing — are both at all-time highs. So, if more guns are being sold, more people must be owning guns, right? Wrong. It appears most of the new gun purchases are by existing gun owners. In fact, a relatively small number of heavily armed people own most of the country's guns. A groundbreaking study published in 2017 by the Russell Sage Foundation found that half of America's gun stock (at the time, approximately 130 million guns) was owned by approximately 14 percent of gun owners [source: Azrael, et al .].

9: What Does the Second Amendment Say?

Second Amendment activist

The Second Amendment to the U.S. Constitution states the following: "A well-regulated militia, being necessary to the security of a free state, the right of the people to keep and bear arms, shall not be infringed." But what that means is the subject of intense debate. Pro-gun partisans argue that the Constitution's framers guaranteed peoples' right to possess and carry just about any sort of firearm. Gun control advocates say it was intended to allow states to maintain the equivalent of today's National Guard units [source: Krouse ].

But as Supreme Court Justice Charles Evans Hughes once noted, "The Constitution is what the judges say it is" [source: Columbia University ]. And so far, probably to both sides' frustration, the courts have never fully defined the Second Amendment and its implications. Instead, the U.S. Supreme Court has issued a series of rulings that mostly have upheld the government's authority to impose restrictions upon weapons.

For example, in the 1937 case U.S. v. Miller , a court upheld a federal statute requiring licensing of sawed-off shotguns, saying that some types of weaponry weren't needed by a militia and thus weren't constitutionally protected. (Gun rights advocates replied that this type of weapon had been used by militia before.) More recently, in the 2008 case District of Columbia v. Heller , the court found that citizens did have a right to possess handguns at home for self-defense. But the justices said the government still could impose other limits — such as banning criminals and those with mental illness from owning guns, regulating gun sales and barring guns from schools and other places [source: Krouse ].

8: Is the U.S. Gun Homicide Rate Really That High?

dead policeman Honduras

In 2019, guns were used in 13,927 homicides in the U.S. — in nearly 74 percent of murders that year [source: FBI ]. Whether that rate seems high to you depends upon your perspective. According to a global database maintained by the University of Washington's Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation, the U.S. ranks 32nd in deaths from gun violence worldwide, with 3.96 killings per 100,000 people [source: Aizenman ].

But many countries in Latin America and the Caribbean had vastly higher rates. El Salvador's gun homicide rate was 36.78 per 100,000 — more than nine times the U.S. rate. Venezuela (33.27), Guatemala (29.06), Colombia (26.36), Brazil (21.93), Bahamas (21.52) and Mexico (16.41) all had proportionately much bigger problems. The Philippines (8.05) and South Africa (5.28) also outdid the U.S., according to the same report.

But those places tend to be developing countries where law and order is weak, or places with political unrest. Compared to other industrialized democracies, the U.S. gun homicide rate is through the roof. The U.K., for example, had just 0.04 gun killings per 100,000 in 2019, and Japan and South Korea had only 0.02. Canada had 0.47. In other words, the U.S. death rate from gun violence was eight times as high as that of Canada and 100 times that of the U.K. [source: Aizenman ].

So here's another question: Would the homicide rate in the U.S. be lower if there were fewer guns available? A comparison with England and Wales suggests that it might be. Those parts of the U.K. actually have higher rates of some violent crimes than the U.S. The English-Welsh assault rate was 925.4 per 100,000 population in 2018, compared to just 246.84 in the U.S., and the robbery rate of 131.227 per 100,000 in 2017 was 33 percent higher than the U.S. rate. But the U.S. has a lot more killing — its homicide rate in 2017 was more than quadruple the English-Welsh homicide rate of 1.2 per 100,000 [source: UNODC ]. As the American Psychological Association concluded in a 2013 report on gun violence, "The use of a gun greatly increases the odds that violence will lead to a fatality."

7: Are There Countries With as Many Guns as the U.S. but With Less Crime?

finland shooting

No, because there isn't another country in the world with as many guns as the U.S. The U.S. comprises 4 percent of the world's population, but owns about 40 percent of the world's civilian firearms. The rate of about 121 guns per 100 people is tops in the world, followed by the politically unstable Yemen, at 53 guns per 100 people [source: Small Arms Survey ].

So, let's reframe the question. Are there countries with relatively high gun-ownership rates — and low crime rates? Yes: Finland, which has 32 guns per 100 people, and Canada, which has 34.7 guns per 100 people. (Finland ranks fourth in the world for the rate of private gun ownership.) Finland had just 9 gun homicides in 2016, a rate of 0.20 per 100,000 people. Canada, with 223 gun killings in 2016, had a slightly higher rate of 0.62 per 100,000 [source: ].

But both those countries have stricter gun control laws than the U.S. In Finland, a nation where most use guns for hunting rather than protection, citizens must obtain gun licenses, which must be renewed every five years. They also must state the reason they wish to have a gun — and self-defense is not a valid reason [source: Finnish Police ].

Police deny or revoke permission if an applicant is convicted of a crime — or shows any sort of behavior that authorities think might indicate that he or she wouldn't be safe owning a gun. Large-capacity magazines aren't permitted, and weapons must be stored in locked cabinets and unloaded if taken outside the home [source: Ministry of the Interior ].

But even so, Finland suffered mass shootings at schools in 2007 and 2008, in which gunmen killed 18 people. Since then, Finland has tightened up its gun laws, although it experienced two other mass shootings in 2009 and 2016. Still, Finland's totality of roughly 26 deaths between 2000 and 2019 is a drop in the bucket compared with the thousands of deaths in the U.S. from mass shootings [source: Australian Associated Press ].

6: Could Technological Advances Make Gun Control Impossible?

3D printed gun

In recent years, the development of 3D-printing , in which a printer can be used to build a solid object, has the potential to greatly complicate attempts to regulate firearms. The earliest 3D-printed guns were crude single-shot devices. But as Slate writer Ari Schneider reported in 2021 , the technology has come a long way in a short time, and it's now possible to print semi-automatic rifles and pistols that don't have serial numbers or registrations, bypassing background checks. Recently, for example, plans were released for a "100 percent homemade" semi-automatic rifle that is durable enough to shoot thousands of 9 mm rounds. Most of the rifle can be 3D-printed, while the rest can be fabricated from parts available in hardware stores.

3D-printed firearms not only would be easy to make at home, and easy to hide from authorities, but potentially could be far cheaper than weapons manufactured in arms factories and sold by dealers. In just a short time, plans for the 3D-printed rifle were viewed more than 44,000 times on the original website to which the files were uploaded, according to Schneider's article .

Currently, making your own 3D gun is legal under Federal law, which permits the unlicensed manufacturing of firearms, as long as at least some of the parts are metal, according to a February 2021 article in The Trace , an online publication that focuses on gun issues. A few states have moved to clamp down on them, including New Jersey, which requires anyone who wants to use a 3D printer to make a gun to obtain a federal gun-manufacturing license. New Mexico and Virginia are considering similar restrictions.

Law enforcement officials worry about the possibility of violent extremists using 3D printers to fabricate weapons without metal components, which would enable them to be smuggled inside places where guns are prohibited, such as government buildings and airports. So far, though, even plastic guns still would need to use bullets fashioned from metal, which could be spotted [source: Barton and Brownlee ]. Additionally, Design News reported in 2019 on development of a new scanning device with the potential to spot concealed weapons regardless of their composition.

5: How Often Do Gun Owners Actually Prevent Crimes?

gun control debate

People opposed to gun control often have argued that they need firepower to protect themselves against criminals. Take this example from January 2013 when a Georgia woman shot a crowbar-wielding intruder who broke into her home and confronted her and her two young children [source: CBS News ]. A number of armed American citizens have also used their firearms to stop or limit mass killings, including Stephen Willeford, the armed citizen who intervened to confront and pursue a gunman who attacked First Baptist Church of Sutherland Spring, Texas in 2017 [source: CNN ].

Gun control opponents say that a vast number of crimes are prevented by armed citizens, who either shoot an assailant — an event that happened 326 times in 2010, according to a 2012 Wall Street Journal state-by-state analysis of crime statistics — or more often, chase the would-be criminal away by brandishing a weapon [source: Palazzolo and Barry ].

There is some social science to back up that thesis. Perhaps the most often-cited evidence is a 1995 study by Northwestern University School of Law researchers Gary Kleck and Marc Gertz. Based upon a random telephone survey of 5,000 Americans, they concluded that there were between 2.1 and 2.5 million defensive gun uses each year. This works out to about 1 percent use of a gun for defensive purposes [source: Kleck and Gertz ].

But critics questioned whether Kleck's and Gertz's findings were reliable. Harvard public health researcher David Hemenway published a paper refuting this and pointing out that "since only 42 percent of U.S. households own firearms and victims in two-thirds of the occupied households were asleep, the 2.5 million figure requires us to believe burglary victims use their guns in self-defense more than 100 percent of the time" [source: Hemenway ]. Another mid-1990s study, based upon a Justice Department survey of nearly 60,000 households, came up with a much smaller estimate of about 21,500 defensive gun uses annually [source: Committee on Law and Justice ].

Even if the low-end estimates are closer to the truth, this still could mean that tens of thousands of crimes are prevented by gun owners annually. But a 2009 University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine study found that people with a gun were 4.5 times more likely to be shot in an assault than those who were unarmed.

4: How Often Are People Killed by Their Own Guns?

baby casket, mourners

This is the point that gun control proponents often cite to counter arguments that guns deter crime . People who have guns in their households, they argue, actually may be at greater risk of being hurt or killed by a bullet — possibly one fired by an angry spouse or by a child playing with a gun that's been left out and loaded.

Again, there's some social science to support this. A 2003 study published in the journal Injury Prevention found that people in families where someone purchased a gun actually faced an elevated risk of homicide, suicide and accidental death [source: Grassel et al ]. Another study published in 2011 in the American Journal of Public Health found that 43 percent — neatly half — of all homes with guns and kids also had one unlocked firearm.

One big risk is that having a gun within easy reach can escalate an argument or fight into a homicide. A 1992 study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association found that victims whose family members used a gun in an assault were 12 times more likely to die than when attackers used other weapons such as knives, or their bare hands [source: Saltzman et al ].

However, an article that appeared in the Harvard Journal of Law and Public Policy pointed out that most of the "acquaintance homicides" involved, for instance, drug dealers shooting at each other. "Approximately 90 percent of adult murderers have adult records, with an average adult criminal career ... of six or more years, including four major adult felony arrests," said the authors [source: Kates and Mauser ].

Most Americans who die from gun violence in their own homes actually inflict it upon themselves: More than 47,000 people commit suicide every year in the United States and in 2019, more than half used a firearm [source: ASFP].

3: Did the Federal Ban on Assault Weapons Affect Crime?

gun control debate

In 1994, Congress passed a 10-year ban on the manufacture and sale of new assault weapons, which the law defined as semi-automatic rifles and handguns with certain military-style features — such as folding rifle stocks and threaded barrels for attaching silencers — that didn't have any value to hunters or self-defense. The law also banned magazines with a capacity of more than 10 rounds but exempted weapons manufactured before 1994. The law was allowed to expire in 2004, and how effective it was at preventing crime remains a subject of intense controversy, in part because there wasn't a systematic effort to gather data about its impacts.

A 2004 study by University of Pennsylvania researchers for the Department of Justice found that from 1995 to 2003, gun crimes involving assault weapons that were banned by the law declined in six U.S. cities by between 17 percent and 72 percent. But some of that progress was negated, the researchers found, because even though criminals couldn't buy new assault weapons, they still could easily outfit non-banned weapons with old large-capacity magazines from before the ban, which were plentiful and easily obtained [source: Koper ].

Additionally, manufacturers were able to get around the ban by redesigning weapons and making a few changes to remove the military-style features. The Colt AR-15 that the shooter used to kill moviegoers in the Aurora cinema would have been outlawed under the 1994 ban. Yet he could have used a very similar Colt Match Target rifle that would not have fallen under the ban [source: Plumer ].

After winning election in 2020 on a platform that included gun control, President Joe Biden has pushed Congress to revive the assault weapons ban, and to make high-capacity magazines illegal as well [source: White House ].

2: Do States With Strict Gun Control Laws Have Less Gun Violence?

125 weapons confiscated

Critics of gun control often point to places such as the District of Columbia, which has a high rate of gun crimes despite strict gun control laws . But gun control advocates say that states' efforts at gun control are undermined, to a degree, by lax laws in neighboring states. Everytown For Gun Safety , an organization lobbying for stricter gun legislation, points out that nearly 30 percent of guns recovered from crime scenes were first sold in a different state. And a 2009 study by Johns Hopkins University researchers found that cities in states with little regulation of gun dealers had guns passing into criminals' hands at two to four times the rate of cities in states with strict laws [source: ScienceDaily ].

Social scientist Richard Florida, who has analyzed crime and demographic data, has found a strong correlation between lower firearm deaths and tighter gun restrictions, such as bans on assault weapons and requirements for trigger locks and safe storage of guns. He says that gun violence is less likely to occur in states that have gun control laws. Interestingly, he found no correlation between states' unemployment rates or drug use and gun violence, but he did find that states with high poverty, low numbers of college grads and high numbers of working-class jobs also had more gun violence [source: Florida ].

1: Has American Public Opinion Shifted on Gun Control?

gun control debate

In the early 1990s, Gallup polling showed that 78 percent of Americans favored tighter gun control laws . But that support declined dramatically over the next two decades, and by the mid-to-late 2000s, support dipped to just 44 percent, with nearly as many Americans (43 percent) saying that laws already were strict enough. But in the wake of the Newtown massacre, a December 2012 Gallup poll found a sharp rebound in support, with 58 percent favoring tougher gun statutes, compared to just 34 percent who said they wanted laws to remain the same [source: Saad ]. Since then, support for gun control has fluctuated, often rising in the wake of shootings. Gallup's most recent poll on this issue in November 2020 found that 57 percent of Americans supported stricter gun control [source: Brenan ].

Other recent polls on gun control vary. A Pew Research Center poll released in April 2021 found a narrower majority — 53 percent — supported stricter laws, while a March 2021 Morning Consult-Politico tracking poll found that 64 percent of American voters generally supported more gun control, versus 28 percent who said they were opposed. [sources: Bowden , Pew Research Center ].

But when polls drill down further, they often find that specific gun control measures have even broader support. In the Morning Consult-Politico poll, for example, 83 percent of voters who supported background checks on all weapons purchases and statutes preventing people identified as mentally unstable from owning guns at all. And 76 percent supported banning anyone on a federal watchlist — such as "do not fly" lists — from owning guns, while 73 percent wanted a three-day federal waiting period before a gun could be taken home from a store. Seventy percent backed creation of a national database on gun sales [source: Bowden ].

Similarly, in the Pew poll, Americans strongly backed restrictions on the type of weaponry Americans should be able to buy. Sixty-four percent favored banning magazines that hold more than 10 rounds of ammunition, and 63 percent favored banning assault weapons such as the military-style rifles that often have been used in mass killings [source: Pew Research Center ].

But Gallup data contains another important but often overlooked point. Though the number of Americans who want stricter gun control has gone up and down (and now up again), the overwhelming majority of Americans over the past 20 years have supported laws that restrict firearms. In a Gallup Poll from October 2017, only 4 percent of those polled said they oppose background checks for all gun purchases [source: Brenan ].

However, that same 2017 poll found that a 71 percent were opposed to a ban on handguns for anyone but police or other authorized personnel. Pollsters speculate this could reflect Americans' wish to keep the right of self-defense in the wake of high-profile gun violence .

Gun Control Debate FAQs

How many guns are there in the u.s., what does the u.s. constitution say about gun control, did the federal ban on assault weapons affect crime, what's a semi-automatic gun, is it illegal to not lock up your guns, lots more information.

Author's Note: 10 Big Questions in the U.S. Gun Control Debate

I grew up in western Pennsylvania, where the movie "The Deer Hunter" was set, and where a lot of my neighbors were avid hunters. So the idea of law-abiding people owning guns was never something I questioned. But except for my toy pistols, we didn't have any guns in our home, because my father, who wasn't a hunter, didn't want them around. He'd been a combat medic in the U.S. Army during World War II, and he had a huge, scary scar on his left bicep where a German machine gun bullet hit him on a battlefield in 1945. He'd had to bind up his own arm in a battlefield tourniquet, which enabled him to escape having it amputated. I still have a vivid picture in my mind of what a bullet can do to a person's body. I think that's given me a real-world perspective on the gun issue that a lot of debaters, who tend to get caught up in legal and constitutional abstractions, often seem to lack.

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Gun Violence in America: The 13 Key Questions (With 13 Concise Answers)

It's not like no one has ever asked them before. There's data everywhere and decades of research. We tracked down the best of it so you don't have to. 


Jump to a question:

How much gun violence is there in the U.S.?

How many guns are there in the U.S.?

How do mass shootings differ from other types of gun violence?

What gun control laws currently exist?

What could be done to reduce gun violence?

Would fewer guns result in less gun violence?

  • Would gun control result in fewer guns?

How often are guns used in self-defense?

Won't criminals kill with other weapons if they don't have guns?

What has worked to reduce gun violence?

Are the White House proposals likely to be effective?

How does the U.S. compare to other countries?

What don't we know yet?

There were 8,583 homicides by firearms in 2011, out of 12,664 homicides total, according to the FBI . This means that more than two-thirds of homicides involve a firearm. 6,220 of those homicides by firearm (72%) are known to have involved a handgun.

It's worth noting that violent crime rates of all types have been steadily decreasing since the early 1990s. No one is quite sure what is causing this decrease, though there are many theories , ranging from tighter gun control laws to more innovative policing and changes in the drug market. Whatever the cause of this decline, America still has a homicide rate of 4.7 murders per 100,000 people, which is one of the highest of all developed countries (see: international comparison).

Gun violence also affects more than its victims. In areas where it is prevalent, just the threat of violence makes neighborhoods poorer. It's very difficult to quantify the total harm caused by gun violence, but by asking many people how much they would pay to avoid this threat -- a technique called contingent valuation -- researchers have estimated a cost to American society of $100 billion dollars .

Guns are also involved in suicides and accidents. 19,392 of 38,264 suicides in 2010 involved a gun (50%), according to the CDC . There were 606 firearm-related accidents in the same year -- about 5% of the number of intentional gun deaths.

There are about 310 million guns in the country . About 40% of households have them, a fraction that has been slowly declining over the last few decades, down from about 50% in the 1960s. Meanwhile, the overall number of guns has increased to about one gun per person, up from one gun for every two persons in the 1960s. This means that gun ownership has gotten much more concentrated among fewer households: if you own one gun, you probably own several. America has the highest rate of gun ownership of any country in the world, by a wide margin (see: international comparison).

( More : A long running poll by Gallup ; the wide-ranging General Social Survey ; a New York Times demographic breakdown by Nate Silver)

The FBI defines a "mass murder" as four or more murders during the same incident. This is an arbitrary number, but a dividing line is useful when asking whether there are differences between mass shootings and other kinds of gun violence. The most comprehensive public list of U.S. mass shootings is the spreadsheet of 62 incidents from 1982-2012, compiled by Mother Jones . Their list shows:

  • Mass shootings happen all over the country .
  • Killers used a semi-automatic handgun in 75% of incidents, which is about the same percentage as the 72% in overall gun violence.
  • Killers used an assault weapon in 40% of incidents. This is much higher than overall assault weapon use in crimes, estimated at less than 2%.
  • The guns were obtained legally in 79% of mass shootings.
  • Many of the shooters showed signs of mental illness, but in only two cases was there a prior diagnosis.
  • There were no cases where an armed civilian fired back.

2012 was the worst year in American history, in terms of total victims. A graph of yearly victims shows a slight upward trend. But the pattern is a lot less clear without the 2012 peak, and because yearly numbers vary so widely, it's likely that there will be many fewer victims next year.

Several criminologists deny that mass shootings are increasing. Although these incidents dominate headlines and conversation, it's important to remember that they account for only a small fraction of gun violence in the United States. For example, the spike of 72 deaths in 2012 includes only 0.8% of all firearm-related homicides in 2011 (the last year for which statistics are available.) Many gun deaths, especially in large cities, never make the news . This means that the most effective gun violence reduction strategies -- in terms of lives saved -- might not target mass shootings at all.

There are two major federal laws that regulate firearm ownership and sales. The National Firearms Act of 1934 restricts civilians from owning automatic weapons, short-barreled shotguns, hand grenades, and other powerful arms. The Gun Control Act of 1968 focuses on commerce. It prohibits mail-order sales of weapons, and requires anyone in the business of selling guns to be federally licensed and keep permanent sales records. It also prohibits knowingly selling a gun to those with prior criminal records, minors, individuals with mental health problems, and a few other categories of people.

The Brady Handgun Violence Prevention Act of 1993 requires licensed gun dealers to perform background checks. Background checks are not required for private gun sales (though, as mentioned above, it's still a crime to knowingly sell a gun to someone with a criminal record). To ensure privacy, Section 103(i) of the Act prevents the Federal government from keeping the names submitted for background checks, or using this information to create any sort of registry of gun owners.

From 1994 to 2004, the Federal Assault Weapons Ban prohibited the sale and manufacture of semi-automatic weapons (in which each pull of the trigger fires one shot) with various military features such as large-capacity magazines and pistol grips. It was still legal to keep previously owned weapons. The law expired in 2004 due to a built-in "sunset" clause.

These federal laws set minimum standards, but many states have also passed various types of gun laws. These laws determine which weapons are legal to own, and also set requirements on sales, background checks, storage, open and concealed carrying permits, and sentencing of gun-related crimes.

( More: Gun Laws in the US, State by State , The Guardian , and Gun Control Legislation , Congressional Research Service)

The firearms debate usually revolves around "gun control" -- that is, laws that would make guns harder to buy, carry, or own. But this is not the only way of reducing gun violence. It is possible to address gun use instead of availability. For example, Project Exile moved all gun possession offenses in Richmond, Virginia, to federal courts instead of state courts, where minimum sentences are longer. Policies like these, which concern gun use, are sometimes said to operate on gun "demand," as opposed to gun control laws, which affect "supply."

Similarly, while the idea of new laws gets most of the attention, some projects have focused on enforcing existing laws more effectively, or changing policing strategies the way Boston's Operation Ceasefire did in the 1990s. In fact, launching community-based programs has proven to be one of the most effective strategies for reducing gun violence. (See: What has worked , below.)

There have also been programs based on other principles, such as public safety education and gun buy-back campaigns. The White House proposals (see below ) address both gun access and gun use, and include both new laws and enhanced enforcement of existing laws.

( More: Aiming for Evidence-based Gun Policy , Phillip Cook and Jens Ludwig)

Suppose it were possible to reduce the number of guns in circulation, or make it harder for people to get a gun. Would gun violence go down?

Although countries that offer easier access to guns also have more gun violence , at least among developed nations, this doesn't necessarily mean that more guns cause more deaths . People may own more guns in dangerous places because they want to protect themselves. It's also possible that gun ownership is a deterrent to crime, because criminals must consider the possibility that their intended victim is armed.

Economist John Lott did extensive work on this question in the late 1990s, culminating in his 1998 book More Guns, Less Crime . He studied the effect of right-to-carry laws by examining violent crime rates before and after they were implemented in various states, up until 1992, and concluded that such laws decreased homicides by an average of 8%. Lott's data and methods have been extensively reviewed since then. A massive 2004 report by a 16-member panel of the National Research Council found that there was not enough evidence to say either way whether right-to-carry laws affected violence. In 2010, different researchers re-examined Lott's work, the NRC report, and additional data up through 2006, and reaffirmed that there is no evidence that right-to-carry laws reduce crime.

Meanwhile, other studies have suggested that reduced access to guns would result in less crime. These studies compared homicide rates with gun availability in various states and cities. The most comprehensive estimate is that a 10% reduction in U.S. households with guns would result in a 3% reduction in homicides. Internationally , the effect of reductions in gun ownership might be much larger. This might have to do with the large number of guns already available in the U.S.: Any reduction in gun violence hinges on whether gun control laws would actually make it prohibitively difficult to get a gun.

( More: Gun Rhetoric vs. Gun Facts ,; The Impact of Right to Carry Laws and the NRC Report: Lessons for the Empirical Evaluation of Law and Policy , John J. Donohue III, Abhay Aneja, and Alexandria Zhang)

Does gun control result in fewer guns?

In principle, it's not necessary to keep guns away from everyone , just those who would misuse them. Background checks are promising because a high fraction of future killers already have a criminal record. In one study in Illinois, 71% of those convicted of homicide had a previous arrest, and 42% had a prior felony conviction.

Yet current federal gun regulation (see above) contains an enormous loophole: While businesses that deal in guns are required to keep records and run background checks, guns can be transferred between private citizens without any record. This makes straw purchases easy. In other words, these laws may generally make guns harder to come by, but those who really want them can still obtain them through private sales.

Also, although it's generally illegal to sell guns across state lines, in practice this is very common. There's abundant evidence that under the current system, guns flow easily between legal and illegal markets. Washington, D.C,. banned all handguns in 1976, and Chicago did the same in 1982. In neither case did the percentage of suicides using firearms -- considered a very good proxy for general gun availability -- fall significantly.

Similarly, Illinois had a background check requirement before 1994, so the local gun market was not affected by the passage of the Brady Act, but gun trace data shows that criminals simply switched from smuggling guns from out of state to buying them illegally in state.

( More : Where 50,000 Guns Recovered in Chicago Came From , New York Times )

There are no comprehensive records kept of incidents where guns are used in self-defense, so the only way to know is to ask people. Data from the National Crime Victimization Survey suggest that a gun is used in self-defense about 60,000 to 120,000 times each year . Several other surveys confirm this estimate. By comparison, each year about a million violent crimes involve guns. This means guns are used to commit a crime about 10 times as often as they are used for self-defense.

A few surveys in the early 1990s suggested that there are millions gun self-defense incidents each year, but there are very good reasons to believe that these estimates were improperly calculated and these numbers are way off , more than 10 times too high. If the numbers really were this high, this would imply that pretty much every gunshot wound in America is the result of somebody protecting him or herself.

Even among the more accurate surveys, according to a panel of criminal court judges who reviewed survey respondents' stories, about half the time the gun use was "probably illegal," even assuming the gun itself had been purchased legally.

( More : Gun threats and self-defense gun use , Harvard Injury Control Research Center)

The crux of this question is whether most homicides are planned, or whether killers more often confront their victims with no clear intention. In the second case, adding a gun could result in a fatal shooting that would otherwise have been avoided.

The evidence that weapon does matter goes back decades. In 1968, Franklin Zimring examined cases of knife assaults versus gun assaults in Chicago. The gun attacks were five times more deadly. Moreover, the two sets of attacks were similar in all other dimensions: age, sex, race, whether the victim knew the assailant beforehand, and so forth. A few years later, he repeated his analysis, this time comparing small and large caliber guns. As expected, the victim was much more likely to die from larger caliber guns.

Although it is surely true that a determined killer cannot be stopped by the absence of a gun, this type of evidence indicates that many homicides are unplanned. The outcome depends, at least partially, on the weapon at hand. In that restricted sense, guns do kill people.

( More: Crime is Not the Problem: Lethal Violence in America , by Franklin E. Zimring and Gordon Hawkins)

This is not an easy question to answer, because crime rates can decline for a wide range of reasons . For example, violent crime rates declined sharply all across the country in the mid-1990s, regardless of whether a given area had tightened its gun laws. So based on a naive interpretation of the numbers, any attempt at reducing gun violence in 1995 would have appeared successful by 1998. Then there is the problem of comparing different states or cities: Circumstances differ, and what works in Memphis may fail in Detroit.

Nonetheless, there are some plausible methods for isolating the different factors, using comparison groups or other controls . The most thorough summary is a 2008 meta-analysis where the authors reviewed every prior American gun violence reduction study, examining both the reported effectiveness and the strength of the statistical evidence. Here are some approaches that don't seem to work, at least not by themselves, or in the ways they've been tried so far:

  • Stiffer prison sentences for gun crimes.
  • Gun buy-backs: In a country with one gun per person, getting a few thousand guns off the street in each city may not mean very much.
  • Safe storage laws and public safety campaigns.

We don't really have good enough evidence to evaluate these strategies:

  • Background checks, such as the Brady Act requires.
  • Bans on specific weapons types, such as the expired 1994 assault weapons ban or the handgun bans in various cities.

These policies do actually seem to reduce gun violence, at least somewhat or in some cases:

  • More intensive probation strategies: increased contact with police, probation officers and social workers.
  • Changes in policing strategies, such increased patrols in hot spots .
  • Programs featuring cooperation between law enforcement, community leaders, and researchers, such as Project Safe Neighborhoods .

There is no obvious solution here, and there's a huge amount we still don't know . But it's possible that combinations of these policies, or variations in a different context, might work better. For example, background checks would probably be more effective if they were also applied to private sales. Also, of course, this list does not include policies that have not yet been tried.

As one group of researchers put it ,

There are no feasible policies that would reduce the rate of gun violence in the United States to that of Western Europe. But we believe there are ways to make a substantial dent in the problem.

( More: The Effectiveness of Policies and Programs That Attempt to Reduce Firearm Violence: A Meta-Analysis , Journalist's Resource. Project Safe Neighborhoods and Violent Crime Trends in US Cities: Assessing Violent Crime Impact , Edmund F. McGarrell, Nicholas Corsaro, Natalie Kroovand Hipple, Timothy S. Bynum)

There is no way to know whether the recent White House proposals will be effective in reducing gun violence. How can there be, when it's so difficult to assess the actual policies that have already been tried, let alone vague plans? But the White House proposals do at least plausibly target several components of the gun violence problem.

Probably the most significant proposal is the idea of requiring background checks for gun sales between private individuals, not just from licensed dealers (with some exceptions, such as transfers within a family). Private sales are currently the main way guns move between legal and illegal owners. However, the White House has yet to specify how a private seller would perform such a check.

There is less evidence for the effectiveness of banning assault weapons and large-capacity magazines. During the 1994-2004 assault weapons ban, the use of assault weapons in crimes fell, but use of large-capacity magazines increased . This is thought to be largely due to the huge number of already-owned LCMs, which were exempt from the ban on manufacturing and sales. If the new law does not address the LCMs already in private hands, it may be decades before it has any real effect.

Removing legal restrictions that prevent the Centers for Disease Control and other agencies from tracking and researching gun violence is also a sensible idea, and follows a long history of calls from scientists (see: what don't we know ).

The U.S. has one of the highest rates of violent crime and homicide, per capita, of any developed country. According to 2008 figures compiled by the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime, the U.S. homicide rate for 2010 is 5.1 per 100,000 people. Only Estonia's is higher, at 6.3. The next most violent country is Finland, which has a homicide rate of 2.5, half that of the U.S. The remaining 28 developed countries are even lower, with an average of 1.1 homicides per 100,000 people.

But many less developed countries have much higher homicide rates -- for example Columbia (35.9), South Africa (36.8) and Sudan (24.2). This analysis uses the 2012 IMF list of developed countries.

The U.S. also has the highest rate of civilian gun ownership in the world, by far. The best data is from the 2007 Small Arms Survey , which notes:

With less than 5% of the world's population, the United States is home to roughly 35-50 per cent of the world's civilian-owned guns, heavily skewing the global geography of firearms and any relative comparison.

U.S. gun violence has had several decades-long cycles over the past three centuries, but shows a long-term downward trend. Overall homicide rates were similar to Western Europe until the 1850s , but since then violence has declined more slowly in the U.S.

It's tempting to plot the relationship between gun ownership and gun violence across countries, but recent research suggests that gun violence is shaped by "socio-historical and cultural context," which varies regionally, meaning that it's not always possible to make direct comparisons. However, it's still reasonable to compare places with similar histories, and more guns still correlate with more homicides in Western nations. Meanwhile, in developing countries, cities with more guns have more homicides .

( More: Chart: The U.S. has far more gun-related killings than any other developed country , The Washington Post; Facebook post says the U.S. is No. 1 in gun violence. Is it? , Politifact' Gun homicides and gun ownership listed by country , Guardian Data Blog)

A lot! We lack some of the most basic information we need to have a sensible gun policy debate, partially because researchers have been prevented by law from collecting it. The 2004 National Research Council report discussed above identified several key types of missing data : systematic reporting of individual gun incidents and injuries, gun ownership at the local level, and detailed information on the operation of firearms markets. We don't even have reliable data on the number of homicides in each county.

For such sensitive data sets, it would be important to preserve privacy both legally and technically. There have been recent advances in this area, such as anonymous registries . But the Centers for Disease Control, the main U.S. agency that tracks and studies American injuries and death, has been effectively prevented from studying gun violence , due to a law passed by Congress in 1996.

Similarly, anonymized hospital reporting systems are the main ways we know about many other types of injuries, but the Affordable Care Act prevents doctors from gathering information about their patients' gun use . A 2011 law restricts gun violence research at the National Institutes of Health . The legal language prevents these agencies from using any money "to advocate or promote gun control."

This may not technically rule out basic research, but scientists say it has made the issue so sensitive that key funding agencies will not support their work. They point to grant data as evidence of an effective ban. The White House has recently proposed lifting these research restrictions (see above )

( More: NRA Stymies Firearms Research, Scientists Say , The New York Times )

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The biggest questions about gun violence that researchers would still like to see answered

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There's still a lot we don't know.

There are a few big things we know about gun violence in America: The US has way more guns per capita than any other country. It has far more gun homicides per capita than other wealthy countries. States with more guns have more gun deaths. And people with guns in their homes are more likely to be killed or to kill themselves with guns.

But just as importantly, there’s a lot that researchers still don't know. There’s frustratingly little evidence on what policies work best to reduce gun violence. (Australia saw a drop in homicides and suicides after confiscating everyone’s guns in the 1990s , but that would likely never happen here.) Experts still don’t have a great sense of what impact stricter background checks have, or how the "informal" gun trade operates, or even how people use guns in crimes.

"We have superficial knowledge of most gun violence topics," says Michael Nance, director of the Pediatric Trauma Center at the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia. And this ignorance has serious consequences. It’s awfully hard to stop gun violence if we can't even agree on basic facts about how and why it happens.

This ignorance is partly by design. Since the 1990s, Congress has prevented various federal agencies from gathering more detailed data on gun violence. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), which has elaborate data gathering and monitoring programs for other public health crises like Ebola or heart disease, has been dissuaded from researching gun violence. The Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives can't distribute much of its trace data for research purposes. Obamacare limits doctors' ability to gather data on patients' gun use.

To get a sense of what we’re missing, I surveyed a number of researchers in the field and asked them about the most pressing questions about gun violence that they’d like to see answered. Here's what they said.

We still don’t know some very basic facts about gun violence in America

Colorado Community Mourns In Aftermath Of Deadly Movie Theater Shooting

1) How are guns actually used? Tom Smith of NORC at the University of Chicago pointed out that "studying how guns are actually used in general" was a top research priority — including the question of how many people use guns for defensive purposes.

Other researchers pointed to related questions like: What percentage of gun owners even commit gun crimes? Why do gun accidents occur? Who's involved? Are criminals deterred by guns? These questions are a basic starting point.

2) Can we get better data on the victims of gun violence? Nance also pointed out that our data on the victims of gun violence leaves a lot to be desired. Researchers typically rely on death data ("one of the few known and reliable data points — you can’t hide the bodies," he says). But without more detailed data on who actually owns guns and who is exposed to guns, it can be hard to put these deaths in context.

And it would be good to have more detailed data on gun injuries that don't result in death. Daniel Webster, a professor of health policy and management at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, says, "We still don’t know nearly enough about nonfatal gunshot wounds, including how often they occur." That makes it much harder to get a full picture of gun violence.

3) What state laws, if any, work best to reduce gun violence? Michael Siegel, a professor of public health at Boston University, pointed to these three (broad) topics as the most pressing unanswered questions:

1. What state laws, if any, are effective in reducing rates of firearm violence? 2. Is there a differential impact of state firearm-related laws on homicide rates among white vs. African-American persons? 3. Are higher gun ownership levels related to higher firearm homicide rates because of a causal relationship or because people respond to high homicide rates by purchasing firearms?

There has already been some research on state-level gun control policies. For example, after Connecticut passed a law requiring gun purchasers to first obtain a license, one study found that gun homicides fell by 40 percent . When Missouri repealed a similar law, gun homicides increased by 23 percent . But, in part because they are retrospective and it’s impossible to run controlled experiments, studies like these remain hotly debated.

And there are all sorts of related questions here that (other) researchers would love to know the answers to. Do limits on high-capacity magazines reduce deaths? Do restrictions on alcohol sales make any difference? What about policies that make concealed carry licenses easier to obtain?

To really dig in, researchers would have to study state policies in far more detail. But, says Siegel, that will require need much better data than is currently on offer. He’d like to see more detailed state-level data on household gun ownership, on firearm policies, and on how well (or not) those policies are actually enforced.

4) How do people who commit gun crimes actually get access to their guns? Cathy Barber, who directs the Means Matter Campaign at the Harvard School of Public Health's Injury Control Research Center, listed these as big unanswered questions:

Pretty much every gun starts out as a legal gun. Among the guns that are actually used in crimes, how did they get there? That is, how many are used by their initial legal purchaser and did that person pass a background check? If the gun was not used by the initial purchaser, how did it get to the person who used it in a crime? Straw purchase? Gun trafficking (buying in a state with lax laws and transporting for street sales in state with stricter laws)? Theft? (and what type of theft? Theft from individual homes or from gun shops or what? And if from people’s homes, do these tend to be unsecured guns kept for self-defense purchases – the gun in the bedside table?), etc., etc. I think that both gun rights people and gun control people would be interested in the very specific answers to these questions and figuring out ways that we all could prevent the sort of cross-overs from legal to illegal possession and use.

A couple of other researchers agreed with this line of inquiry. Here’s Nance: "We need to know how weapons move in society to know how to best limit movement in the wrong direction (to those unfit to own)." And here’s Smith: "Understanding the ‘informal' gun market, that is guns that are acquired from others than licenses firearms dealers and therefore without background checks."

5) Is there any way to predict gun suicides? Nearly 21,000 people in the United States use guns to kill themselves each year, accounting for about two-thirds of all gun deaths. "We need to know more about how to predict who will commit suicide using a firearm," says Webster, "and ways to prevent [it]."

Back in 2013, a report from the Institutes of Medicine added some related questions around this topic that needed answering: Does gun ownership affect whether people kill themselves? And what's the best way to restrict firearm access to those with severe mental illnesses?

6) Does media violence have any impact on actual violence? This question came from Brad Bushman, a professor of communication and psychology at Ohio State University:

My research focuses on media violence. We know that youth who see movie characters drink alcohol are more likely to drink alcohol themselves. Similarly, we know that youth who see movie characters smoke cigarettes are more likely to smoke themselves. What about the impact of youth seeing movie characters with guns? Does exposure to movie characters with guns influence youth attitudes and behaviors about guns (e.g., do they think guns are cooler? are they more willing to own or use a gun? do they think guns make males more masculine?)?

7) What do we know about stopping mass shootings? I’ll add one more question to the list, which was considered a pressing research topic in the 2013 Institutes of Medicine report: "What characteristics differentiate mass shootings that were prevented from those that were carried out?"

One big reason current research into US gun violence is so dismal

good research questions about gun control

It’s fair to call gun violence a public health crisis: Some 32,383 Americans were killed by guns in 2013. And for other health crises, like Ebola or heart disease, the CDC usually springs into action, by funding studies and research that look into the best policies to deal with the problem.

But that’s not really the case here. Back in 1996, Congress worked with the National Rifle Association to enact a law banning the CDC from funding any research that would "advocate or promote gun control." Technically, this wasn’t a ban on all gun research (and the CDC wasn’t doing advocacy anyway). But the law seemed vague and menacing enough that the agency shied away from most gun violence research, period.

Funding for gun violence research by the CDC dropped 96 percent between 1996 and 2012. Today, federal agencies spend just $2 million annually on gun violence prevention — compared with, say, $21 million for the study of headaches . And the broader field has withered over that period: Gun studies as a percentage of peer-reviewed research dropped 60 percent since 1996. Today there are only about a dozen researchers in the country whose primary focus is on preventing gun violence.

Private foundations and universities, such as the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, have been partly able to pick up the slack , but private funders can rarely sustain the big, complicated data gathering and monitoring programs that the federal government can conduct. And that’s a problem because, as the researchers above noted, one of the biggest lacunae in gun research is data.

"If you look at other major public health issues, like Zika or Ebola or heart disease, the CDC is really a very authoritative source," says Andrew Rosenberg of the Union of Concerned Scientists. "Privately funded research can be helpful, but there’s no substitute for the CDC. They can do monitoring programs, long-term tracking, the stuff that’s hard to fund with a one-off grant from this or that foundation."

Siegel agrees: "The CDC has a critical role to play, so the first matter that needs to be resolved is restoring the CDC’s ability to conduct firearm-related research."

So will this situation ever change? After the Sandy Hook massacre in 2013, President Obama signed an executive order directing the CDC to start studying "the causes of gun violence." But very little has happened in the years since. The CDC didn’t actually budget. The problem, Rosenberg says, is that so long as that congressional amendment is in place, the CDC is unlikely to move forward.

Lately, there have been some calls to restore research. Republican Rep. Jay Dickey, who spearheaded the original CDC amendment, expressed remorse about the whole thing last year: "I wish we had started the proper research and kept it going all this time. I have regrets. … If we had somehow gotten the research going, we could have somehow found a solution to the gun violence without there being any restrictions on the Second Amendment."

Read more: What no politician wants to admit about gun control

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Gun Control, Explained

A quick guide to the debate over gun legislation in the United States.

good research questions about gun control

By The New York Times

As the number of mass shootings in America continues to rise , gun control — a term used to describe a wide range of restrictions and measures aimed at controlling the use of firearms — remains at the center of heated discussions among proponents and opponents of stricter gun laws.

To help understand the debate and its political and social implications, we addressed some key questions on the subject.

Is gun control effective?

Throughout the world, mass shootings have frequently been met with a common response: Officials impose new restrictions on gun ownership. Mass shootings become rarer. Homicides and suicides tend to decrease, too.

After a British gunman killed 16 people in 1987, the country banned semiautomatic weapons like the ones he had used. It did the same with most handguns after a school shooting in 1996. It now has one of the lowest gun-related death rates in the developed world.

In Australia, a 1996 massacre prompted mandatory gun buybacks in which, by some estimates , as many as one million firearms were then melted into slag. The rate of mass shootings plummeted .

Only the United States, whose rate and severity of mass shootings is without parallel outside conflict zones, has so consistently refused to respond to those events with tightened gun laws .

Several theories to explain the number of shootings in the United States — like its unusually violent societal, class and racial divides, or its shortcomings in providing mental health care — have been debunked by research. But one variable remains: the astronomical number of guns in the country.

America’s gun homicide rate was 33 per one million people in 2009, far exceeding the average among developed countries. In Canada and Britain, it was 5 per million and 0.7 per million, respectively, which also corresponds with differences in gun ownership. Americans sometimes see this as an expression of its deeper problems with crime, a notion ingrained, in part, by a series of films portraying urban gang violence in the early 1990s. But the United States is not actually more prone to crime than other developed countries, according to a landmark 1999 study by Franklin E. Zimring and Gordon Hawkins of the University of California, Berkeley. Rather, they found, in data that has since been repeatedly confirmed , that American crime is simply more lethal. A New Yorker is just as likely to be robbed as a Londoner, for instance, but the New Yorker is 54 times more likely to be killed in the process. They concluded that the discrepancy, like so many other anomalies of American violence, came down to guns. More gun ownership corresponds with more gun murders across virtually every axis: among developed countries , among American states , among American towns and cities and when controlling for crime rates. And gun control legislation tends to reduce gun murders, according to a recent analysis of 130 studies from 10 countries. This suggests that the guns themselves cause the violence. — Max Fisher and Josh Keller, Why Does the U.S. Have So Many Mass Shootings? Research Is Clear: Guns.

Every mass shooting is, in some sense, a fringe event, driven by one-off factors like the ideology or personal circumstances of the assailant. The risk is impossible to fully erase.

Still, the record is confirmed by reams of studies that have analyzed the effects of policies like Britain’s and Australia’s: When countries tighten gun control laws, it leads to fewer guns in private citizens’ hands, which leads to less gun violence.

What gun control measures exist at the federal level?

Much of current federal gun control legislation is a baseline, governing who can buy, sell and use certain classes of firearms, with states left free to enact additional restrictions.

Dealers must be licensed, and run background checks to ensure their buyers are not “prohibited persons,” including felons or people with a history of domestic violence — though private sellers at gun shows or online marketplaces are not required to run background checks. Federal law also highly restricts the sale of certain firearms, such as fully automatic rifles.

The most recent federal legislation , a bipartisan effort passed last year after a gunman killed 19 children and two teachers at an elementary school in Uvalde, Texas, expanded background checks for buyers under 21 and closed what is known as the boyfriend loophole. It also strengthened existing bans on gun trafficking and straw purchasing.

— Aishvarya Kavi


What are gun buyback programs and do they work?

Gun buyback programs are short-term initiatives that provide incentives, such as money or gift cards, to convince people to surrender firearms to law enforcement, typically with no questions asked. These events are often held by governments or private groups at police stations, houses of worship and community centers. Guns that are collected are either destroyed or stored.

Most programs strive to take guns off the streets, provide a safe place for firearm disposal and stir cultural changes in a community, according to Gun by Gun , a nonprofit dedicated to preventing gun violence.

The first formal gun buyback program was held in Baltimore in 1974 after three police officers were shot and killed, according to the authors of the book “Why We Are Losing the War on Gun Violence in the United States.” The initiative collected more than 13,000 firearms, but failed to reduce gun violence in the city. Hundreds of other buyback programs have since unfolded across the United States.

In 1999, President Bill Clinton announced the nation’s first federal gun buyback program . The $15 million program provided grants of up to $500,000 to police departments to buy and destroy firearms. Two years later, the Senate defeated efforts to extend financing for the program after the Bush administration called for it to end.

Despite the popularity of gun buyback programs among certain anti-violence and anti-gun advocates, there is little data to suggest that they work. A study by the National Bureau of Economic Research , a private nonprofit, found that buyback programs adopted in U.S. cities were ineffective in deterring gun crime, firearm-related homicides or firearm-related suicides. . Evidence showed that cities set the sale price of a firearm too low to considerably reduce the supply of weapons; most who participated in such initiatives came from low-crime areas and firearms that were typically collected were either older or not in good working order.

Dr. Brendan Campbell, a pediatric surgeon at Connecticut Children’s Medical Center and an author of one chapter in “Why We Are Losing the War on Gun Violence in the United States,” said that buyback programs should collect significantly more firearms than they currently do in order to be more effective.

Dr. Campbell said they should also offer higher prices for handguns and assault rifles. “Those are the ones that are most likely to be used in crime,” and by people attempting suicide, he said. “If you just give $100 for whatever gun, that’s when you’ll end up with all these old, rusted guns that are a low risk of causing harm in the community.”

Mandatory buyback programs have been enacted elsewhere around the world. After a mass shooting in 1996, Australia put in place a nationwide buyback program , collecting somewhere between one in five and one in three privately held guns. The initiative mostly targeted semiautomatic rifles and many shotguns that, under new laws, were no longer permitted. New Zealand banned military-style semiautomatic weapons, assault rifles and some gun parts and began its own large-scale buyback program in 2019, after a terrorist attack on mosques in Christchurch. The authorities said that more than 56,000 prohibited firearms had been collected from about 32,000 people through the initiative.

Where does the U.S. public stand on the issue?

Expanded background checks for guns purchased routinely receive more than 80 or 90 percent support in polling.

Nationally, a majority of Americans have supported stricter gun laws for decades. A Gallup poll conducted in June found that 55 percent of participants were in favor of a ban on the manufacture, possession and sale of semiautomatic guns. A majority of respondents also supported other measures, including raising the legal age at which people can purchase certain firearms, and enacting a 30-day waiting period for gun sales.

But the jumps in demand for gun control that occur after mass shootings also tend to revert to the partisan mean as time passes. Gallup poll data shows that the percentage of participants who supported stricter gun laws receded to 57 percent in October from 66 percent in June, which was just weeks after mass shootings in Uvalde, Texas, and Buffalo. A PDK poll conducted after the shooting at Robb Elementary School in Uvalde found that 72 percent of Republicans supported arming teachers, in contrast with 24 percent of Democrats.

What do opponents of gun control argue?

Opponents of gun control, including most Republican members of Congress, argue that proposals to limit access to firearms infringe on the right of citizens to bear arms enshrined in the Second Amendment to the Constitution. And they contend that mass shootings are not the result of easily accessible guns, but of criminals and mentally ill people bent on waging violence.

— Annie Karni

Why is it so hard to push for legislation?

Polling suggests that Americans broadly support gun control measures, yet legislation is often stymied in Washington, and Republicans rarely seem to pay a political price for their opposition.

The calculation behind Republicans’ steadfast stonewalling of any new gun regulations — even in the face of the kind unthinkable massacres like in Uvalde, Texas — is a fairly simple one for Senator Kevin Cramer of North Dakota. Asked what the reaction would be from voters back home if he were to support any significant form of gun control, the first-term Republican had a straightforward answer: “Most would probably throw me out of office,” he said. His response helps explain why Republicans have resisted proposals such as the one for universal background checks for gun buyers, despite remarkably broad support from the public for such plans — support that can reach up to 90 percent nationwide in some cases. Republicans like Mr. Cramer understand that they would receive little political reward for joining the push for laws to limit access to guns, including assault-style weapons. But they know for certain that they would be pounded — and most likely left facing a primary opponent who could cost them their job — for voting for gun safety laws or even voicing support for them. Most Republicans in the Senate represent deeply conservative states where gun ownership is treated as a sacred privilege enshrined in the Constitution, a privilege not to be infringed upon no matter how much blood is spilled in classrooms and school hallways around the country. Though the National Rifle Association has recently been diminished by scandal and financial turmoil , Democrats say that the organization still has a strong hold on Republicans through its financial contributions and support, hardening the party’s resistance to any new gun laws. — Carl Hulse, “ Why Republicans Won’t Budge on Guns .”

Yet while the power of the gun lobby, the outsize influence of rural states in the Senate and single-voter issues offer some explanation, there is another possibility: voters.

When voters in four Democratic-leaning states got the opportunity to enact expanded gun or ammunition background checks into law, the overwhelming support suggested by national surveys was nowhere to be found. For Democrats, the story is both unsettling and familiar. Progressives have long been emboldened by national survey results that show overwhelming support for their policy priorities, only to find they don’t necessarily translate to Washington legislation and to popularity on Election Day or beyond. President Biden’s major policy initiatives are popular , for example, yet voters say he has not accomplished much and his approval ratings have sunk into the low 40s. The apparent progressive political majority in the polls might just be illusory. Public support for new gun restrictions tends to rise in the wake of mass shootings. There is already evidence that public support for stricter gun laws has surged again in the aftermath of the killings in Buffalo and Uvalde, Texas. While the public’s support for new restrictions tends to subside thereafter, these shootings or another could still produce a lasting shift in public opinion. But the poor results for background checks suggest that public opinion may not be the unequivocal ally of gun control that the polling makes it seem. — Nate Cohn, “ Voters Say They Want Gun Control. Their Votes Say Something Different. ”

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good research questions about gun control

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Reducing gun violence: Stanford scholars tackle the issue

After 19 children and two teachers were slaughtered by a gunman at Robb Elementary School in Uvalde, Texas, many Americans are asking, yet again, how to prevent future acts of senseless violence from occurring. What gun laws need to be changed? Why is it so difficult to pass regulations? How can Second Amendment rights be balanced with firearm safety? 

Stanford scholars have been studying these issues from a range of perspectives, including law, politics, economics, and medicine. Here are some of their findings.

Update: May 25, 2022: This story was originally published on Feb. 26, 2018, and has been updated to include new content.

Causes, impacts of gun violence

Uncovering the causes of gun violence has been a challenge, in part because research is limited by federal legislation that constrains research funding on the issue. Scholar Nigam Shah at the Stanford School of Medicine has written about how this has affected empirical study. But that has not deterred scholars from examining its impacts. David Studdert, also at the School of Medicine, has studied the devastating consequences of gun violence, particularly the risks it poses to public health.  

Maya Rossin-Slater, an associate professor of medicine and a senior fellow at the Stanford Institute for Economic Policy Research (SIEPR), has also looked at the long-term impact of gun violence, specifically among American children who experienced a shooting at their school. Rossin-Slater found that they have higher rates of absenteeism, lower high school and college graduation rates, and by their mid-twenties, earn lower incomes.

Below is some of that research. 

good research questions about gun control

Californians living with handgun owners more than twice as likely to die by homicide, study finds

Residents who don’t own a handgun but live with someone who does are significantly more likely to die by homicide compared with those in gun-free homes, research shows.

good research questions about gun control

New study of gun violence in schools identifies long-term harms

Research from SIEPR’s Maya Rossin-Slater finds that students exposed to school shootings face “lasting, persistent” adversity in their educational and long-term economic outcomes.

Shirin Sinnar

Shirin Sinnar on the Buffalo shooting, hate crimes, and domestic terrorism

In the wake of the Buffalo shooting, Stanford Law School’s Shirin Sinnar discusses the scale of white supremacist violence in the U.S. and the rise of hate crimes.

good research questions about gun control

Disconnect: The gap between gun violence and research in numbers

Gun violence is much discussed but little studied, largely due to federal decisions governing research funding. A new analysis highlights just how big the gap between the violence and our knowledge of it is. The answer? It’s huge.

good research questions about gun control

Supporting students exposed to school shootings

Maya Rossin-Slater talks about her research into the mental health impact of severe school violence.

good research questions about gun control

Panel discusses how shootings affect those unscathed by bullets

A panel of faculty members at the School of Medicine said shootings can affect the mental health of people close to the violence.

good research questions about gun control

California handgun sales spiked after two mass shootings

In the six weeks after the Newtown and San Bernardino mass shootings, handguns sales jumped in California, yet there is little research on why – or on the implications for public health, according to a Stanford researcher.

good research questions about gun control

Mass shootings: Public face of a much larger epidemic

While mass shootings have become the public face of gun violence, they account for less than 1% of the 40,000 firearm deaths each year.  

good research questions about gun control

Short-term hospital readmissions for gun injuries cost $86 million a year

A study from Stanford researchers has found that readmissions account for 9.5% of the $911 million spent annually on gun-injury hospitalizations.

good research questions about gun control

Supporting children through loss

Rabbi Patricia Karlin-Neumann talks about how to help young people experiencing grief.

good research questions about gun control

Firearm injuries in children, teens costly for U.S. health care system, Stanford study finds

The average cost of initial hospitalization to treat pediatric gun injuries is about $13,000 per patient and has risen in recent decades, a Stanford Medicine study found.

good research questions about gun control

Investigating psychiatric illnesses of mass shooters

Ira Glick and his collaborators studied the psychiatric state of 35 mass shooters in the United States who survived the incidents, which took place between 1982 and 2019.

good research questions about gun control

The silent cost of school shootings

SIEPR’s Maya Rossin-Slater finds the average rate of antidepressant use among youths under age 20 rose by 21 percent in the local communities where fatal school shootings occurred.

Concealed gun

New study analyzes recent gun violence research

Consensus is growing in recent research evaluating the impact of right-to-carry concealed handgun laws, showing that they increase violent crime, despite what older research says.

good research questions about gun control

Handgun ownership associated with much higher suicide risk

Men who own handguns are eight times more likely to die of gun suicides than men who don’t own handguns, and women who own handguns are 35 times more likely than women who don’t.

good research questions about gun control

Advice on how to cope with the threat of school shootings

Victor Carrion offers advice on how families can cope with the stress of school safety.

Reducing gun violence

Many Americans are demanding practical steps to reduce gun crime. One way is to have more stringent gun safety policies, such as legislation requiring guns to be stored safely, more stringent background checks, or as President Biden announced Tuesday, a federal ban on assault weapons and high-capacity magazines. 

Research has shown that states with tighter policies save lives: One study by Stephanie Chao found that states with stricter gun laws have lower rates of gun deaths among children and teenagers, and states with child prevention access laws are linked with fewer gun suicides in this age group.

“If you put more regulations on firearms, it does make a difference,” said Chao, assistant professor of surgery and senior author of the study. “It does end up saving children’s lives.” Her analysis found that states with the strictest laws had a mortality rate of 2.6 per 100,000 and for states with the least strict laws, mortality rate was almost double at 5.0 per 100,000.  

John Donohue portrait

John Donohue: One tragic week with two mass shootings and the uniquely American gun problem

In a Q&A, Stanford Law School gun law expert John J. Donohue III discusses mass shootings in the U.S., the challenges facing police when confronting powerful automatic weapons and the prospect of gun safety laws.

Pistol behind lock and chains symbolic of gun control

Lax state gun laws linked to more child gun deaths

States with strict gun laws have lower rates of gun deaths among children and teenagers, and laws to keep guns away from minors are linked with fewer gun suicides in this age group, a Stanford study found.

hands holding a gun at display desk

Improved gun buyer background checks would impede some mass shootings, Stanford expert says

Stanford Law Professor John Donohue says a background check system that was universal and effectively operated could impede gun acquisition by people who commit mass shootings.

a stack of live round casings

How to solve more gun crimes without spending more money

Simple tweaks to how police process bullet casings could dramatically improve their forensic data.

good research questions about gun control

Reducing civilian firepower would boost police and community safety, Stanford expert says

In addition to restricting the firepower a person can amass, Stanford law Professor John J. Donohue advocates efforts to build trust between communities and law enforcement agencies as a way to enhance both police and citizen safety.

good research questions about gun control

Stricter gun laws reduce child and adolescent gun deaths, Stanford study finds

Laws that keep guns away from young people are especially strongly linked to lower rates of gun suicides in youth.

Gun legislation and policy

For nearly three decades, law Professor John Donohue III has studied what can be done to prevent gun violence in the United States. A lawyer and economist, Donohue explores how law and public policy are connected to gun violence, including how gun laws in the U.S. compare to other countries, as well as how legislation varies across the states, to better understand the effect that has on rates of violence. 

“The U.S. is by far the world leader in the number of guns in civilian hands,” Donohue explained . “The stricter gun laws of other ‘advanced countries’ have restrained homicidal violence, suicides and gun accidents – even when, in some cases, laws were introduced over massive protests from their armed citizens.” 

Here are some of his findings, and other research related to legislating gun safety in the U.S.

Stanford’s John Donohue on guns, mass shootings and the law in the U.S.

On Nov. 30, American students were once again the victims of a school shooting. Stanford law Professor John Donohue discusses the case and gun violence in the U.S.

good research questions about gun control

How U.S. gun control compares to the rest of the world

While deaths from mass shootings are a relatively small part of the overall homicidal violence in America, they are particularly wrenching. The problem is worse in the U.S. than in most other industrialized nations. And it’s getting worse.

good research questions about gun control

4 gun control steps U.S. needs now

John Donohue pens an opinion piece for CNN laying out four steps the United States should take to strengthen gun legislation.

Handgun in waistband

Violent crime increases in right-to-carry states

Stanford Law School Professor John Donohue found that states that adopted right-to-carry concealed handgun laws have experienced a 13 to 15 percent increase in violent crime in the 10 years after enacting those laws.

good research questions about gun control

Another mass shooting: An update on U.S. gun laws

In a Q&A, John Donohue discusses gun safety law and legislative developments.

good research questions about gun control

Stanford GSE holds teach-in on research into gun violence in schools

Education scholars look at the evidence behind policy ideas to address school shootings.

good research questions about gun control

Will Americans ever think differently about guns?

Stanford medicine and law professor David Studdert thinks more public health evidence is needed before cultural attitudes around gun safety and violence will change.

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  • Published: 10 December 2019

The psychology of guns: risk, fear, and motivated reasoning

  • Joseph M. Pierre 1  

Palgrave Communications volume  5 , Article number:  159 ( 2019 ) Cite this article

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The gun debate in America is often framed as a stand-off between two immutable positions with little potential to move ahead with meaningful legislative reform. Attempts to resolve this impasse have been thwarted by thinking about gun ownership attitudes as based on rational choice economics instead of considering the broader socio-cultural meanings of guns. In this essay, an additional psychological perspective is offered that highlights how concerns about victimization and mass shootings within a shared culture of fear can drive cognitive bias and motivated reasoning on both sides of the gun debate. Despite common fears, differences in attitudes and feelings about guns themselves manifest in variable degrees of support for or opposition to gun control legislation that are often exaggerated within caricatured depictions of polarization. A psychological perspective suggests that consensus on gun legislation reform can be achieved through understanding differences and diversity on both sides of the debate, working within a common middle ground, and more research to resolve ambiguities about how best to minimize fear while maximizing personal and public safety.

Discounting risk

Do guns kill people or do people kill people? Answers to that riddle draw a bright line between two sides of a caricatured debate about guns in polarized America. One side believes that guns are a menace to public safety, while the other believes that they are an essential tool of self-preservation. One side cannot fathom why more gun control legislation has not been passed in the wake of a disturbing rise in mass shootings in the US and eyes Australia’s 1996 sweeping gun reform and New Zealand’s more recent restrictions with envy. The other, backed by the Constitutional right to bear arms and the powerful lobby of the National Rifle Association (NRA), fears the slippery slope of legislative change and refuses to yield an inch while threatening, “I’ll give you my gun when you pry it from my cold, dead hands”. With the nation at an impasse, meaningful federal gun legislation aimed at reducing firearm violence remains elusive.

Despite the 1996 Dickey Amendment’s restriction of federal funding for research on gun violence by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (Rostron, 2018 ), more than 30 years of public health research supports thinking of guns as statistically more of a personal hazard than a benefit. Case-control studies have repeatedly found that gun ownership is associated with an increased risk of gun-related homicide or suicide occurring in the home (Kellermann and Reay, 1986 ; Kellermann et al., 1993 ; Cummings and Koepsell, 1998 ; Wiebe, 2003 ; Dahlberg et al., 2004 ; Hemenway, 2011 ; Anglemeyer et al., 2014 ). For homicides, the association is largely driven by gun-related violence committed by family members and other acquaintances, not strangers (Kellermann et al., 1993 , 1998 ; Wiebe, 2003 ).

If having a gun increases the risk of gun-related violent death in the home, why do people choose to own guns? To date, the prevailing answer from the public health literature has been seemingly based on a knowledge deficit model that assumes that gun owners are unaware of risks and that repeated warnings about “overwhelming evidence” of “the health risk of a gun in the home [being] greater than the benefit” (Hemenway, 2011 ) should therefore decrease gun ownership and increase support for gun legislation reform. And yet, the rate of US households with guns has held steady for two decades (Smith and Son, 2015 ) with owners amassing an increasing number of guns such that the total civilian stock has risen to some 265 million firearms (Azrael et al., 2017 ). This disparity suggests that the knowledge deficit model is inadequate to explain or modify gun ownership.

In contrast to the premise that people weigh the risks and benefits of their behavior based on “rational choice economics” (Kahan and Braman, 2003 ), nearly 50 years of psychology and behavioral economics research has instead painted a picture of human decision-making as a less than rational process based on cognitive short-cuts (“availability heuristics”) and other error-prone cognitive biases (Tversky and Kahneman, 1974 ; Kunda, 1990 ; Haselton and Nettle, 2006 ; Hibert, 2012 ). As a result, “consequentialist” approaches to promoting healthier choices are often ineffective. Following this perspective, recent public health efforts have moved beyond educational campaigns to apply an understanding of the psychology of risky behavior to strike a balance between regulation and behavioral “nudges” aimed at reducing harmful practices like smoking, unhealthy eating, texting while driving, and vaccine refusal (Atchley et al., 2011 ; Hansen et al., 2016 ; Matjasko et al., 2016 ; Pluviano et al., 2017 ).

A similar public health approach aimed at reducing gun violence should take into account how gun owners discount the risks of ownership according to cognitive biases and motivated reasoning. For example, cognitive dissonance may lead those who already own guns to turn a blind eye to research findings about the dangers of ownership. Optimism bias, the general tendency of individuals to overestimate good outcomes and underestimate bad outcomes, can likewise make it easy to disregard dangers by externalizing them to others. The risk of suicide can therefore be dismissed out of hand based on the rationale that “it will never happen to me,” while the risk of homicide can be discounted based on demographic factors. Kleck and Gertz ( 1998 ) noted that membership in street gangs and drug dealing might be important confounds of risk in case control studies, just as unsafe storage practices such as keeping a firearm loaded and unlocked may be another (Kellerman et al., 1993 ). Other studies have found that the homicide risk associated with guns in the home is greater for women compared to men and for non-whites compared to whites (Wiebe, 2003 ). Consequently, white men—by far the largest demographic that owns guns—might be especially likely to think of themselves as immune to the risks of gun ownership and, through confirmation bias, cherry-pick the data to support pre-existing intuitions and fuel motivated disbelief about guns. These testable hypotheses warrant examination in future research aimed at understanding the psychology of gun ownership and crafting public health approaches to curbing gun violence.

Still, while the role of cognitive biases should be integrated into a psychological understanding of attitudes towards gun ownership, cognitive biases are universal liabilities that fall short of explaining why some people might “employ” them as a part of motivated reasoning to support ownership or to oppose gun reform. To understand the underlying motivation that drives cognitive bias, a deeper analysis of why people own guns is required. In the introductory essay to this journal’s series on “What Guns Mean,” Metzl ( 2019 ) noted that public health efforts to reduce firearm ownership have failed to “address beliefs about guns among people who own them”. In a follow-up piece, Galea and Abdalla ( 2019 ) likewise suggested that the gun debate is complicated by the fact that “knowledge and values do not align” and that “these values create an impasse, one where knowing is not enough” (Galea and Abdalla, 2019 ). Indeed, these and other authors (Kahan and Braman, 2003 ; Braman and Kahan, 2006 ; Pierre, 2015 ; Kalesan et al., 2016 ) have enumerated myriad beliefs and values, related to the different “symbolic lives” and “social meanings” of firearms both within and outside of “gun culture” that drive polarized attitudes towards gun ownership in the US. This essay attempts to further explore the meaning of guns from a psychological perspective.

Fear and gun ownership

Modern psychological understanding of human decision-making has moved beyond availability heuristics and cognitive biases to integrate the role of emotion and affect. Several related models including the “risk-as-feelings hypothesis” (Loewenstein et al., 2001 ), the “affect heuristic” (Slovic et al., 2007 ); and the “appraisal-tendency framework” (Lerner et al., 2015 ) illustrate how emotions can hijack rational-decision-making processes to the point of being the dominant influence on risk assessments. Research has shown that “perceived risk judgments”—estimates of the likelihood that something bad will happen—are especially hampered by emotion (Pachur et al., 2012 ) and that different types of affect can bias such judgments in different ways (Lerner et al., 2015 ). For example, fear can in particular bias assessments away from rational analysis to overestimate risks, as well as to perceive negative events as unpredictable (Lerner et al., 2015 ).

Although gun ownership is associated with positive feelings about firearms within “gun culture” (Pierre, 2015 ; Kalesan et al., 2016 ; Metzl, 2019 ), most research comparing gun owners to non-gun owners suggests that ownership is rooted in fear. While long guns have historically been owned primarily for hunting and other recreational purposes, US surveys dating back to the 1990s have revealed that the most frequent reason for gun ownership and more specifically handgun ownership is self-protection (Cook and Ludwig, 1997 ; Azrael et al., 2017 ; Pew Research Center, 2017 ). Research has likewise shown that the decision to obtain a firearm is largely motivated by past victimization and/or fears of future victimization (Kleck et al., 2011 ; Hauser and Kleck, 2013 ).

A few studies have reported that handgun ownership is associated with past victimization, perceived risk of crime, and perceived ineffectiveness of police protection within low-income communities where these concerns may be congruent with real risks (Vacha and McLaughlin, 2000 , 2004 ). However, gun ownership tends to be lower in urban settings and in low-income families where there might be higher rates of violence and crime (Vacha and McLaughlin, 2000 ). Instead, the largest demographic of gun owners in the US are white men living in rural communities who are earning more than $100K/year (Azrael et al., 2017 ). Mencken and Froese ( 2019 ) likewise reported that gun owners tend to have higher incomes and greater ratings of life happiness than non-owners. These findings suggest a mismatch between subjective fear and objective reality.

Stroebe and colleagues ( 2017 ) reported that the specific perceived risk of victimization and more “diffuse” fears that the world is a dangerous place are both independent predictors of handgun ownership, with perceived risk of assault associated with having been or knowing a victim of violent crime and belief in a dangerous world associated with political conservatism. These findings hint at the likelihood that perceived risk of victimization can be based on vicarious sources with a potential for bias, whether through actual known acquaintances or watching the nightly news, conducting a Google search or scanning one’s social media feed, or reading “The Armed Citizen” column in the NRA newsletter The American Rifleman . It also suggests that a general fear of crime, independent of actual or even perceived individual risk, may be a powerful motivator for gun ownership for some that might track with race and political ideology.

Several authors have drawn a connection between gun ownership and racial tensions by examining the cultural symbolism and socio-political meaning of guns. Bhatia ( 2019 ) detailed how the NRA’s “disinformation campaign reliant on fearmongering” is constructed around a narrative of “fear and identity politics” that exploits current xenophobic sentiments related to immigrants. Metzl ( 2019 ) noted that during the 1960s, conservatives were uncharacteristically in favor of gun control when armed resistance was promoted by Malcolm X, the Black Panther Party, and others involved in the Black Power Movement. Today, Metzl argues, “mainstream society reflexively codes white men carrying weapons in public as patriots, while marking armed black men as threats or criminals.” In support of this view, a 2013 study found that having a gun in the home was significantly associated with racism against black people as measured by the Symbolic Racism Scale, noting that “for each 1 point increase in symbolic racism, there was a 50% greater odds of having a gun in the home and a 28% increase in the odds of supporting permits to carry concealed handguns” (O’Brien et al., 2013 ). Hypothesizing that guns are a symbol of hegemonic masculinity that serves to “shore up white male privilege in society,” Stroud ( 2012 ) interviewed a non-random sample of 20 predominantly white men in Texas who had licenses for concealed handgun carry. The men described how guns help to fulfill their identities as protectors of their families, while characterizing imagined dangers with rhetoric suggesting specific fears about black criminals. These findings suggest that gun ownership among white men may be related to a collective identity as “good guys” protecting themselves against “bad guys” who are people of color, a premise echoed in the lay press with headlines like, “Why Are White Men Stockpiling Guns?” (Smith, 2018 ), “Report: White Men Stockpile Guns Because They’re Afraid of Black People” (Harriott, 2018 ), and “Gun Rights Are About Keeping White Men on Top” (Wuertenberg, 2018 ).

Connecting the dots, the available evidence therefore suggests that for many gun owners, fears about victimization can result in confirmation, myside, and optimism biases that not only discount the risks of ownership, but also elevate the salience of perceived benefit, however remote, as it does when one buys a lottery ticket (Rogers and Webley, 2001 ). Indeed, among gun owners there is widespread belief that having a gun makes one safer, supported by published claims that where there are “more guns”, there is “less crime” (Lott, 1998 , 1999 ) as well as statistics and anecdotes about successful defensive gun use (DGU) (Kleck and Gertz, 1995 , 1998 ; Tark and Kleck, 2004 ; Cramer and Burnett, 2012 ). Suffice it to say that there have been numerous debates about how to best interpret this body of evidence, with critics claiming that “more guns, less crime” is a myth (Ayres and Donohue, 2003 ; Moyer, 2017 ) that has been “discredited” (Wintemute, 2008 ) and that the incidence of DGU has been grossly overestimated and pales in comparison to the risk of being threatened or harmed by a gun in the home (Hemenway, 1997 , 2011 ; Cook and Ludwig, 1998 ; Azrael and Hemenway, 2000 ; Hemenway et al., 2000 ). Attempts at objective analysis have concluded that surveys to date have defined and measured DGU inconsistently with unclear numbers of false positives and false negatives (Smith, 1997 ; McDowall et al., 2000 ; National Research Council, 2005 ; RAND, 2018 ), that the causal effects of DGU on reducing injury are “inconclusive” (RAND, 2018 ), and that “neither side seems to be willing to give ground or see their opponent’s point of view” (Smith, 1997 ). With the scientific debate about DGU mirrored in the lay press (Defilippis and Hughes, 2015 ; Kleck, 2015 ; Doherty, 2015 ), a rational assessment of whether guns make owners safer is hampered by a lack of “settled science”. With no apparent consensus, motivated reasoning can pave the way to the nullification of opposing arguments in favor of personal opinions and ideological stances.

For gun owners, even if it is acknowledged that on average successful DGU is much less likely than a homicide or suicide in the home, not having a gun at all translates to zero chance of self-preservation, which are intolerable odds. The bottom line is that when gun owners believe that owning a gun will make them feel safer, little else may matter. Curiously however, there is conflicting evidence that gun ownership actually decreases fears of victimization (Hauser and Kleck, 2013 ; Dowd-Arrow et al., 2019 ). That gun ownership may not mitigate such fears could help to account for why some individuals go on to acquire multiple guns beyond their initial purchase with US gun owners possessing an average of 5 firearms and 8% of owners having 10 or more (Azrael et al., 2017 ).

Gun owner diversity

A psychological model of the polarized gun debate in America would ideally compare those for or against gun control legislation. However, research to date has instead focused mainly on differences between gun owners and non-gun owners, which has several limitations. For example, of the nearly 70% of Americans who do not own a gun, 36% report that they can see themselves owning one in the future (Pew Research Center, 2017 ) with 11.5% of all gun owners in 2015 having newly acquired one in the previous 5 years (Wertz et al., 2018 ). Gun ownership and non-ownership are therefore dynamic states that may not reflect static ideology. Personal accounts such as Willis’ ( 2010 ) article, “I Was Anti-gun, Until I Got Stalked,” illustrate this point well.

With existing research heavily reliant on comparing gun owners to non-gun owners, a psychological model of gun attitudes in the US will have limited utility if it relies solely on gun owner stereotypes based on their most frequent demographic characteristics. On the contrary, Hauser and Kleck ( 2013 ) have argued that “a more complete understanding of the relationship between fear of crime and gun ownership at the individual level is crucial”. Just so, looking more closely at the diversity of gun owners can reveal important details beyond the kinds of stereotypes that are often used to frame political debates.

Foremost, it must be recognized that not all gun owners are conservative white men with racist attitudes. Over the past several decades, women have comprised 9–14% of US gun owners with the “gender gap” narrowing due to decreasing male ownership (Smith and Son, 2015 ). A 2017 Pew Survey reported that 22% of women in the US own a gun and that female gun owners are just as likely as men to belong to the NRA (Pew Research Center, 2017 ). Although the 36% rate of gun ownership among US whites is the highest for any racial demographic, 25% of blacks and 15% of Hispanics report owning guns with these racial groups being significantly more concerned than whites about gun violence in their communities and the US as a whole (Pew Research Center, 2017 ). Providing a striking counterpoint to Stroud’s ( 2012 ) interviews of white gun owners in Texas, Craven ( 2017 ) interviewed 11 black gun owners across the country who offered diverse views on guns and the question of whether owning them makes them feel safer, including if confronted by police during a traffic stop. Kelly ( 2019 ) has similarly offered a self-portrait as a female “left-wing anarchist” against the stereotype of guns owners as “Republicans, racist libertarians, and other generally Constitution-obsessed weirdos”. She reminds us that, “there is also a long history of armed community self-defense among the radical left that is often glossed over or forgotten entirely in favor of the Fox News-friendly narrative that all liberals hate guns… when the cops and other fascists see that they’re not the only ones packing, the balance of power shifts, and they tend to reconsider their tactics”.

Although Mencken and Froese ( 2019 ) concluded that “white men in economic distress find comfort in guns as a means to reestablish a sense of individual power and moral certitude,” their study results actually demonstrated that gun owners fall into distinguishable groups based on different levels of “moral and emotional empowerment” imparted by guns. For example, those with low levels of gun empowerment were more likely to be female and to own long guns for recreational purposes such as hunting and collecting. Other research has shown that the motivations to own a gun, and the degree to which gun ownership is related to fear and the desire for self-protection, also varies according to the type of gun (Stroebe et al., 2017 ). Owning guns, owning specific types of guns (e.g. handguns, long guns, and so-called “military style” semi-automatic rifles like AR-15s), carrying a gun in public, and keeping a loaded gun on one’s nightstand all have different psychological implications. A 2015 study reported that new gun owners were younger and more likely to identify as liberal than long-standing gun owners (Wertz et al., 2018 ). Although Kalesan et al. ( 2016 ) found that gun ownership is more likely among those living within a “gun culture” where ownership is prevalent, encouraged, and part of social life, it would therefore be a mistake to characterize gun culture as a monolith.

It would also be a mistake to equate gun ownership with opposition to gun legislation reform or vice-versa. Although some evidence supports a strong association (Wolpert and Gimpel, 1998 ), more recent studies suggest important exceptions to the rule. While only about 30% of the US population owns a gun, over 70% believes that most citizens should be able to legally own them (Pew Research Center, 2017 ). Women tend to be more likely than men to support gun control, even when they are gun owners themselves (Kahan and Braman, 2003 ; Mencken and Froese, 2019 ). Older (age 70–79) Americans likewise have some of the highest rates of gun ownership, but also the highest rates of support for gun control (Pederson et al., 2015 ). In Mencken and Froese’s study ( 2019 ), most gun owners reporting lower levels of gun empowerment favored bans on semi-automatic weapons and high-capacity magazines and opposed arming teachers in schools. Kahan and Braman ( 2003 ) theorized that attitudes towards gun control are best understood according to a “cultural theory of risk”. In their study sample, those with “hierarchical” and “individualist” cultural orientations were more likely than those with “egalitarian” views to oppose gun control and these perspectives were more predictive than other variables including political affiliation and fear of crime.

In fact, both gun owners and non-owners report high degrees of support for universal background checks; laws mandating safe gun storage in households with children; and “red flag” laws restricting access to firearms for those hospitalized for mental illness or those otherwise at risk of harming themselves or others, those convicted of certain crimes including public display of a gun in a threatening manner, those subject to temporary domestic violence restraining orders, and those on “no-fly” or other watch lists (Pew Research Center, 2017 ; Barry et al., 2018 ). According to a 2015 survey, the majority of the US public also opposes carrying firearms in public spaces with most gun owners opposing public carry in schools, college campuses, places of worship, bars, and sports stadiums (Wolfson et al., 2017 ). Despite broad public support for gun legislation reform however, it is important to recognize that the threat of gun restrictions is an important driver of gun acquisition (Wallace, 2015 ; Aisch and Keller, 2016 ). As a result, proposals to restrict gun ownership boosted gun sales considerably under the Obama administration (Depetris-Chauvin, 2015 ), whereas gun companies like Remington and United Sporting Companies have since filed for bankruptcy under the Trump administration.

A shared culture of fear

Developing a psychological understanding of attitudes towards guns and gun control legislation in the US that accounts for underlying emotions, motivated reasoning, and individual variation must avoid the easy trap of pathologizing gun owners and dismissing their fears as irrational. Instead, it should consider the likelihood that motivated reasoning underlies opinion on both sides of the gun debate, with good reason to conclude that fear is a prominent source of both “pro-gun” and “anti-gun” attitudes. Although the research on fear and gun ownership summarized above implies that non-gun owners are unconcerned about victimization, a closer look at individual study data reveals both small between-group differences and significant within-group heterogeneity. For example, Stroebe et al.’s ( 2017 ) findings that gun owners had greater mean ratings of belief in a dangerous world, perceived risk of victimization, and the perceived effectiveness of owning a gun for self-defense were based on inter-group differences of <1 point on a 7-point Likert scale. Fear of victimization is therefore a universal fear for gun owners and non-gun owners alike, with important differences in both quantitative and qualitative aspects of those fears. Kahan and Braham ( 2003 ) noted that the gun debate is not so much a debate about the personal risks of gun ownership, as it is a one about which of two potential fears is most salient—that of “firearm casualties in a world with insufficient gun control or that of personal defenselessness in a world with excessive control”.

Although this “shared fear” hypothesis has not been thoroughly tested in existing research, there is general support for it based on evidence that fear is an especially potent influence on risk assessment and decision-making when considering low-frequency catastrophic events (Chanel et al., 2009 ). In addition, biased risk assessments have been linked to individual feelings about a specific activity. Whereas many activities in the real world have both high risk and high benefit, positive attitudes about an activity are associated with biased judgments of low risk and high benefit while negative attitudes are associated with biased judgments of high risk and low benefit (Slovic et al., 2007 ). These findings match those of the gun debate, whereby catastrophic events like mass shootings can result in “probability neglect,” over-estimating the likelihood of risk (Sunstein, 2003 ; Sunstein and Zeckhauser, 2011 ) with polarized differences regarding guns as a root cause and gun control as a viable solution. For those that have positive feelings about guns and their perceived benefit, the risk of gun ownership is minimized as discussed above. However, based on findings from psychological research on fear (Loewenstein et al., 2001 ; Slovic et al., 2007 ), the reverse is also likely to be true—those with negative feelings about guns who perceive little benefit to ownership may tend to over-estimate risks. Consistent with this dichotomy, both calls for legislative gun reform, as well as gun purchases increase in the wake of mass shootings (Wallace, 2015 ; Wozniak, 2017 ), with differences primarily predicted by the relative self-serving attributional biases of gun ownership and non-ownership alike (Joslyn and Haider-Markel, 2017 ).

Psychological research has shown that fear is associated with loss of control, with risks that are unfamiliar and uncontrollable perceived as disproportionately dangerous (Lerner et al., 2015 ; Sunstein, 2003 ). Although mass shootings have increased in recent years, they remain extremely rare events and represent a miniscule proportion of overall gun violence. And yet, as acts of terrorism, they occur in places like schools that are otherwise thought of as a suburban “safe spaces,” unlike inner cities where violence is more mundane, and are often given sensationalist coverage in the media. A 2019 Harris Poll found that 79% of Americans endorse stress as a result of the possibility of a mass shooting, with about a third reporting that they “cannot go anywhere without worrying about being a victim” (American Psychological Association, 2019 ). While some evidence suggests that gun owners may be more concerned about mass shootings than non-gun owners (Dowd-Arrow et al., 2019 ), this is again a quantitative difference as with fear of victimization more generally. There is little doubt that parental fears about children being victims of gun violence were particularly heightened in the wake of Columbine (Altheide, 2019 ) and it is likely that subsequent school shootings at Virginia Tech, Sandy Hook Elementary, and Stoneman Douglas High have been especially impactful in the minds of those calling for increasing restrictions on gun ownership. For those privileged to be accustomed to community safety who are less worried about home invasion and have faith in the police to provide protection, fantasizing about “gun free zones” may reflect a desire to recreate safe spaces in the wake of mass shootings that invoke feelings of loss of control.

Altheide ( 2019 ) has argued that mass shootings in the US post-Columbine have been embedding within a larger cultural narrative of terrorism, with “expanded social control and policies that helped legitimate the war on terror”. Sunstein and Zeckhauser ( 2011 ) have similarly noted that following terrorist attacks, the public tends to demand responses from government, favoring precautionary measures that are “not justified by any plausible analysis of expected utility” and over-estimating potential benefits. However, such responses may not only be ineffective, but potentially damaging. For example, although collective anxieties in the wake of the 9/11 terrorist attacks resulted in the rapid implementation of new screening procedures for boarding airplanes, it has been argued that the “theater” of response may have done well to decrease fear without any evidence of actual effectiveness in reducing danger (Graham, 2019 ) while perhaps even increasing overall mortality by avoiding air travel in favor of driving (Sunstein, 2003 ; Sunstein and Zeckhauser, 2011 ).

As with the literature on DGU, the available evidence supporting the effectiveness of specific gun laws in reducing gun violence is less than definitive (Koper et al., 2004 ; Hahn et al., 2005 ; Lee et al., 2017 ; Webster and Wintemute, 2015 ), leaving the utility of gun reform legislation open to debate and motivated reasoning. Several authors have argued that even if proposed gun control measures are unlikely to deter mass shooters, “doing something is better than nothing” (Fox and DeLateur, 2014 ) and that ineffective counter-terrorism responses are worthwhile if they reduce public fear (Sunstein and Zeckhauser, 2011 ). Crucially however, this perspective fails to consider the impact of gun control legislation on the fears of those who value guns for self-protection. For them, removing guns from law-abiding “good guys” while doing nothing to deter access to the “bad guys” who commit crimes is illogical anathema. Gun owners and gun advocates likewise reject the concept of “safe spaces” and regard the notion of “gun free zones” as a liability that invites rather than prevents acts of terrorism. In other words, gun control proposals designed to decrease fear have the opposite of their intended effect on those who view guns as symbols of personal safety, increasing rather than decreasing their fears independently of any actual effects on gun violence. Such policies are therefore non-starters, and will remain non-starters, for the sizeable proportion of Americans who regard guns as essential for self-preservation.

In 2006, Braman and Kahan noted that “the Great American Gun Debate… has convulsed the national polity for the better part of four decades without producing results satisfactory to either side” and argued that consequentialist arguments about public health risks based on cost–benefit analysis are trumped by the cultural meanings of guns to the point of being “politically inert” (Braman and Kahan, 2006 ). More than a decade later, that argument is iterated in this series on “What Guns Mean”. In this essay, it is further argued that persisting debates about the effectiveness of DGU and gun control legislation are at their heart trumped by shared concerns about personal safety, victimization, and mass shootings within a larger culture of fear, with polarized opinions about how to best mitigate those fears that are determined by the symbolic, cultural, and personal meanings of guns and gun ownership.

Coming full circle to the riddle, “Do guns kill people or do people kill people?”, a psychologically informed perspective rejects the question as a false dichotomy that can be resolved by the statement, “people kill people… with guns”. It likewise suggests a way forward by acknowledging both common fears and individual differences beyond the limited, binary caricature of the gun debate that is mired in endless arguments over disputed facts. For meaningful legislative change to occur, the debate must be steered away from its portrayal as two immutable sides caught between not doing anything on the one hand and enacting sweeping bans or repealing the 2nd Amendment on the other. In reality, public attitudes towards gun control are more nuanced than that, with support or opposition to specific gun control proposals predicted by distinct psychological and cultural factors (Wozniak, 2017 ) such that achieving consensus may prove less elusive than is generally assumed. Accordingly, gun reform proposals should focus on “low hanging fruit” where there is broad support such as requiring and enforcing universal background checks, enacting “red flag” laws balanced by guaranteeing gun ownership rights to law-abiding citizens, and implementing public safety campaigns that promote safe firearm handling and storage. Finally, the Dickey Amendment should be repealed so that research can inform public health interventions aimed at reducing gun violence and so that individuals can replace motivated reasoning with evidence-based decision-making about personal gun ownership and guns in society.

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Wuertenberg N (2018). Gun rights are about keeping white men on top. Washington Post. . Accessed 19 Nov 2019

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Pierre, J.M. The psychology of guns: risk, fear, and motivated reasoning. Palgrave Commun 5 , 159 (2019).

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Published : 10 December 2019


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good research questions about gun control

July 5, 2022

What Researchers Know about Gun Policies’ Effectiveness

Studies are “decades behind,” owing to a lack of funding, but research is picking up

By Lynne Peeples & Nature magazine

An American flag hangs in front of a gun rack at a gun shop in Kentucky

Gun sales in the United States have been on the rise.

Jon Cherry/Bloomberg via Getty Images

About 40% of the world’s civilian-owned firearms are in the United States, a country that has had some 1.4 million gun deaths in the past four decades. And yet, until recently, there has been almost no federal funding for research that could inform gun policy.

US gun violence is back in the spotlight after mass shootings this May in Buffalo, New York, and Uvalde, Texas. And after a decades-long stalemate on gun controls in the US Congress, lawmakers passed a bipartisan bill that places some restrictions on guns. President Joe Biden signed it into law on 25 June.

The law, which includes measures to enhance background checks and allows review of mental-health records for young people wanting to buy guns, represents the most significant federal action on the issue in decades. Gun-control activists argue that the rules are too weak, whereas advocates of gun rights say there is no evidence that most gun policies will be effective in curbing the rate of firearm-related deaths.

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The latter position is disingenuous, says Cassandra Crifasi, deputy director of the Center for Gun Violence Prevention and Policy at Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore, Maryland. Although some evidence, both from the United States and overseas, supports the effectiveness of gun policies, many more studies are needed. “The fact that we have a lot of unanswered questions is intentional,” she says.

The reason, Crifasi says, is mid-1990s legislation that restricted federal funding for gun-violence research and was backed by the US gun lobby — organizations led by the National Rifle Association (NRA) that aim to influence policy on firearms. Lars Dalseide, a spokesperson for the NRA, responds that the association “did support the Dickey Amendment, which prohibited the CDC [US Centers for Disease Prevention and Control] from using taxpayer dollars to conduct research with an exclusive goal to further a political agenda — gun control.” But he adds that the association has “never opposed legitimate research for studies into the dynamics of violent crime”.

Only in the past few years — after other major mass shootings, including those at schools in Newtown, Connecticut, and Parkland, Florida — has the research field begun to rebuild , owing to an infusion of dollars and the loosening of limitations. “So, our field is much, much smaller than it should be compared to the magnitude of the problem,” Crifasi says. “And we are decades behind where we would be otherwise in terms of being able to answer questions.”

Now, scientists are working to take stock of the data they have and what data they’ll need to evaluate the success of the new legislation and potentially guide stronger future policies.

Among the reforms missing from the new US law, according to gun-safety researchers, is raising the purchasing age for an assault rifle to 21 years. Both the Buffalo and Uvalde gunmen bought their rifles legally at age 18. But making the case for minimum-age policies has been difficult because there are few data to back it up, Crifasi says. “With the limited research dollars available, people were not focusing on them as a research question.”

Gun-violence research is also stymied by gaps in basic data. For example, information on firearm ownership hasn’t been collected by the US government since the mid-2000s, a result of the Tiahrt Amendments. These provisions to a 2003 appropriations bill prohibit the US Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives from releasing firearm-tracing data. For researchers, this means not knowing the total number of guns in any scenario they might be studying. “If we want to understand the rate at which guns become crime guns, or the rate at which guns are used in suicide, and which kind of guns and where, then we have to have that denominator,” says John Roman, a senior fellow at NORC, an independent research institution at the University of Chicago, Illinois.

Accurate counts of gun-violence events — the numerators needed to calculate those rates — are hard to come by, too. The CDC provides solid estimates of gun deaths, researchers note, but the agency hasn’t historically provided important context, such as the kind of weapon used or the relationship between the shooter and victim. Now fully funded, the state-based National Violent Death Reporting System (NVDRS) is beginning to fill in those details. Still, it remains difficult for researchers to study changes over time.

What’s more, most shootings do not result in death, but still have negative impacts on the people involved and should be tracked. Yet CDC data on non-fatal firearm injuries are limited to imperfect summary statistics and are not included in the NVDRS. If researchers were better able to examine shootings beyond firearm deaths, they could have much greater statistical power to evaluate the effects of state and federal laws, Crifasi says. Without enough data, a study might conclude that a gun policy is ineffective even if it actually does have an impact on violence.

“The CDC strives to provide the most timely, accurate data available — including data related to firearm injuries,” says Catherine Strawn, a spokesperson for the agency.

Another complicating factor is that primary sources of gun-violence data — hospitals and police departments — issue statistics that are incomplete and incompatible. Hospitals frequently report intentional gunshot injuries as accidents. “Folks in the ER are not criminal investigators, and they default to saying things are accidents unless they absolutely know for certain that it was an intentional shooting,” Roman says.

Data on gun-related hospital care — which are collected under an agreement between the US Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality, states and industry — can also be difficult for researchers to access. Some states charge for access to their data. “To get the complete set is incredibly expensive for researchers, so no one uses it,” says Andrew Morral, director of the National Collaborative on Gun Violence Research at the RAND Corporation in Washington DC. “The federal government could do better at aggregating data and making it available for research.”

In addition to hospitals, police departments are crucial to the collection of accurate gun-violence data. In 2021, the FBI began requiring all local law-enforcement agencies to report crimes to the National Incident-Based Reporting System. Although users are required to input more-comprehensive data to the system than before, compliance among departments has been low. “You have very, very active data collection at every scene of every traffic accident that involves an injury,” says Philip Alpers, a gun-violence researcher at the University of Sydney in Australia, referring to standard reporting protocols for US paramedics and police. So it’s certainly possible for law-enforcement agencies also to collect information about guns, Alpers adds. But he and others suggest that a culture of gun rights among agency personnel could be disincentivizing them from complying, as well as a lack of financial support for adapting to the new system.

The FBI did not respond to Nature ’s queries about the reporting system.

Looking for lessons from abroad

Researchers emphasize that the call for more data and research is no reason to delay implementing gun controls. After all, some data do exist, from international studies on gun safety and from state- and privately funded US investigations, that could guide policymakers.

For instance, in Israel, policy changes that restrict military personnel from bringing their weapons home resulted in reductions in gun suicides. And after a mass shooting in Port Arthur, Australia, in 1996, officials imposed a suite of gun regulations centred around a massive buyback programme. The country approximately halved its rates of gun homicides and suicides over the following seven years. It also had no mass shootings in the subsequent 2 decades, compared with 13 such incidents in the 18 years leading up to the massacre.

Still, these successes might not translate to the United States. “Could America do what Australia did? The answer is no, not a chance. You’ve got too many guns [in the US],” Alpers says. “You have to separate America from the rest of the world.” And, with the prospect of tightened regulation on the horizon, US firearm ownership seems to be rising: gun stores around the country are seeing increased sales.

“We can learn from [other countries’ experiences],” Roman says. “But that seems so far outside of any reasonable expectation of where US policy is headed.” In other words, the United States needs more research.

Slow, belated progress

The good news is that data collection in the United States has been on the rise since the influx of federal funding. Researchers and others will meet at the first National Research Conference on Firearms Injury Prevention, planned for later this year.

This revived interest in gun-safety research will bolster the sparse efforts across the country that relied mainly on state and private funds. For instance, California initiated a restriction on assault weapons in 1989, and has since layered on other regulations, such as universal background checks and red-flag laws that allow police, family members, employers, co-workers and school employees to petition the court to temporarily separate a person from their firearms.

For the past 22 years, California’s gun-death rate has been trending downwards , explains Garen Wintemute, an emergency-medicine physician at the University of California, Davis. In 2020, the overall rate across the other 49 states was around 64% higher than the rate in California. Although it is difficult to tease apart the impacts of individual laws, the sum total seems to be working. “I suspect that they acted synergistically: where one law wasn’t effective, the other one stepped in,” Wintemute says.

A similarly layered approach successfully targeted US car crashes. For decades, motor-vehicle accidents were the most common cause of death among young people. But investments in research and the resulting evidence-based regulations put a major dent in those numbers. “It wasn’t one thing: we did seat belts, we did airbags, we did improvements to the roads,” says Rebecca Cunningham, a gun-violence researcher at the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor. “We got less drunk driving. It was all these layers of public-health protection on top of each other.”

Raising the legal age to drink from 18 to 21 helped to reduce the number of young drunk drivers. Cunningham sees a similar potential precedent for raising the legal age to buy a rifle.

But funding for gun-violence research has been a fraction of that invested in traffic safety — nearly fourfold fewer dollars per life lost. In 2020, gun violence surpassed car accidents as the leading cause of death among US children and young adults.

“For 20 years, we turned our back on the health problem and declined to do research on it,” Wintemute says. “How many thousands of people are dead today who would be alive if that research had been allowed to continue?”

This article is reproduced with permission and was first published on July 1 2022.


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good research questions about gun control

Uvalde elementary school shooting

12 stats to help inform the gun control debate.

Britt Cheng

good research questions about gun control

Gun control advocates hold signs during a protest at Discovery Green across from the National Rifle Association Annual Meeting at the George R. Brown Convention Center on Friday in Houston, Texas. Eric Thayer/Getty Images hide caption

Gun control advocates hold signs during a protest at Discovery Green across from the National Rifle Association Annual Meeting at the George R. Brown Convention Center on Friday in Houston, Texas.

The nationwide gun control debate resurfaced on Tuesday, after an 18-year-old shooter entered Robb Elementary School in Uvalde, Texas, and killed 19 students and two adults in the second deadliest school shooting in U.S. history . The mass shooting came just 10 days after another 18-year-old gunman opened fire at a Buffalo, N.Y. grocery store , killing 10 people and injuring three others.

In the aftermath, prominent voices have urged Congress to pass gun control laws and universal background checks, from Sen. Chris Murphy , who represents Connecticut where the Sandy Hook school shooting happened, to NBA coach Steve Kerr to the Pope . Meanwhile, some Republican lawmakers said they won't back laws that limit gun rights.

The evolving narrative of what happened at Uvalde the day of the shooting

The evolving narrative of what happened in the Uvalde shooting

While the push for accountability intensifies as details emerge from what happened in the hour after police officers arrived at the shooting up until they killed the gunman, let's look at these statistics that help inform the gun control debate in the United States.

Number of people killed by guns in the U.S., every day

Number of children who die every day from gun violence in the U.S.

School shootings since Sandy Hook , including 27 school shootings so far this year.

Peak ages for violent offending with firearms

Number of AR-15s and its variations in circulation

Number of people who will die after attempting suicide with a gun

Percentage of mass shooters who are men

Percentage of gun owners who favor preventing the "mentally ill" from purchasing guns

Percentage of gun owners who favor background checks at private sales and gun shows

Percentage of gun deaths that are suicides; 43% are murders

Percentage of murders that involved a firearm

Percentage of people who defended themselves with their guns in violent crimes

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Is gun control really about people control?

James i. ausman.

1 Department of Neurosurgery, University of California, Los Angeles,

2 Loma Linda University Medical Center, Loma Linda, CA,

Miguel A. Faria

3 Departments of Surgery (Neurosurgery) and Medical History, Mercer University School of Medicine (ret.), Macon, GA, USA.

The Second Amendment of the USA Constitution states: “A well-regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free state, the right of the people to keep and bear arms, shall not be infringed.” Today around the USA and the world some people are advocating the removal of guns from the citizens, called “Gun Control,” as the solution to violent crime that they associate with guns in the hands of the public, contrary to what the Second Amendment states.

This review provides a factual background to the debate about the issues surrounding the arguments for and against “Gun Control.” The paper documents many factors that lead to violent crimes committed by people. The means used to cause violent crimes cover the history of human civilization. They include weapons of all types, bombs, toxic substances, vehicles of many kinds, and planes, all to cause the death of others. Some who commit or threaten violent crime against others are emotionally disturbed and in many cases are known to the police through screening systems. Family dysfunction, alcohol and drug abuse, an incessant stream of media and entertainment featuring gun violence, and an educational system that does not equip the young with the proper civic and ethical principles to deal with life’s challenges all contribute to violent behavior using guns and other lethal means. With this background of multiple factors leading to the commission of violent crimes against others, the focus has been concentrated on banning firearms from public ownership rather than understanding the reasons for this criminal behavior. Why? There is the overwhelming evidence that disarming the public from using firearms will not reduce violent crimes and will render people defenseless. Other facts indicate that allowing citizens to carry arms will prevent or reduce violent crimes. The debate over Gun Control has become politicized and emotionally based, because the real goal is not stated. In respected scientific journals and in the Media, factual information about the causes and prevention of violent deaths has been misrepresented or is blatantly false. Using censorship, the medical press and the mass media have refused to publish articles or print opposing opinions such as those supporting the rights of citizens to bear arms. There is evidence that tax-exempt foundations and wealthy individuals are financially supporting Gun Control efforts with the goal of disarming the public to establish a centrally controlled government and to eliminate the US Constitution. It is obvious that in the rapidly changing world we need to find answers to the many factors behind Violent Crime in which guns are used. That will take time and patience. In the meantime, is there a gray area for compromise in the Guns and Violence issue? Yes, logically, from all the evidence presented in this review, citizens should be encouraged to carry arms for self, family, and fellow citizen protection, and as a check on government, a right guaranteed by the constitution and endowed by our God-given natural right. The challenges facing us are multifaceted. Is Gun Control really about People Control?

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Parkland, florida: (february 14, 2018).

Wikipedia reported that at least for a 2-year period before the shooting, the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) and the local sheriff’s office had information that the shooter wanted to commit a school shooting. Nothing was done. Furthermore, at the time of the shooting, several police officers remained outside the school and did not confront the murderer. Subsequently, the state legislature raised the minimum age for buying guns from 18 to 21. It banned certain kinds of firearms, established background checks, and waiting periods for gun buyers. It also allowed teachers to be trained and armed and prohibited mentally unstable people from possessing guns.[ 23 ]

  • Most of these new regulations have been found not to reduce gun violence.
  • “ In fact, America is not the worst country for mass shootings and does not even make it to the top ten, despite the record number of guns in the hands of Americans. For example France, Norway, Belgium, Finland, and the Czech Republic, all have more deaths from mass shootings than the U.S., and in fact, from 2009 to 2015, the European Union had 27 percent more casualties per mass shooting incidents than the U.S .”[ 10 ]
  • All of the talks about establishing safeguards are meaningless for the following common-sense reasons. If you have a child in school, would you want teachers and others to be armed to prevent or stop such an attack on your child and others? Or would you want your child to be defenseless? What will happen if the police do not act on information they are given about a threatened attack, or if the police even responded but did not confront the killer? What good do the laws do if no one follows them or if they are not enforced? Only armed citizens or armed school sentinels on the spot can stop these murders.

San Bernardino: (December 2, 2015)

  • “ The San Bernardino terrorist attack took place on December 2, 2015, when 14 people were massacred and 22 others were injured in the mass shooting and attempted bombing of the Inland Regional Center in San Bernardino, California. The perpetrators were a married couple, both of Pakistani descent, who had been radicalized by Islamic fundamentalism in the United States. Their target was a Department of Public Health Christmas party at a rented banquet room with about 80 employees in attendance, including the husband who was a public health inspector. After the shooting, the couple escaped but were pursued and later killed in a shootout with police. The motives were Islamic terrorism, incited by jihad and, apparently, seeking martyrdom. Several friends and family members were subsequently arrested under a variety of charges, ranging from conspiracy to provide material support to terrorists, perjury, sham marriages, and immigration fraud. An armed citizen could have stopped the shooting rampage, but in a restricted public health setting, we must admit that armed self-defense would have been highly unlikely. Besides the fact that a group of public health workers is unlikely to have among them Concealed Carry Weapon (CCW) holders, the Inland Regional Center is also most likely designated a gun-free zone (GFZ) that consigns those present to be helpless and defenseless victims in a mass shooting incident .”[ 10 ]
  • “ Since 1950, 97.8 Percent of Mass Shootings have occurred in “Gun-Free Zones” “[Jerome Hudson. 50 things they don’t want you to know. Broadside Books; 2019; Chapter 6; available at] .

Santa Fe, Texas High School Shooting: (May 18, 2018)

  • “ Ten people – eight students and two teachers – were fatally shot and thirteen others were wounded. The suspected shooter was taken into custody and later identified by police as a 17-year-old student at the school .”[ 26 ] Could these murders have been prevented by an armed citizen?

First Baptist Church, Southerland Springs, Texas: (November 5, 2017)

  • “ We suffered another tragic mass killing when a young man dressed in black and armed with a Ruger AR-556 rifle entered the First Baptist Church in Sutherland Springs, Texas, on November 5 and opened fire killing 26 people and wounding 20 other parishioners. No one, who was at the church, was untouched by death and destruction. The gunman fled the church but was pursued by two armed citizens. Thankfully, those two Texas heroes ended what could have been a series of massacres by another deranged malcontent .”[ 10 ]

Assault Rifles: The other side of the story

  • In November 1990, Brian Rigsby and his friend Tom Styer left their home in Atlanta, Georgia, and went camping near Oconee National Forest, not too far from where I [Miguel A. Faria] live in rural Georgia. Suddenly, they were assaulted by two madmen, who had been taking cocaine and who fired at them using shotguns killing Styer. Rigsby returned fire with a Ruger Mini-14, a semiautomatic weapon frequently characterized as an assault weapon. It saved his life .[ 6 ]
  • In January 1994, Travis Dean Neel was cited as citizen of the year in Houston, Texas. He had saved a police officer and helped the police arrest three dangerous criminals in a gunfight, street shooting incident. Neel had helped stop the potential mass shooters using once again a semiautomatic, so-called assault weapon with a high capacity magazine. He provided cover for the police who otherwise were outgunned and would have been killed .[ 6 ]
  • What would have happened if these citizens did not have the “assault weapons” to save their lives and others from these mentally unstable assailants or outright criminals?

Banning of kitchen knives in England

“ The United Kingdom has some of the most restrictive gun control laws in the world, so the increased murder rate in the British capital is largely a result of a sharp rise in knife- related crime. The surge in violence prompted London Mayor, Sadiq Khan, to announce a massive ‘Knife Control’ campaign reminiscent of those sometimes suggested in the United States in response to firearms-related violence…The U.K. already criminalizes the purchase or possession of various types of knives, and the carrying of any knife with a blade longer than 3 inches in public is illegal unless it is carried “with good reason.” Self-defense is not considered a good reason .”

“ This crackdown on knives, and the surrounding rhetoric demonizing those who would carry them in public, should serve as a warning to Americans disconcerted by the vocal anti-Second Amendment activists in our own country. They will not be satisfied by merely taking away your scary “assault weapons.” In theory, the 1689 English Bill of Rights protects the right of individual British subjects to possess arms for purposes of self-defense. In reality, modern Britons have had this right completely stripped from them [by over more than 300 years of restrictive legislation in violation of the subjects’ rights-Ed], to the point where they may be reprimanded for using kitchen knives against home intruders…Disarming law-abiding citizens is dangerous because it does not stop criminals, who will never voluntarily discard their weapons, from engaging in violent activity. It is dangerous because it leaves law-abiding citizens defenseless against both crime and tyranny .”[ 20 ]

  • This article describes the relentless progression of legislation restricting the right of citizens to be armed and explains why US citizens are so adamant in their defense of the Second Amendment rights, and to be against even minor compromises in that Right.

NYC truck terror attack (October 31, 2017)

  • Dr. Faria states, “Before closing on the issue of Islamic terrorism, a word should be said about the most recent incident in New York City, which underscores not only the increasing new terroristic threat to American cities but also the use of cars and trucks to plow into unsuspecting crowds with mass casualties of innocent civilians. A vehicle driven into a crowd is becoming the terrorists’ weapon of choice in Europe, and the sanguinary practice seems to be taking hold in the U.S. as well.
  • “ The Halloween truck attack on October 31, 2017, in Manhattan, a few blocks from the site of the Twin Towers [where the largest terrorist attack in the US history occurred on September 11, 2001], is the most recent egregious example. The atrocity also emphasizes the switch from mass shootings caused by deranged citizens to deliberate jihad by foreign and domestic Islamic terrorists. The courts’ disapproval of President Trump’s ban on immigration from seven countries with strong ties to terrorism has permitted dangerous individuals to continue to enter the country. Our faulty immigration laws and virtually open borders facilitate Islamic terrorism in this country, whether by mass shootings or by the use of vehicles to plow into crowds .”[ 10 ]
  • Will banning guns stop these mass murders?

Bombs in Boston Marathon by terrorists (April 15, 2013)

  • “ During the annual Boston Marathon on April 15, 2013, two homemade pressure cooker bombs detonated 12 s and 210 yards (190 m) apart at 2:49 p.m., near the finish line of the race, killing three people and injuring several hundred others, including 16 who lost limbs… Three days later, the FBI released images of two suspects who were later identified as Chechen Kyrgyzstani-American brothers… They killed an MIT policeman, kidnapped a man in his car, and had a shootout with the police in nearby Watertown, during which two officers were severely injured, one of whom died a year later. One brother terrorist died. The other brother stated that they were motivated by extremist Islamist beliefs… and learned to build explosive devices from an online magazine of the al-Qaeda affiliate in Yemen. He also said they had intended to travel to New York City to bomb Times Square. The remaining brother was sentenced to death .”[ 22 ]
  • Will banning guns stop these crimes?


Editorial in the lancet: “gun deaths and the gun control debate in the usa”.

In the October 22, 2017 issue of The Lancet, an Editorial was published entitled, “Gun Deaths and the gun control debate in the USA.” There was no author listed. The editorial begins, “The numbing parade of mass shootings in the USA — like the one in Las Vegas that left at least 59 people dead — has often obscured the gun debate’s open secret: horrific, attention- grabbing, and mass shootings represent only a small minority of gun deaths each year. Two-thirds of all gun deaths in the USA are attributable to suicide…” The editorial continues, “…Rural counties have a higher prevalence of suicide than do small and medium metropolitan, or urban counties…” The author cites the passage of “the Dickey Amendment, [a] federal law that bans funding for most gun violence research, effectively stopping the CDC (since 1996) and National Institutes of Health (NIH; since 2012) from examining gun violence and ways to prevent it… .”

JAMA editorial on “Death by Gun Violence — A Public Health Crisis”

The JAMA Editorial by Bauchner et al. was entitled “Death by Gun Violence – A Public Health Crisis,” JAMA: 318:1763, 2017. Dr. Bauchner and colleagues start by repeating the details of the Las Vegas mass shooting in which 59 people died and over 500 were injured. They continue by saying that almost 100 people die each day in the USA from gun violence. They state that there were 36,252 deaths from firearms in the USA in 2015, which exceeded the number who died in motor vehicle accidents. They agree that 60% of gun deaths were from suicides. Their conclusion was, “the key to reducing firearm deaths in the United States is to understand and reduce exposure to the cause, just like in any epidemic, and in this case that is guns.”

Dr. Faria’s response

[Miguel Faria, MD, Associate Editor in Chief SNI Publications submitted editorials to each journal in response to their editorials. Both of Faria’s responses were similar. The following is Dr. Faria’s letter to the JAMA about its Editorial on gun violence. Neither of Faria’s Letters to the Editor were published. He was given no reason for their inaction.]

“Your editorial on gun violence has a number of glaring errors and distortions. For example, the statement that guns in the home are more likely to result “in the death of the loved ones rather than the intruder” has been thoroughly disproved directly in the criminology and sociologic literature by a number of investigators, including Dr. Edgar Suter, Prof. Gary Kleck, Prof. John R. Lott, as well substantiated by the seminal work of Professors James Wright and Peter Rossi .[ 15 - 17 , 19 , 28 ] You also disingenuously implied that the U.S. has a high suicide rate because of easy gun availability. Well, it is true that a gun is a very effective method of suicide. People in other countries kill themselves very effectively and at higher rates than the US by other methods. For example, recent figures (2016) show that Japan ranks 26 th in International Suicide Rates; the Japanese commit suicide via hanging, suffocation, jumping in front of trains, and Hara-kiri at a rate of 19.7/100,000, much higher than the United States. Americans rank 48 th and the rate is 14.3/100,000. Norway, Sweden, Belgium, Hungary, and many other European countries have higher rates of suicide than the U.S., and again all of them have stricter gun laws. As long as there are ropes, knives, pesticides, and trains, there will be suicides. Will we have to return to the Stone Age to stop suicides? Like it or not, possessing firearms is a constitutional right of Americans, supported by two Supreme Court decisions.” [ 5 , 27 ]

“ As to most of the investigations linking gun availability to violence, they have been …shown to be biased and politicized studies, conducted with predetermined conclusions — which is the case with most of the public health studies on gun violence. As to the rural suicide studies, Dr. Thomas Gift, clinical professor of psychiatry at the University of Rochester Medical School, has recently debunked the Maryland study on gun violence as faulty and poorly designed. Dr. Gift complained, “While the authors claim to be comparing rural and urban data, the counties in Maryland they label as “rural” seem to be largely suburban. They conducted numerous statistical tests without any attempt to control for the associations they call “significant” but which arise solely by chance in the course of doing so many numerical manipulations.” [ 11 ] In short, the CDC was restricted from conducting such gun studies because the studies were politicized, flawed, and conducted with preordained results so that they could only be characterized as junk science. I was one of the four experts, who testified to the Congressional Committee that led to the ban in 1996. It was and remains the correct step that public policy should be based on sound scholarship with consideration of constitutional issues, not emotionalism, and pseudoscience .”[ 2 , 14 , 19 , 29 ]

According to the writing of Dr. T. Wheeler, Director of Doctors for Responsible Gun Ownership,[ 21 ] the readers should know that the American Medical Association has taken a position against gun ownership by the public since the AMA’s President Richard Corlin’s inaugural address in 1991. He spoke against guns, public gun ownership, and gun manufacturers for catering to the criminal market. The AMA has been joined by the Joyce Foundation and its anti-gun advocacy research money although denying this position vigorously. The AMA’s House of Delegates has not subsequently fully supported Gorlin’s position. The Editorial attests to the AMA’s continued biased stance agaist gun ownership by the public. The AMA’s membership has declined from 70% of the practicing physicians in the 1950s to 15% by 2011, indicating a lack of support by US physicians for its policies.[ 21 ] This is another example of bias behind some medical reporting that is assumed to represent most physicians thinking.

In his paper on “America, guns, and freedom. Part I: a recapitulation of liberty”[ 4 ] Faria states, “As neurosurgeons, we can be compassionate and still be honest and have the moral courage to pursue the truth and viable solutions through the use of sound, scholarly research in the area of guns and violence. We have an obligation to reach our conclusions based on objective data and scientific information rather than on ideology, emotionalism, or partisan politics.”


More gun possession in the united states has not resulted in increased crime.

In his paper, “America, guns, and freedom. Part I: a recapitulation of liberty,”[ 4 ] Dr. Faria states, “The role of gun violence and street crime in the United States and the world is currently a subject of great debate among national and international organizations, including the United Nations. Because the Second Amendment to the U.S. Constitution protects the individual right of American citizens to own private firearms, availability of firearms is greater in the U.S. than the rest of the world except, perhaps, in Israel and Switzerland.”[ 4 ]

“ Indeed, although the American people continue to purchase and possess more firearms, homicides, and violent crimes have continued to diminish for several decades because guns in the hands of the law-abiding citizens do not translate into more crime .”[ 4 ]

Evidence guns prevent crime

Dr. Faria[ 3 ] cites a study by Dr. Edgar A. Suter, former Chairman of Doctors for Integrity in Research and Public Policy, and others, whose studies we have cited, which states,

“ the defensive use of firearms by citizens amounts to 2.5 million uses per year and dwarfs the offensive gun use by criminals. In the United States, between 25 and 75 lives are saved by a gun in self and family protection for every life lost to a gun in crime. The Media tend to cover the sensational side of the mass killings and not the successes of those with guns who prevent attacks or limit their severity by the armed citizens’ quick action .”

From his research, Faria states,

“ Australians learned the lessons of indiscriminate, draconian gun control laws the hard way. In 1996, a criminally insane man shot to death 35 people at a Tasmanian resort. The government immediately responded by passing stringent gun control laws, banning most firearms, and ordering their confiscation. More than 640,000 guns were seized from ordinary Australian citizens .”[ 3 ]

“ As a result, there was a sharp and dramatic increase in violent crime against the disarmed law-abiding citizens, who, in small communities and particularly in rural areas, were now unable to protect themselves from brigands and robbers. That same year in the state of Victoria, for example, there was a 300% increase in homicides committed with firearms. The following year, robberies increased by almost 60% in South Australia. By 1999, assaults had increased by almost 20% in New South Wales. 2 years following the gun ban/confiscation, armed robberies had risen by 73%, unarmed robberies by 28%, kidnappings by 38%, assaults by 17%, and manslaughter by 29%, according to the Australian Bureau of Statistics .”[ 3 ]

He continues…

Switzerland stood… “ against the Nazi threat during World War II, because each and every male was an armed and free citizen …Nazi Germany could have overwhelmed Switzerland during World War II, but the price was too steep for the German High Command. Instead, the Nazi juggernaut trampled over Belgium, Luxembourg, Holland, Norway, and other countries, and avoided the armed Swiss nation, the “porcupine,” which was prepared for war and its military was ready to die rather than surrender .”[ 3 ]

In his book on America Guns and Freedom , Faria states,

“ In Switzerland, where gun laws are liberalized, there was not a single report of armed robbery in Geneva in 1993! Except for isolated instances, Switzerland remains relatively crime free. Obviously, it is not all about guns; it is also about having a homogeneous population, and a civil and cultured society… ”[ 10 ]

Faria concludes, “ that guns in the hands of law-abiding citizens deter crimes, and …nations that trust their citizens with firearms have governments that sustain liberty and affirm individual freedom. Governments that do not trust their citizens with firearms tend to be despotic and tyrannical, and are a potential danger to good citizens---and a peril to humanity.” He quotes “Thomas Jefferson (1743–1826), the author of the Declaration of Independence and the third President of the United States of America, who warned us, “When the government fears the people there is liberty. When the people fear the government there is tyranny .”[ 3 ]

Value of concealed carry weapons to the citizens

“On the other hand,” Faria states, “Professor John R. Lott, Jr.,[ 17 ] using the standard criminological approach, reviewed the FBI’s massive yearly crime statistics for all 3054 U.S. counties over 18 years (1977–1994), the largest national survey on gun ownership and state police documentation in illegal gun use.”

“ The data show that neither states’ waiting periods nor the federal Brady Law is associated with a reduction in crime rates. But by adopting concealed carry gun laws that allowed law-abiding citizens to carry concealed weapons for self-defense, the death rates from public, multiple shootings (e.g., as those which took place in 1996 in Dunblane, Scotland, and Tasmania, Australia or the infamous 1999 Columbine High School shooting in Littleton, Colorado in the United States) were cut by an amazing 69%. Allowing law-abiding citizens to carry concealed weapons deters violent crime, without any apparent increase in accidental death .”[ 3 ]

Faria concludes from his review

…” how citizens can protect themselves from criminal assailants when the police, more often than not, are not there to protect them. the National Victims Data suggests that “while victims resisting with knives, clubs, or bare hands are about twice as likely to be injured as those who submit, victims who resist with a gun are only half as likely to be injured as those who put up no defense.”….“The gun is a great equalizer for law-abiding citizens in self and family protection, particularly women, when they are accosted in the street or when they are defending themselves and their children at home” (3, and multiple sources cited by Faria) .

The Second Amendment of the Constitution does not describe any restrictions for citizens to carry arms. However, as Faria describes in detail in his new book, America, Guns, and Freedom ,[ 10 ] legislation has been passed in some states restricting the use of guns. This legislation would appear to violate the Second Amendment of the US Constitution.

Faria writes in his book on this subject,

….”.“ Shall issue” refers to a legal requirement that a jurisdiction must issue a license to carry a concealed handgun to any applicant who meets a specified set of reasonable requirements. Implicit in the “shall issue” is the understanding that the applicant need not demonstrate a specific need or a “good cause.” Thus, the jurisdiction does not have the power to exercise discretion in the awarding of licenses, but “shall issue” them because the permit owners are subject only to meeting specific criteria written in the law. Therefore, most citizens should have CCW permits issued on demand .”

Faria continues, “Before 1990 there were very few states with ‘shall issue’ concealed carry laws. Beginning with Florida in 1987 and over the next 30 years, states began to pass CCW legislation [rapidly].” Presently, most states have approved either “shall issue” CCW licensing or laws for “constitutional carry” …which means that a person can exercise their Second Amendment right openly, and does not need a permit at all to carry a concealed… handgun openly. Twenty-nine states have CCW and eight states have “constitutional carry” freedom legislation…

There are 16 million concealed carry permit holders in the US, with 8% of Americans having permits. California and New York have “may issue” licenses by which the citizens may apply for a license by expressing need, but the privilege is so stringent that, even after providing evidence of a pressing need, licenses are frequently delayed or denied, and citizens have been killed while waiting to obtain one…

Before the American Civil War most states were “constitutional carry.” After the Civil War many states began to add gun control restrictions, and strict “may issue” gun licensing became the norm… ”[ 10 ]

The central concern about gun control legislation that is proposed is that “gun registration is the gateway to civilian disarmament which often precedes [tyranny and] genocide.”[ 10 ]

Violent crimes and crimes of passion

What is the profile of the person committing violent crimes?

From his research Faria answers:

“ According to the United States Department of Justice, the typical murderer has had a prior criminal history of at least 6 years, with four felony arrests in his record, before he finally commits murder. FBI statistics reveal that 75% of all violent crimes for any locality are committed by 6% of hardened criminals and repeat offenders. Less than 2% of crimes committed with firearms are carried out by licensed law- abiding citizens (e.g., CCW permit holders) .”[ 3 ]

Interpreted differently that means over 98% of violent crimes are committed by people without permits to carry concealed weapons.

In regard to “Crimes of Passion,” supposedly a result of impulse action by the killer, Faria concludes, from the evidence,

that violent crimes are a result of “violence in highly dysfunctional families in the setting of alcohol abuse, illicit drug use, or other criminal activities. Violent crimes continue to be a problem in the inner cities of the large metropolitan areas, with gangs involved in robberies, drug trade, juvenile delinquency, and even murder. Yet crimes in rural areas, despite the preponderance of guns in this setting, remain low .”[ 3 ]

Faria states in his recent book,

“The state with the most mass shootings (e.g., California) and the cities with the highest rates of serious crimes (Los Angeles, Chicago, Detroit, Baltimore, et cetera) are those with the strictest gun control laws.” [ 10 ]

Identify and treat the mentally ill. Those deemed dangerous should be prevented from hurting themselves and others by an effective mental health system that includes institutionalization

Faria blames changes in “the mental health system for the problem with the deinstitutionalization of mental patients, which began in America in the 1960s and put thousands of mental patients including dangerous ones back on the streets, which has only worsened in recent years.”[ 6 ]

Why have these developments taken place? Faria explains,

“This change has happened not only because of the recent drive for containment of health care costs but also because of the decades-long, misguided mental health strategy of administering mental health care via community outreach and outpatient treatment. In many cases, these strategies have led to inadequate follow-up of and poor compliance by patients as well as legal restraints placed on families. Some families cannot even obtain the health records of their children who are over 21 years of age to find out about their health history.” [ 6 ]

He also states that

“deadly rampages are the result of failure of the mental health system” [to identify those deranged individuals who have the potential to harm others.] He cites numerous examples in which armed citizens stopped a rampage killing using guns they had a license to carry or had nearby for personal protection .[ 6 ]

Faria cited a New York Times study in 2000 which revealed that in 100 cases of rampage shooting incidents, 63 involved people who “made threats of violence before the event, including 54 who threatened specific violence to specific people.” Nothing had been done about the threats. Moreover, over half of the shooters had overt signs of mental illness that had gone untreated .[ 6 ]

Thus, the evidence indicates that many people with mental illness who will commit violent crimes can be identified before the crime and should be managed more carefully or institutionalized.

For example, while it is true that the number of shooting rampages has increased in recent years, the rate of violent crimes and homicides for both Blacks and Whites (including those committed with firearms) has decreased significantly over the same period, despite the tremendous increase in the number of firearms in the U.S., according to both the FBI Uniform Crime Reports and the U.S. Bureau of Justice Statistics. (5, and other sources)

Hence, another source indicates that the increased availability of guns has been related to a decrease in the rate of violent crimes in the US.

Convicted felons and mentally unstable people should not be allowed to possess guns

Faria reviewed a series of cases of violence and shooting rampages. His conclusion is that “Convicted felons and mentally unstable people,” should “forfeit the right to possess arms by virtue of the fact they are a potential danger to their fellow citizens.”[ 6 ]

Sanctuary Place, City, and Sanctuary Country laws which allow the felons to escape punishment and exist in society should be revoked

In the Introduction in cases #1 through #4, violent crimes were committed to what are regarded as GFZ, or places where guns are usually not permitted or which do not have armed people in the vicinity. Such places are preferred sites of violent crimes for the shooters. As additional examples of the dangers of GFZ,

A deadly rampage shooting in Norway occurred in a country that is a “GFZ” (where guns are not allowed) which also exists in most of Europe. Sixty-nine teenagers were killed during this rampage. In this circumstance, the deranged killer was free to murder these 69 young people. That is the fault of the state, which has GFZ that only apply to the unarmed citizens and not to the killers .[ 6 ]

See Introduction, San Bernardino: (December 2, 2015) b. for more on GFZ.

A media that sensationalizes violence leading the perverted minds of criminal malcontents and deranged individuals to believe that committing those types of high-profile crimes, such as mass shootings, will turn them into the celebrities and achieve the macabre fame they seem to crave

Faria writes: “ There is the sinister and perhaps more insoluble contributing factor to violence — namely, the problem of how the media report and how popular culture sensationalizes violence, which in association with the fruitless pursuit of celebrity status in vogue today is all pervasive. What more evidence is needed for the “15 min worth of fame” phenomenon, than the immense popularity of vulgar “reality” television shows? It is not a big step to link extensive coverage of shooting rampages in both the press and the colorful electronic media as a major contributing factor in the pathologic and even morbid attainment of celebrity status even in death.”[ 6 ]

Where is the Responsibility of the Press? What other issues can the Press correct to reduce violent crimes?

Failure to honestly report those who prevented crimes by carrying concealed weapons

As Faria states,

…“the Media do not report these citizens with guns who protect others and stop the killers. Instead the media sensationalizes the violence, blames the use of guns for the violence, and do not praise the defenders. Thus, the public gets a biased view of the crime.”…Faria states, …“the truth is that the incidence of mass shootings is very low by any standard.” Consider the fact that mass shootings are a miniscule portion of homicides, <4%, because most shootings are committed by common criminals not mass shooters. Faria describes research that “has shown that firearms are used more frequently by law-abiding citizens to repel crime than used by criminals to perpetrate crime.” He continues, “Preventing any adult at a school from having access to a firearm eliminates any chance the killer can be stopped in time to prevent a rampage.” [ 6 ] and renders the people at the school defenseless.

Thus, by a biased reporting of violent crimes particularly with the use of guns, the media fails to inform the public of the value of armed citizens in stopping crime. The purpose of this bias is to provide more propaganda to remove guns from the citizens and to support centralized control of the people.

Why is there only selective reporting of violence using guns? Are there other responsible steps the media and press can take to reduce violent crime?

A child who reaches the age of 18 has witnessed 16,000 simulated murders and 200,000 acts of violence on television (American Psychiatric Association, 1988). The media need to take responsibility for this example

In a paper by Muscari published in 2003, she stated,

“American children watch an average of 28 hours of television a week. By the time they reach the age of 18, they will have seen 16,000 simulated murders and 200,000 acts of violence (American Psychiatric Association 1998). These numbers exclude time spent watching movies, playing video/computer games or with online interactive media, and listening to music- all of which may contain violent content. Since the deregulation of broadcasting in 1980, there has been a proliferation of media content that encourages violent and other antisocial behaviors.” [ 18 ]

She continues, “Media violence can be hazardous to children’s health. Six medical organizations, including the American Academy of Pediatrics and the American Medical Association, recently released a joint statement on the impact of violence on children. They stated that studies point overwhelmingly to a causal connection between media violence and aggressive attitudes, values, and behaviors in some children.” [ 18 ]

With such bombardment of violence through the mass media and the popular culture, if guns were to be successfully banned, people will resort to violence using knives and any other available means.[ 20 ]

On this subject Faria states,

“It is not a big step to link extensive coverage of shooting rampages in both the press and the colorful electronic media as a major contributing factor in the pathologic and even morbid attainment of celebrity status, even in death.” Citing the work of Dr. Brandon Centerwall of the University of Washington School of Public Health, Faria adds, “The homicide rates, not only in Canada but also in the U.S. and South Africa, soared 10–15 years after the introduction of television in those countries. In the U.S., there was an actual doubling of homicide rates after the introduction of television. Moreover, it was noted that up to half of all homicides, rapes, and violent assaults in the U.S. were directly attributed to violence on television.” [ 6 ]

The Media needs to take responsibility on its own for presenting violent solutions to problems.[ 6 ] Government regulation of the Media is not the solution to this problem, no more than it should be involved in Gun Control legislation. Both issues deal with Fundamental Freedoms guaranteed by the Constitution. The People need to decide these issues not the government, whose bureaucrats at the slightest chance, will limit our Freedoms and enhance their Power.

What else can be done to reduce violent crime in the US, particularly in GFZ, as schools.

Encourage teachers and those who are willing and properly educated in the use of guns to carry weapons in schools to prevent school shootings

Faria proposes that we consider allowing teachers to have special concealed- carry firearm licenses to defend students. It would be a sensible and easy strategy “to protect the children in this mad, dystopian world we are creating in which we are too permissive to criminals and too protective of the rights of deranged individuals, while we easily blame and propose more laws and controls to limit the rights of the lawful citizens in society at large.” “Guns are inanimate objects. The responsibility for crimes rests on the criminals and those who facilitate their crimes! ”[ 6 ]

Can Public Education be returned to its original principles that include compulsory studies on Social Science, History, Civics, the Constitutional Principles of Government, and factual objective data on Criminology including Violent Crimes and their causes? Will removing guns from society solve this deficiency in our education systems? Or is our only solution to disarm the people but not the criminals and to establish a nationwide GFZ that will only incentivize Violent Crime as this paper has shown?

Need for public education on the principles of liberty, democratic governments, and the need for citizens to be armed against authoritarian government control

On the subject of Failed Social Systems and Gun Violence, Faria states,

“The American media and proponents of gun control assert that the problem lies in the “easy availability of guns“ and “too many guns” in the hands of the public. Second Amendment and gun rights advocates, on the other hand, believe the problem lies elsewhere, including a permissive criminal justice system that panders to criminals; the failure of public education; the fostering of a culture of dependence, violence, and alienation engendered by the welfare state; and the increased secularization of society with children and adolescents growing up devoid of moral guidance.”[ 6 ]

Other factors influencing criminal behavior are a prevalent attitude in the past half of the 20 th century which degrades the wisdom of generations of human history and the values of religious principles for guiding life, while replacing them with beliefs that life is meaningless and that human existence has no purpose, all of which leads to alienation, despair, violence, and suicide.

By the way, these are all goals necessary to establish authoritarian rule, goals supported by those who want to eliminate our Constitutional Republic.

Faria believes there are additional, contributing, and more proximate causes for the loss of moral compasses in our youth that lead them to violence — for example, the misguided role of the media and popular culture in the sensationalization of violence.[ 6 ]

In his paper on “America, Guns, and Freedom. Part I: a Recapitulation of Liberty”[ 4 ] Faria states,

“… freedom comes with responsibilities. Children should be taught not only the basic academic subjects but also instructed in civics, constitutional principles of government, and the meaning of liberty. Simply stated, education is important, and a system of constitutional governance that guarantees individual liberties and protects citizens from disarmament (by their own governments) comes with concomitant responsibilities. The citizens’ necessary civic involvement in the society in which they live is paramount, and it requires that the empowered population remain an informed and vigilant citizenry, the ultimate guardians of their own rights and freedoms .” These fundamental educational principles are an essential part of the understanding and responsibility for the use of firearms.

In regard to the education of children in the use of firearms, Faria describes a study performed by the United States Department of Justice, Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention.[ 3 ]

“The Agency tracked 4000 juveniles aged 6–15 years, in Denver (CO), Pittsburgh (PA), and Rochester (NY) from 1993 to 1995. The investigators found that children who were taught to use firearms with parental supervision, as in hunting or target shooting, were 14% less likely to commit acts of violence and street crimes than children who had no guns in their homes (24%); whereas, children who obtained guns illegally, did so at the whopping rate of 74%. This study also provided more evidence that in close nuclear families, where children were close to their parents, youngsters could be taught to use guns responsibly. These youngsters, in fact, grew up to be more responsible in their conduct and more civil in their behavior .[ 3 ]

Constitutional protection of the rights of citizens to bear arms against the state — Second Amendment

Faria explored the genocide attacks that have occurred throughout modern time.[ 3 ]

All these genocides occurred after guns had been taken from the people by the government, so the people are helpless to protect themselves against the armed militias of the state. He states that well-recognized legal scholars have concluded, “The Second Amendment protects an individual’s right to keep and bear arms” — for the purpose of defending themselves against the state.[ 4 ]

Nevertheless, Faria writes in his paper,[ 4 ]

… “gun prohibitionists, in justifying their crusade for gun control in place of crime control, have erroneously maintained that the Second Amendment only permits the National Guard or the police to possess firearms for collective police functions… In 2008 the Supreme Court of the USA ruled that U.S. citizens have an inalienable, personal right to keep and bear arms in the federal districts of the nation, a preexisting natural right guaranteed in the Second Amendment to the U.S. Constitution…. and Under legal tradition, a constitutional right is protected and inalienable under the 14 th Amendment’s Due Process and Equal Protection Clauses, if it is considered a fundamental right, an inherent natural right deeply rooted in American history and jurisprudence.[ 4 ]

Attempts to subvert the Second Amendment

After mass shootings, the gun control movement has immediately demanded passage of laws restricting the sale of guns before the investigations into the causes of the crime have been completed, even though these proposed regulations are ruled unconstitutional.

“To further their efforts to over-rule the US Constitution, the Gun Control supporters have appealed to the UN to adopt a worldwide sanction on the possession of guns by the public. For years the UN has been trying to formalize a global, civilian disarmament treaty with the intention of circumventing the Second Amendment rights of American gun owners … so far without success.” [ 4 ]

Faria writes that

...”the United Nations is already set to commence discussing and approving its Small Arms Treaty in March 2013, which its proponents believe would overrule the Constitution and establish gun laws in the USA, formulated by people from other countries where the problems are worse. As one can see, the fundamental goal of the gun control proponents is to find a way to prevent all citizens from possessing arms that threaten the establishment of an authoritarian government .

President Obama encouraged the Democrats in Congress to pass gun control legislation that he could sign into laws .

The American people and their conservative representatives in Congress rose to the occasion and stopped the passage of gun control laws sponsored by the Obama administration and his liberal allies in the Democratic Party. And then in 2016 a pro- Second Amendment Republican, Donald Trump, was elected President. It seemed as if the gun control activists were at least temporarily neutralized .[ 6 ]

Still, these efforts to establish laws restricting gun ownership continue to this time. It is obvious to those pursuing this gun regulation that Amending the Constitution to make such a change in gun possession would fail. It seems that calls for gun control occur immediately after a mass shooting even before any analysis of the facts in each case is made. It is reasonable for people to be upset when people are killed. Are there calls for banning automobiles which are involved in far more deaths than are killed in homicides with guns?[ 24 , 25 ] No. Are there calls for banning trucks used in the intentional killing of people? No. What is the reason behind this selective almost hysterical emotional reaction to control guns? Guns do not kill people but People using guns do. Could it be that there is an organized effort to take guns from the public?

People and Tax-Exempt foundations promoting gun control while acting as social or public health research organizations

An answer to the questions raised previously about the immediacy of the calls for gun control before the facts are known in mass shootings, the lack of a similar response to mass murders using trucks, bombs, or knives, and the hysterical emotional responses almost perfectly timed and organized at each shooting event can be found in Dr. Faria’s new book, “America, Guns, and Freedom: A Journey into Politics and the Public Health and Gun Control Movements.”[ 10 ] He states,

“While the CDC has tempered its stand on guns and violence research in the last two decades following the restrictions of 1996 (events that will be described in other chapters), the rest of the PHE (Public Health Establishment) movement — supported financially by wealthy gun control proponents such as Michael Bloomberg and George Soros, as well as progressive (Leftist, Collectivist) gun prohibitionist organizations such as The Joyce Foundation — continue to promote gun control masquerading as social or public health scientific research [ 10 ] [page 18] .

“It should also be of interest that private researchers, particularly those associated or sponsored by the pharmaceutical and chemical industries, are frequently disparaged by those in the PHE as if the fiduciary association of the former immediately taints their integrity, work, and conclusions. But why is this not so the other way around, for those receiving tax money or donations from anti-gun magnates such as George Soros and Michael Bloomberg? Why is this not the case also for research funded by private tax-exempt foundations, such as the Joyce Foundation, which are known to have progressive, socioeconomic agendas to reconstruct society in their image and with ideological axes to grind? Why do those same gun researchers, decade after decade, keep telling us that more studies are needed (and additional funding necessary) — acting for their own financial self-interests as well as subsidizing their ideological agendas? These are good questions whose answers may save taxpayers bundles of money and in the long-term, perhaps, even preserve their freedom!” [ 10 ] [page 127] .

Faria ends by providing his opinion after years of study of this problem. He states, “Let’s stop demonizing guns and end the shootings by incarcerating the criminals and healing the mentally sick. Much work needs to be done in the mental health arena and in the task of de-sensationalization of violence by the media in our dumbed-down popular culture.”[ 6 ]


Statement by Thomas Jefferson: “When the government fears the people there is liberty. When the People fear the government, there is tyranny.” [ 3 ]

The USA is a Constitutional Republic which means the rulers are bound by the rule of laws. Thus, in a Republican form of government, the rights of the minority are protected from the tyranny of the majority. A democracy governs by majority rule and the capricious and mischievous rule of man .[ 7 ]

All of the evidence presented in this review article points to the complex issues surrounding “gun violence.” It presents a different perspective from what you read in the Mainstream Media (MSM), which focus on the elimination of guns and civilian disarmament, instead of the reasons for criminal behavior. This simplistic approach of eliminating guns is not the answer. People will find other means to express their frustrations or outright criminality. The most reasonable solutions are education about guns and gun safety; instruction in civics and ethics; learning the principles of self-government and liberty; supporting the rule of law inherent to a Constitutional Republic, which we still are; and understanding the perils of Tyranny. The facts presented here indicate that after disarming citizens, crime escalates by the use of illegal guns or by substitution methods of lethality, such as knives, bombs, and vehicles plowing into crowds. Disarming good citizens does not prevent violent behavior. It leaves them defenseless and only encourages more crime by the criminal elements and deranged people. However, a clear fact stands out from this review. Arming citizens is the most reasonable, economic, and best choice to discourage gun- based violent behavior by empowering the citizen to protect one’s self, family, fellow citizens, and ultimately be used as a check on government.[ 12 ]

Although eliminating guns is a “quick fix” in response to this complex set of issues, it should be obvious to the reader that the solution to these issues is multifaceted and will take time. It has taken time for our cultures and civilizations to disintegrate into the chaotic situation that we are experiencing today. Family dysfunction, alcohol and drug abuse, and violent behavior from repeat offenders are central to this problem. Add to that mental illness that is not properly treated and the misuse of guns becomes obvious. Filling minds with an incessant stream of Media and Entertainment featuring gun violence, over and over, conditions individuals to resort to those copycat behaviors. Having an Educational system that does not equip the young with the proper civic and ethical principles to deal with life’s challenges and to appreciate our Republican form of government only compounds this problem. Taking guns from the citizens will not solve these problems as this paper has shown. The problem goes deeper.

On top of all of these new challenges, the individual is subjected to a world that is being transformed as people, family structures, jobs, societies, industries of all types, communication technology, and legal and governmental systems are changing rapidly in the 21 st century. There are different populations all over the world in different stages of technological advances and civilizations. However, the global elites, who desire power, want to enforce a rigid same-size- fits-all type of approach, including forcing the adoption of the type of government that the elites themselves want without noting ethnological, historic, and political differences, and above all, the desires of the people.[ 1 ] The oligarchical types of social democracy, or rule by a few, are the preferred system of rule of the Western European elites.

Compounding all these issues, in this group of self- appointed leaders are a number who have their own “tax- exempt foundations,” which they use to fund support for their ideas. In general, these elites believe they are smarter than the average citizen, whom they are convinced should not be allowed to make decisions on life’s complicated issues, such as the possession of guns. Evidence shows that this type of thinking is now infiltrating the US government and private institutions.[ 1 ] Examples involve the revelation of unlawful spying on and the attempted “Coup” against the President of the US, Donald Trump, as a citizen, President-Elect, and now President, in violation of the US Constitution. It is becoming clear this “coup” was planned and executed over time by unelected people in various branches of government including the FBI, Justice Department, Intelligence agencies, and others to remove the duly elected President from office and to establish their own form of authoritarian government.[ 1 , 9 , 13 ]

We have already witnessed Anarchy in our streets as unchecked, political, mostly left-wing groups (Antifa), prevent citizens from expressing opposing viewpoints, and limit Free Speech. Violence has been used by them with little condemnation from the MSM.[ 28 ] In fact, these groups are supported by the MSM and the entertainment industry in all its forms, as outlined above in this paper, in its biased reporting, in its violent-prone entertainment, frequently paid for by certain “charitable” and “nonprofit” corporations. They are committed to limiting conservative free expression, and in particular, opposite points of view in their television programming, print media, and worldwide websites. That is why most of the public is unaware of all the facts behind these events. These actions all point to the establishment of authoritarian rule and the elimination of our Constitutional and Republican form of government.[ 1 , 9 , 13 ]

The methods being used today for gun control were described by Karl Marx and Vladimir Lenin to establish and enforce collectivist central control and authoritarianism. These same tactics also apply to government-controlled health care. Unfortunately, a detailed discussion of all of these issues is beyond the scope of this paper but will be addressed in a separate publication in the future. For those interested in further reading, the following references should be useful.[ 1 , 7 - 9 , 12 , 13 ]

Asking the government to solve the problem of violent crime with gun control will ultimately lead down the path to authoritarian and Tyrannical government. It is like asking a dictator what he would decide about Liberty for his people. The government should have less responsibility for our lives rather than more. The problem of violent crimes and the factors behind them should be debated and solved in each community.


From the evidence presented in this paper, Gun Control is not about guns. Guns are not responsible for killing people. Guns cannot be blamed for deaths, being inanimate objects that require a person to pull the trigger. People who use guns irresponsibly are to blame. Therefore, the real subject of the “sometimes hysterical” Gun Control movement seems to be People Control by the elimination of the individual possession and use of firearms, despite the guarantee of the Second Amendment of the US Constitution. Gun Control is intended to make it easier to control the people. For the same reason, Gun Control is constantly supported by the self- appointed media elites and the hypocritical entertainment industry. The progressive stripping of the citizens’ rights to keep and bear arms in the 300-year history of the U.K., which began not long after the Glorious Revolution (1688), has reached the point where people are incarcerated for using kitchen knives against home intruders. As crime increases in the U.K, it provides evidence of how futile gun control legislation is in stopping criminal behavior and reducing violence. Tyranny is progressing as violence increases. And why just gun control and not knife control, or truck, or bomb control? Why is the focus on guns? There is no other logical reason except what I have stated:

People Control is the real purpose of depriving people of the right to possess arms for self-defense. Recent increases in violence seem not to be random events, but events that are used to cascade into more laws and more government intervention. Elimination of or circumventing the Second Amendment removes the fear of the collectivist authoritarian leaders that the citizens will rise against them with their firearms. At the same time, eradication of Freedom of Speech is already muzzling certain conservative media and website outlets, a practice the Media are now strangely supporting. The eventual elimination of Freedom of Speech, which is a collectivist goal, in the end will shock all of the Media. The Media are supporting its own destruction. Is Media Control the solution or is Media Responsibility to objectively report the Truth and to protect the people and the Constitution that grants the right to Free Speech, a better answer? The real goal of the gun control movement is to establish a governmental system that is centrally controlled and to overthrow Rule by the People or their Constitutional Republic. The issue is not about Crime Control either because we are seeing that the only way to reduce rampant crime is to arm the good citizens, as there are not enough police to prevent, much less, stop all crimes.[ 1 ]

Some gun control advocates may not even realize that they are being manipulated by people who seek Power to destroy their freedoms. Evidence is suggested that there are those who are determined to undermine our Constitutional Republic, and who are financing many programs planned to replace our individual rights and personal liberty with central control and an authoritarian government.

It is obvious that in the rapidly changing world, we need to find answers to the dynamically changing challenges we face. That will take time and patience. In the meantime, is there a gray area for compromise in the Guns and Violence issue? Yes, logically, from all the evidence presented, citizens should be encouraged to carry arms for self, family, and fellow citizen protection, and as a check on government, a right guaranteed by the Constitution and endowed by our God-given natural right. The challenges facing us are multifaceted.

All of the issues discussed in this paper are a result of the disintegration of the principles of moral and ethical behavior, a failed education system, a loss of the guidance of a good family structure, and an insatiable desire for self-satisfaction above family and country.


As John F Kennedy stated in his Inaugural Address on January 20, 1961: “ASK NOT WHAT YOUR COUNTRY CAN DO FOR YOU. ASK WHAT YOU CAN DO FOR YOUR COUNTRY,”

How to cite this article: Ausman JI, Faria MA. Is gun control really about people control? Surg Neurol Int 2019;10:195.

Financial support and sponsorship

James I and Carolyn R Ausman Educational Foundation.

Conflicts of interest

There are no conflicts of interest.

The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of the journal or its management.

The authors want to thank Russell Blaylock, MD for his contributions to this manuscript .

Miguel A. Faria, M.D., is the Associate Editor in Chief in socioeconomics, politics, medicine, and world affairs of Surgical Neurology International (SNI). He is a Board-Certified Neurological Surgeon (American Association of Neurological Surgeons); Clinical Professor of Surgery (Neurosurgery, ret.) and Adjunct Professor of Medical History (ret.) Mercer University School of Medicine. He was appointed and served at the behest of President George W. Bush as member of the Injury Research Grant Review Committee of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). 2002-2005. Dr. Faria is an escapee from Communist Cuba at age 13 to the USA. Educated in the U.S., he became a neurosurgeon, was Editor of the Journal of the Medical Association of Georgia, and founded the Medical Sentinel for the Association of American Physicians and Surgeons. He has authored a number of books and is an authority on Public Health and Gun Control. His latest book is America, Guns, and Freedom: A Journey into Politics and the Public Health & Gun Control Movements which is to be released October 1, 2019. Mascot Books, Herndon VA; President , , USA-JIA]

168 Gun Control Topics & Research Questions

In this gun control topics compilation, we offer a polarizing discourse surrounding firearms regulations. Gun control is a complex and contentious issue encompassing discussions about individual rights, public safety, and the role of government in citizen welfare. These gun control essay topics will show diverse perspectives on gun control policies.

🤔 TOP 7 Gun Control Topics

🏆 best gun control topics, ✅ pro gun control essay topics, ❌ against gun control essay topics, 👍 gun control essay examples, 🎓 interesting gun control research questions, 💡 simple gun control essay topics, ❓ more gun violence titles.

  • The Issue of Gun Control in the US
  • Gun Control in the United States
  • The United States Needs Stricter Gun Control Laws
  • The Gun Control in the United States
  • A Court Case That Influenced Federal Decision on Gun Control
  • The Effects of Gun Control on Crimes
  • Gun Control Laws in the United States
  • Analysis and Criticism of the US Gun Control Laws There is no definite evidence that allowing the carrying of weapons for defense reduces or increases the safety of the population and the number of attacks in general.
  • The Problem of Gun Control in Watertown Watertown has experienced many cases of shootings and robbery with violence. The gun control is a significant problem in Watertown and should be addressed by all means possible.
  • Gun Control, Self-Defense, and Beneficence to All The annotated bibliography meets all the criteria and helps to reveal the topic of gun control in the USA from different angles.
  • US Gun Policy: Article Credibility and Usefulness The article draws a parallel between the United States and other leading developed economies to paint a clear image of the high number of gun owners in the United States.
  • Gun Control Legislation Should Be Revised The paper states that it is necessary to revise the legislation on arms control. Changes must be made to ensure the good of all US citizens.
  • Gun Control Laws Introduced by Executive Branch The executive branch has introduced various laws that guide the citizens. One of the policies involves gun control and has led to endless debates in the country.
  • Discussion Board Post: Gun Control Gun control represents a critical set of laws and regulations regarding the control over the civilian population’s proper use, prevention, or restriction of firearms.
  • What Can be Done About Gun Control in the US? There are many measures that the US government can imply to overcome the gun problem in the country but there is a high chance they will face public outrage by doing so.
  • The Debate on Gun Control. Law Control While some individuals believe that there is a need for stricter laws, others argue that bearing a legal firearm is a fundamental human right that must be protected.
  • The Situation of Gun Control The purpose of this paper is to discuss the issue associated with firearms regulation and examine the situation of gun control in different countries.
  • Gun Control Laws Analysis The availability of guns is not the reason for the rise of violence and aggression. People use it for protecting themselves, relaxation.
  • Gun Control and Legalization in the USA While some individuals consider the issue of gun control to be a crime, others consider it a rights issue, in addition to being political issue, safety, and racial issue.
  • Argument of Origin: Gun Control An individual carries many different emotional and physical responses to sociological and economical stress and these stresses can be affected by violence and probable chance of violence.
  • The Position of Major Political Parties on Gun Control Gun politics and gun control has been one of the most controversial issues in the United States of America politics.
  • Strengthening Background Checks: The Need to Enhance Firearm Purchase Screening.
  • Assault Weapons Ban: Curbing High-Capacity Firearms Proliferation.
  • Red Flag Laws: How to Prevent Access to Firearms for Individuals at Risk.
  • Closing Gun Show and Online Loopholes: Tightening Sales Regulations.
  • Can Mandatory Waiting Periods Reduce Impulsive Firearm Purchases?
  • Licensing and Registration as ways to Promote Accountability in Gun Ownership.
  • Gun Buyback Programs: How to Encourage Voluntary Firearm Surrender?
  • Do Safe Storage Laws Prevent Unauthorized Access to Firearms?
  • Gun Control and Domestic Violence Prevention.
  • How Strict Should Be Mental Health Evaluations to Ensure Responsible Firearm Ownership?
  • Firearm Trafficking and Straw Purchases: Combating Illicit Trade.
  • Youth Access to Firearms: Implementing Age Restrictions.
  • Gun Control and Suicide Prevention.
  • The Role of Gun Control in School Safety Measures.
  • Gun Control and Reducing Police Shootings.
  • Law Enforcement and Gun Control: Perspectives from the Field.
  • International Models of Effective Gun Control Policies.
  • Gun Control and Reducing Accidental Firearm Deaths.
  • Economic Implications of Gun Violence: Healthcare Costs and Productivity Loss.
  • Building Consensus: Finding Common Ground in the Gun Control Debate.
  • Individual Liberties and Gun Ownership as a Part of Second Amendment.
  • The Efficacy of Gun Control Measures in Reducing Crime Rates.
  • Assessing Gun-Free Zones Impact on Public Safety.
  • The Role of Firearms Ownership in Self-Defense and Personal Security.
  • Firearms as a Deterrent: Examining the Potential of Armed Citizens.
  • The Slippery Slope Argument: How Gun Control Can Lead to Further Restrictions.
  • Law-Abiding Citizens and the Burden of Stricter Gun Control Laws.
  • The Policy Should Target Criminals, Not Law-Abiding Gun Owners.
  • Gun Control and the Challenge of Enforcing Regulations.
  • Defending Against Tyranny: The Historical Context of the Second Amendment.
  • The Cultural Significance of Guns in American Society.
  • Concealed Carry Laws: Empowering Citizens for Personal Protection.
  • What Are the Root Causes of Gun Violence?
  • The Realities of Criminal Access to Firearms.
  • Gun Control and its Potential Impact on Minority Communities.
  • Law Enforcement Response Time: The Need for Immediate Self-Defense.
  • The Role of Gun Ownership in Deterring Home Invasions.
  • Major Lessons of International Gun Control Policies.
  • Evaluating the Effectiveness of Gun-Free Zone Policies.
  • Balancing Public Safety with Individual Autonomy: The Ethical Debate.
  • The Gun Control Controversy in the Constitutional Context Gun control is a controversial subject. Some argue that U.S. citizens do not need firearms today in the way they did at the time of the country’s founding.
  • Gun Control and Safe Firearm Ownership The problem of gun ownership and control in the United States of America has been a controversial issue for many decades.
  • Emma Gonzalez Calling for Gun Control Legislation Emma Gonzalez advocates for the enactment of particular laws that will regulate gun sales properly, especially the policies related to effective wellness and background checkups.
  • No Gun Control: Dropping Ineffective Measures Gun control has become one of the most debated issues in American society, creating two irreconcilable groups for and against heightened firearm regulation.
  • Gun Control Rebuttal in the United States The topic of gun control in the United States covers much more aspects of the social and legal life of the state than it might seem at first glance.
  • Gun Control Issues and Solution in the US The US is the only developed country with the highest cases of gun violence. Gun ownership is protected by the Constitution. Many states have enacted gun control rules.
  • Gun Control Laws in the USA It is important to analyze the essays’ epistemology and to examine the used sources to focus on the discussion of such essay topics as the necessity of gun control laws.
  • Gun Control History and Relevant Cases in the US The mass killing of 20 children in Newton, Connecticut and the killing of 9 worshipers at a church in Charleston, California prompted gun-control advocates to reawaken the debate.
  • US Gun Control: Losing Freedom or Safeguarding? Gun control has long been among the chief sources of debate in the US. This polarizing topic presents a powerful political tool and extensively used by Democrats and Republicans.
  • Problem of the Gun Control Laws Many people die yearly due to handgun linked incidents. The number of casualties who die from gun related accidents, in the country, is much higher compared to other bordering countries.
  • Gun Control and Anti-Violence Programs in the USA The USA is known for its high levels of violent crime. The issue of gun control is brought up every time a school shooting or a violent robbery happens.
  • US Gun Control Measures and Crime Rates Reduction Gun control is an essential step that will ensure people account for several security aspects as is evident in this discussion.
  • American Gun Control Laws: Reasons to Implement Gun control laws can be a necessary precaution that can reduce the risk of homicide. Yet, policy-makers should develop the most optimal strategies for implementing this policy.
  • Gun Control in the United States Gun control has become a popular, controversial term, especially in America that covers a broad range of obligations regarding firearms.
  • Gun Control: New Restriction Laws New restricting laws to regulate the situation with gun violence can be discussed as effective legitimate steps because they respond to the public’s vision of the problem.
  • Gun Control: US Domestic Policy The paper reveals that the relationship between gun ownership and violence in the US is misleading, the government does not have a right to control gun ownership.
  • Gun Control and School Shootings The adoption of stricter gun control laws can be useful for reducing the risk of shootings in various educational organizations.
  • The Debate Over Gun Control The debate surrounding gun control has two differing sides: the pro-gun control and anti-gun control. This paper focuses on evaluating the two opinions in the gun control debate.
  • Why Gun Control Laws Should be Scrapped With all the facts available, we can confidently debunk statements that gun control can indeed reduce crime rates because there is no evidence to prove that claim.
  • Effects of Gun Control Measures in the United States Considerable research indicates that consistent gun control measures do not prevent criminals from possessing firearms.
  • Political Sciences: Gun Control in the United States This paper underlines the reasons why gun control should be tightened across the United States, because allowing increased access to guns means increased damage to society.
  • The Constitution and Gun Control
  • Gun Control and Its Effects on Children
  • Violence Policy Center Gun Control
  • The Dichotomy Over Civilian Gun Control
  • Gun Control Laws Should Not Be Regulated for Unnecessary Reasons
  • The Current Loose Regulation of Gun Control Laws
  • Gun Control and the State of Utah
  • Federalists and Early American Gun Control
  • Regulating the American Gun Control
  • The National Rifle Association on Gun Control
  • Liberals Love Gun Control
  • Gun Control and the Issue of Violence Among Kids
  • America Needs Criminal Control, Not Gun Control
  • The Reasoning Behind Gun Control Laws
  • Gun Control Firearms Firearm Crime
  • Gun Control Pros and Cons in the United States
  • The History, Politics, Stakeholders, and Legislation of Gun Control Laws
  • Gun Control Laws Hurt the People
  • The Need for Strict Gun Control in the United States
  • The Gun Control and Ownership Battle in the United States
  • The Stricter Gun Control Laws in the United States and Its Efficiency
  • The Truth Behind the Demand for More Gun Control
  • America Should Have Stricter Gun Control
  • Gun Control Crime Rate Police
  • The First Federal Gun Control Law
  • Arguing Against New Jersey Gun Control Laws
  • The Truth About Mass Shootings and Gun Control
  • Gun Control Laws Take Guns Away From Law-Abiding Citizens
  • American Federalism and Gun Control
  • Louisiana Needs Gun Control Laws
  • The Three Arguments and Myths of Gun Control
  • Gun Control Laws Are Not Strict Enough for Society
  • Public Gun Control and the United States
  • The Desperate Need for Gun Control
  • Gun Control and the Crime Rate
  • The Great Gun Control Debate
  • Youth and Gun Control
  • Opposing Gun Control With the Right to Bear Arms
  • Gun Control and the Rights of the Second Amendment
  • Gun Control, Good Idea or Bad Idea
  • Gun Control and the Federal Government
  • Laws, Loopholes, and Gun Control
  • Gun Control Has Many Effects in the USA
  • Gun Control Should Not Be the Issue in Canada
  • The Government and Gun Control
  • Gun Control Laws Will Not Reduce Crime
  • The Risks and Threats of Carrying Handguns in Society and the Importance of Gun Control
  • Gun Control Will Not Reduce Crime
  • The Issue and Debate of Gun Control
  • Gun Control and the Issue of Owning Firearms
  • Too Many Homicides, Too Little Gun Control
  • Gun Control and Linkage Mechanisms
  • Updating Gun Control Laws
  • The Ineffective Gun Control Laws
  • The Second Amendment Versus the Idea of Gun Control
  • Gun Control Firearms and Freedom
  • The Reasons Why Being Pro-gun Control Is Effective in Achieving Peace
  • The Argument for Stricter Gun Control Laws
  • Gun Control Restricting Rights or Protecting People
  • The Pros and Cons of Gun Control in the United States
  • Is Gun Control Likely To Reduce Violent Killings?
  • What Are the Gun Control Rates in Australia?
  • Why Do Experience and Culture Matter in the Gun Control Debate?
  • What Are the Early American Origins of Gun Control?
  • What Are the Effects and Consequences of Gun Control?
  • Are Americans Shifting in the View on Gun Control?
  • What Are the Alternative Approaches to the Gun Control Debate?
  • Why the Movement for Gun Control in America Is Missing?
  • What Is the State Gun Control Advocacy Tactics and Resources?
  • Is Gun Control Really About People Control?
  • What Is the Attitude Measurement and the Gun Control Paradox?
  • How To Use the Issue Crawler to Map Gun Control Issue-networks?
  • How To Explain Variation in Gun Control Policy Advocacy Tactics Among Local Organizations?
  • What Is Media Influence on Attitudes Toward Guns and Gun Control?
  • What Is the Factual Foundation for Certain Key Assumptions of Gun Control?
  • Why Media Polls on Gun Control Are Often Unreliable?
  • What Are Police Beliefs and Attitudes About Gun Control?
  • How Does the News Media Cover Gun Control?
  • What Are the Effects of State and Federal Gun Control Laws on School Shootings?
  • What Is the Impact of Gun Control Legislation on Suicide?
  • Does Gun Control Reduce Crime or Does Crime Increase Gun Control?
  • What Are the Effects of Political Culture on Gun Control and Legislation?
  • What Are the Effects of Cueing and Framing on Youth Attitudes Towards Gun Control?
  • Why Do People Support Gun Control?
  • What Is the Blockchain Solution to Gun Control?
  • What Is the Ideology of Gun Ownership and Gun Control in the United States?

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This essay topic collection was updated on January 21, 2024 .

Watch CBS News

10 Questions: What About Gun Control?

By Katie Couric

April 20, 2007 / 11:21 AM EDT / CBS News

Almost invariably, America can't suffer a gun tragedy--like this week's massacre at Virginia Tech--without a gun debate immediately following it. The basic question is this: Should government impose restrictions on what kind of guns can be sold, and to whom? Would those restrictions make us any safer?

good research questions about gun control

We'll never know for sure if this horrific shooting could have been prevented, but it seems quite clear that what we're doing now is not working and that this individual should not have been allowed to get his guns and ammunition so easily. It's still unclear whether his mental health history legally disqualified him from purchasing weapons. If so, this information apparently didn't get to the state and federal authorities who should have disapproved these sales. In approving gun sales, the focus should be on completeness, not quickness. If his documented history wasn't a disqualifier, it should have been. Requiring references could have made it obvious that guns shouldn't be sold to this person. A stronger, more extensive system of real background checks might have made a difference. In addition, ballistics microstamping technology might have allowed the police to determine more quickly after the first two killings who the shooter was.

2.What do you say to those who argue that Virginia Tech had already implemented several gun safety measures on campus-banning guns in classrooms and dorms-that apparently did nothing to help?

Partial restrictions by a university or a city are going to be of limited effectiveness when an individual can go off-campus or out of the city or to the next state and easily acquire these weapons – in this case, not once but twice. We need effective, enforceable, national, common-sense restrictions to prevent such easy, quick access to so much deadly firepower.

3. A leading Virginia gun rights group said that if one of the victims were carrying a concealed weapon, this massacre might have been averted. What's wrong with that argument?

It's natural to ask "what if" and think that maybe some Gary Cooper/John Wayne hero might have been able to react quickly enough to limit the amount of death and injury after the shooter burst into the classrooms and started firing numerous rounds from a high-capacity clip in just seconds. As a former mayor, however, I know that being able to react quickly and effectively without becoming one of the first targets of the shooter is difficult even for trained police officers. Studies show that adding more guns to a home, a community, state, or country leads to more deaths and violence, not less.

4. Are you disappointed by the dearth of national politicians calling for more gun control as a response to this?

There are many strong leaders on this issue at the national, state, and local level, and there will be more in the days ahead, but most politicians are extremely risk-averse. We need leaders to step forward to address the question of what we need to do to reduce gun violence. The public needs to ask elected officials and candidates: "What are you going to do about it?" Other countries have figured out ways to reduce gun violence. This is not an insolvable problem.

5. The conventional wisdom is that Democrats are now averse to gun control because it cost Al Gore three states-Tennessee, West Virginia, and Arkansas-any one of which would have made him president. Why should Democrats risk political defeat to argue for gun control?

Supporting common-sense measures to restrict the easy availability to guns, like we saw here, and make our communities safer should be a political winner, not loser, in 2008. I know of no candidate, at any level, who was hurt by taking such a stand in the 2006 elections. Thirty-two people die from gun homicides every day in this country. What we're doing now is not working. In 2000, George Bush supported the federal assault weapons ban, trigger locks, and "smart gun" technology in order to attract votes from the center. If Al Gore had been declared the winner in Florida, or done any number of things differently in 2000, no one would be talking about gun politics this way.

6. You are a Republican. Why do you think formerly pro-gun control members of your party, like Rudy Giuliani, are now backing away from that position?

The Republican party that I grew up with in Fort Wayne, Indiana solidly supported "law and order" measures to keep our communities safer. Republicans like Nixon, Ford, and Reagan were supporters of strong sensible gun laws. Because those who believe in almost any gun, any time, anywhere, for anybody have become so vocal, so unwilling to look for areas of compromise, and so tied into G.O.P. primary politics, too many Republican politicians have been trying to disavow their common sense positions from the past.

7. President Bush says he supports an assault weapons ban-which the Republicans in Congress let expire. Groups like yours criticized the White House for not doing much to help re-authorize it. First of all, how do you define an assault weapon (as opposed to the semi-automatic that was apparently used at Virginia Tech)? And what have been the consequences of not renewing the ban?

The term "assault weapon" was coined by gun companies, who used it in the 1980's to market their product. It means a weapon designed for use by soldiers in war to kill large numbers of people in a crowded setting as rapidly as possible: a weapon with features like high-capacity ammunition magazines, grenade launchers, flash suppressors that cloak the location of the shooter, and barrel shrouds to prevent the shooter from getting his hands burned after prolonged, rapid fire.

The federal assault weapons ban that Congress allowed to expire in September 2004 included a ban on high-capacity ammunition clips, like the one that the Virginia Tech killer had for his Glock semiautomatic pistol. What a high-capacity clip does is allow you to fire more shots without reloading. Before the ban expired, new clips holding more than 10 rounds were banned from sale. Because the ban expired, this killer was able to buy larger clips. He was thus able to fire more bullets without reloading.

8. Isn't it true that people kill people-as the cliché goes-and that a criminal will always find a way to get a gun?

While it is "people who kill people," they do so more often, and more successfully because we make it so easy to get such lethal weapons. Gun violence statistics show that if you tighten access to firearms, you get fewer gun deaths and injuries. Making it harder for dangerous people and criminals to get guns make it less likely that they will get them. These guns come from somewhere – they don't grow on trees in the "bad" parts of town. Stopping "straw purchases" of guns from dealers, limiting the number of guns that dealers can sell at one time, requiring complete background checks on all gun sales, and strengthening law enforcement's ability to combat illegal trafficking guns and corrupt dealers could significantly reduce the supply of guns available to criminals.

9. If tragedies like Columbine and Virginia Tech won't cause gun control legislation to pass, will anything?

We will take action to slow our nation's gun violence. It is inevitable. The only question is how long it will take – how many more will die or be injured before we do something about it. There are many of us dedicated to fighting for common sense gun laws. For the sake of the families of gun violence victims in America and all of us who help pay the costs and suffer the consequences of the decline in public safety and security, I desperately hope we take action sooner rather than later. I don't think America wants to declare defeat on this issue.

10. You went to Yale Law School with Bill and Hillary Clinton. Do you think Senator Clinton would take action on this issue if she is elected president?

President Bill Clinton showed that federal policies promoting more police and less guns helped reduce violent crime. He's pointed out that recent federal policies leading to less police and more guns has led to a rise in violence. Senator Hillary Clinton has always supported sensible gun laws which help prevent violence and fight crime while allowing legitimate uses of guns for sporting purposes, collecting, and self-defense. Most of the Presidential candidates have shown some level of support for sensible gun restrictions in the past. What we need is a leader who can help start a national dialogue on this issue and bridge the gap that divides Americans on this issue as well as others.

More from CBS News

Guns Are Not Just a Public Health Problem

National Vigil For Victims Of Gun Violence Held In Washington, D.C.

P ublic health is the lingua franca through which liberal America understands guns, and the traumas they engender.

When President Biden called for action after last October’s mass shooting in Maine, he did so by once again casting gun violence as an “epidemic”—a Hippocratic term taken from the study of the spread of infectious diseases .   

The notion that guns cause a public health crisis best addressed through harm reduction strategies like background checks, red flag laws , or safe storage guidelines courses through the language of experts, doctors , activists, and media commentators. 

That language reflects gains made by gun safety researchers like me. Our work promotes wellbeing within the armed petri dish that is America—a nation with more guns than people , and more mass shootings than calendar days.

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A health framework makes profound tactile sense: guns present unacceptable threats to American mortality, and the numbers only worsen . Faced with such trends, public health experts and physicians mobilize to try to save lives in the same ways we once did when excess mortality resulted from cigarettes, faulty seatbelts, or asbestos insulation.

But a limitation to our approach becomes increasingly significant in the leadup to the 2024 election: guns represent different kinds of pathogens than did cigarettes or cars. The ideologies driving expansive gun rights aspire, not just to sell specific products, but to gain power and wield influence in increasingly undemocratic ways. And a heath framework that emphasizes threats to human bodies offers little counter to threats to the American body politic as a result.

Background checks and red flag laws, for instance, offer little counter when expressly pro-gun judges and courts overturn firearm safety laws put in place by voters in places like New York, Maryland, and Oregon.

Gun politics bleed into realms of governance when pro-gun donors, politicians, and judges shape widening swaths of U.S. domestic and foreign policy about matters ranging from women’s reproductive choice to voting rights to free speech .

Guns also fan America’s deepest social divides when armed militias storm state capitals or intimidate voters at polling stations. Or when gun sellers play on fears and conspiracies about safety to foment white anxiety about Black violence and looting while at the same time marketing semiautomatic weapons to Black and Latino populations using concerns about police brutality.

These instances and others highlight how guns represent more than health problems: they are problems of race , of history , of plurality . As columnist Jamelle Bouie puts it , gun politics present “a challenge to the very possibility of an open, democratic society.”

Guns, in other words, are not just threats to public health; they are threats, as historian Ruth Ben - Ghiat writes , to the “strong civic culture and a public sphere conducive to social trust and altruism” that healthy democracies require. 

These dangers promise to grow even more intense should Donald Trump—who once called himself the “ most pro-gun ” president in history, and now ominously touts himself as the NRA’s “ loyal friend ”—win in 2024.

All of which highlights, I have come to believe, the need for a broader approach: Democrats need to tie gun safety to the defense of the American public square.

I am a physician, sociologist, gun policy scholar , and a longtime advocate for gun safety. Our interventions save lives .

Yet I’ve spent the past five years interviewing gun owners and gunshot victims across the U.S. South for a new book, What We’ve Become , that tells the story of the 2018 Nashville Waffle House mass shooting. My research showed me time and again how, while the health frame can be effective on clinical and moral levels, it is less so at political ones.

For instance, the Nashville shooting, like so many others, appeared to support the need for stronger gun laws. The shooter would have almost certainly been stopped by a red flag law before he killed anyone, had one been in effect; instead, he was easily able to buy and carry firearms.

But no such legislation passed in Tennessee in the months after the shooting. Instead of making GOP politicians pay for their inaction at the polls, the opposite scenario played out. In the gubernatorial election held months after the tragedy, Tennessee voters elected GOP businessman Bill Lee, who ran on a platform that championed eliminating most restrictions on gun owners and eliminating most permits and regulations governing public carry. Lee became arguably the most pro-gun governor in state history.

Public-health backed candidates for Governor and other state offices lost because health arguments failed to contest what journalist Patrick Blanchfield calls gunpower —power accrued and wielded under the mantra of gun rights to build reliable voting blocks and donor bases, elect loyal politicians , and seat sympathetic judges . 

I also came to appreciate how violence prevention efforts that emphasized government regulations could be problematic for many conservative gun owners—the very people who would be most impacted should these regulations become laws. 

A wide range of Southern gun owners, even ones who told me that they supported gun safety, voiced alarm about policies that required their personal identification entered into government databases , or expanded police authority through civil restraining order s. 

In their view, the government threatened individual autonomy.  As a man who lived on a farm in Tennessee and owned multiple AR-15’s put it to me, “people out here come to terms with the idea that the government isn’t going to save you from violence.  Each individual is their own most effective first responder.”  

Another red state gun owner contended that Southern conservatives remained skeptical of regulation because, “the majority of violent gun crime is committed in places with the strictest control on guns”—in other words, in this fraught formulation, in dense urban blue cities by persons of color.

These largely predictable responses pointed me toward a core challenge facing public health: a widening gap between what guns do and what they mean. 

Public-health based approaches developed methods for reducing the nearly fifty thousand American gun deaths per year, an unconscionable number. 

But a framework focused on injuries and deaths had relatively less to say about the social effects of the roughly 500 million guns bought and carried by more people in ever-more locales across the U.S. The vast majority of guns carried in parks , bars , airports , busses , and other public settings, were not involved in shootings or crimes.

I saw time and again how the space between seeing guns as health risks and as viable tools of American public life was eagerly filled by self-interested parties like gun manufacturers and the NRA who framed gun ownership as a trapping of white , male identity through themes of protection against liberals and racial others, superiority , and liberty. 

During the pandemic in particular, gun sellers played on fears about police violence and public health overreach to sell guns to new groups of owners.  By 2020, gun sales “soared,” headlines announced, “ amid pandemic, social unrest, election fears .”  Black and Latino Americans, and “ leftists…socialists, progressives ,” rushed to buy guns after the police murder of George Floyd. 

Guns and not governments increasingly became the autonomic American responses to feelings of uncertainty . 

On a practical level, vast increases in public guns made it nearly impossible for safety experts like me to pick the mass shooters of the world out from the millions of people who own and carry firearms to no effect.

And at the level of ideology, buying guns during moments of peril bolstered a neoliberal belief long undergirding gun rights arguments—that your safety is your responsibility because the state won’t protect you.  

All of which rendered a central tenet of the public-health approach to gun safety seem increasingly illogical to many gun owners: the notion that equitable regulations and prevention policies yield trust among people, as if by herd immunity.

There are stirrings that new forms of activism might break though the roadblocks to reform long put in place by the NRA. Candidates backed by the grassroots group Moms Demand Action performed well in 2023 elections. Parkland survivor David Hogg heads a new organization that helps young, progressive lawmakers get elected to state legislatures and the U.S. Congress. The appalling GOP response to the Covenant School shooting mobilizes a new wave of reform-minded candidates in Tennessee.

These initiatives are exceedingly important. In our winner-take-all political system, winning is a requisite step for change. Winning lets you seat judges , allocate resources, and enforce regulations. Winning lets you strengthen democratic institutions.

But my research suggests that victory will remain elusive if the aim of political power is to enact more of the same gun laws without attending to the larger contexts and structural drivers of violence, unsafety, and democratic decline. 

I’ve come to believe that in the current moment, when democracy itself is at stake, gun safety needs to improve people’s lives in ways that they can see and feel, strengthen the concrete undergirding civil society, and allow blue and red state Americans to imagine broader coalitions based on shared interests rather than on shared anxieties.  

In the long run, gun laws by themselves will have relatively little effect in changing the contours of the American gun debate if they don’t go hand-in-hand with material investments that take seriously people’s safety concerns, and reward community cohesion over armed tribalism. 

Thankfully, a growing body of research combines the insights of public health with methods from urban planning, economics, business, criminology, and sociology to show how gun laws have the greatest effect if joined with investments in lived environment. Fixing streetlights , creating parks and green space , jobs programs , and rebuilding “ civic infrastructure ,” public safety, and community resiliency can reduce gun crime at rates that supersede those produced by gun laws alone.

While these types of interventions have been tested in blue cities , they are rarely attempted in rural parts of red states like Tennessee . People in these parts of the country often confront public health most visibly in moments of crisis, such as after mass shootings or during pandemics , when they are told to wear masks, get vaccines, or regulate gun sales. Public health can connote restricting freedoms or being forced to comply with mandates , but rarely represents prosperity in ways that are evident in the everyday.

That needs to change. Public health researchers and gun safety advocates could work together across Red-Blue divides to partner with builders, employers, developers, Internet providers, supermarkets, transit experts, and city planners to redefine and construct safe neighborhoods. They could align with local and national businesses to promote ways that gun safety can be pro-growth—such as working with AI developers to reimagine safe parks, workplaces, or schools. They could host grant-writing workshops and reward communities to improve public safety using reinforcement algorithms developed by health insurers.

Reformers could create economic benchmarks to aid mayors and governors based on the work of sociologist Patrick Sharkey, showing how investments in “ place ” reduce violent crime and enable formerly distressed neighborhoods to prosper.  

These kinds of interventions take at face value the core assumption of many gun-carry arguments—that public spaces should be safe for everyone—and intervene upstream to do so.  Few of these interventions involve trying to mandate individual-level behaviors, but instead aim to engage broader categories of shareholders to build what political theorists call “ strategy influence ” by creating long-term sustainable relationships that provide practical benefits.  Deeper attention to financial structures can also counter critiques that public health fails to pay enough attention to economic factors in its interventions.

Again, it’s a travesty that America does not have comprehensive national guns laws. But interventions long proposed by scholars like me are imperfect —in large part due to the narrow terrain on which we’ve been allowed to even research gun safety, let alone put the policies we propose into practice. Years of funding bans and outright resistance have left us promoting modest interventions to an overwhelmingly complex national scourge.

As we fight for adoption of even the most basic laws, it’s important to keep in mind that guns are issues into themselves, and they are also symbols, material objects, and lethal enforcers in a much larger fight about America, about who we are, and who we will become.

Leading up to the 2024 election and beyond, we are ultimately better off by combining biomedical expertise with sustained investment in structures that build and reinforce common knowledge, common cause, and common sense. 

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What are research questions for gun control?

Research questions for gun control may include inquiries into the effectiveness of different gun control policies, the impact of gun violence on public health, and the relationship between gun ownership and crime rates.

1. How does gun control impact crime rates?

Research suggests that stricter gun control measures can lead to lower rates of violent crime.

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2. What are the effects of background check requirements on gun violence?

Studies have shown that implementing background checks for firearm purchases is associated with a decrease in gun-related deaths.

3. Does gun ownership correlate with homicide rates?

Research has indicated that higher rates of gun ownership are linked to higher rates of homicide.

4. What are the implications of implementing waiting periods for gun purchases?

Waiting periods for gun purchases have been found to be associated with reductions in gun-related deaths, particularly suicides.

5. How do gun control policies impact mass shooting incidents?

Studies examining the impact of various gun control policies on mass shootings have yielded mixed results, requiring further research in this area.

6. What is the relationship between gun control and suicide rates?

Research has shown that stricter gun control measures can be effective in reducing suicide rates, as firearm access is a risk factor for suicide.

7. How do different state-level gun laws impact gun violence rates?

Comparative studies of state-level gun laws have demonstrated that stricter regulations are associated with lower rates of gun violence.

8. What are the effects of concealed carry laws on public safety?

Research findings on the impact of concealed carry laws are conflicting, requiring further investigation into their effects on public safety.

9. How does gun control legislation impact gun trafficking?

Investigations into the effects of gun control legislation on gun trafficking patterns and rates are necessary to inform policy decisions.

10. What are the social and economic costs of gun violence?

Research has articulated the considerable social and economic burden of gun violence, motivating the need for effective gun control measures.

11. How does mental health intersect with gun control policies?

Understanding the relationship between mental health and gun control is essential for crafting effective policies that balance public safety and individual rights.

12. What is the impact of gun control measures on domestic violence incidents?

Research has shown that restricting access to firearms for domestic abusers can reduce the risk of lethal violence in domestic violence situations.

13. How do different demographic groups experience the effects of gun control policies?

Examining the differential impact of gun control policies on various demographic groups is essential for ensuring equitable outcomes.

14. What are the cultural and historical factors that influence attitudes towards gun control?

Understanding the cultural and historical context of gun ownership and attitudes towards gun control is crucial for designing effective policies.

15. How do international comparisons inform the debate on gun control policy?

Comparative analysis of gun control policies and their outcomes across different countries can provide valuable insights for shaping effective measures.

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About Nick Oetken

Nick grew up in San Diego, California, but now lives in Arizona with his wife Julie and their five boys. He served in the military for over 15 years. In the Navy for the first ten years, where he was Master at Arms during Operation Desert Shield and Operation Desert Storm. He then moved to the Army, transferring to the Blue to Green program, where he became an MP for his final five years of service during Operation Iraq Freedom, where he received the Purple Heart. He enjoys writing about all types of firearms and enjoys passing on his extensive knowledge to all readers of his articles. Nick is also a keen hunter and tries to get out into the field as often as he can.

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