With the recent mass shooting in Las Vegas, the emotionally-charged topic of how to stop gun violence has once again become part of the daily musings of most Americans. It seems like everyone has a definitive ‘simple’ solution that if only we implemented it, gun violence would go down significantly.
Both on the right and left, arguments are made that a lack of political will and ignorant people (the other side of whatever you’re arguing) being uninformed about guns seem to be the only challenge to living in a safer society. With gun related injuries and deaths clearly on the rise in the past few years and mass shootings in particular also increasing significantly, it seems clear that America has a gun violence problem of some sort, regardless of cause, (although one should note that we’ve had a massive decline in gun violence for the past two decades until 2016). Even if we agree there is a problem, what can we do about it?
A delve into a meta analysis on gun violence – looking at studies which analyze the effectiveness of current and past gun laws and policies on gun killings — is a good place to start understanding policies which will have an optimal chance of most effectively decreasing gun homicide in the United States.
Earlier this year, a few academics published a meta analysis on gun violence in the JAMA Internal Medicine, which is a peer-reviewed medical journal published monthly by the American Medical Association. The objective was to evaluate the effects of gun laws on gun homicides in the United States and the study did so by evaluating “peer-reviewed articles from 1970 to 2016 focusing on the association between U.S. firearm laws and firearm homicide.”
Overall the study found that “stronger gun policies were associated with decreased rates of firearm homicide, even after adjusting for demographic and sociologic factors. Laws that strengthen background checks and permit-to-purchase seemed to decrease firearm homicide rates.”
However the study also found that “specific laws directed at firearm trafficking, improving child safety, or the banning of military-style assault weapons were not associated with changes in firearm homicide rates. The evidence for laws restricting guns in public places and leniency in gun carrying was mixed.”
Finding that banning assault weapons is essentially ineffective and creating laws that restrict guns in public places is mixed at best, runs contrary to much of the rhetoric and proposed solutions that emerge immediately after mass shootings.
Another meta study on gun violence published in 2012 in Crime and Delinquency examined 29 rigorous gun studies between 1983 and 2005 also had some unusual findings.
The study found that of all the legal interventions to gun violence, probation strategies — increased contact with police, probation officers, and social workers — proved most effective at curtailing gun violence, more than gun buyback programs and stricter gun laws. Policing strategies and community programs were also moderately effective.
On the other hand, prosecutorial strategies like harsher sentences and restricted bail opportunities pertaining to gun violence showed the least promise.
Travis Pratt, a researcher at the University of Cincinnati Corrections Institute who co-authored the 2012 study in Crime and Delinquency told InsideSources that there were deep misconceptions and flaws in the thinking of people on the right and left regarding gun violence.
“You’re not going to make a meaningful dent in gun violence by creating longer jail sentences for gun violence. [Attorney General] Jeff Sessions and the Trump administration are beating the drum of getting tough through enhancing penalties, which has been a staple of 1980’s policy and has been unequivocally proven not to work.”
Furthermore Pratt said that “the right has been so effective at avoiding this conversation on what to do about gun violence by creating a fear of the left that they’re going to take away your guns — Clinton in the 90’s and Obama in the past few years.”
“At some point there will be legislation and policy change on guns and there is a risk there may be an overreach then, and it’s in their best interest to give a little now rather than be outvoted later.”
However regarding people on the left, Pratt said there was a sense of false idealism regarding gun laws and what they can do if they are even passed.
“The left doesn’t have an appreciation for how many private guns are out there already. Access to guns in the future could potentially be impacted by laws and policies, but guns that are already in the open, 300 million can be sold, borrowed, bartered, stolen–and how can one restrict those?”
Pratt went on to say that whether trying to use gun buyback programs or background checks, “The left doesn’t recognize that it is trying to use a bucket to bail out the Titanic. So many guns are already in circulation that its legally unrealistic to expect those can be taken away and some say they shouldn’t be taken away altogether (due to the 2nd Amendment)”
Sandro Galea, an epidemiologist and dean of the Boston University School of Public Health who also co-authored a study on the association between gun legislation and gun related injuries spoke to InsideSources about his research on gun violence solutions.
Galea backed up Pratt’s assertion that comprehensive approaches to end gun related injuries were much more effective than non-comprehensive approaches; this much is clear.
He went on to add that gun violence solutions are in part so murky and unclear because “we need much more work on this subject. Our understanding of this problem is hampered by the fact that we haven’t done enough research. I don’t think we know enough right now.”