Oftentimes, when Americans talk about gun violence, the conversation inevitably shifts to gun control, but few words evoke such a visceral reaction.
Some feel as though it is something that must pass in Washington, while others feel like it is not just an attack on the Second Amendment, but an attack on them.
With so much partisanship, however, fact-based research proves a valuable tool in finding common ground to reduce the rising epidemic of gun violence in the United States.
According to a 2021 Pew Research Poll, 87% of Americans favor, or somewhat favor, regulations that prevent people who are mentally ill from purchasing guns. That same poll also found 81% of Americans favor or somewhat favor subjecting private gun sales to background checks, and 66% favor or somewhat favor creating a federal database to track all gun sales in the U.S.
With all these proposed ideas on how to reduce gun violence, the question we wanted to answer is do they help prevent gun violence, and if so, by how much?
“It depends what type of gun violence you’re talking about,” said Mike Anestis, executive director of the New Jersey Gun Violence Research Center, one of only three state-funded gun research facilities in the country.
In his 15 years studying this field, Anestis says research shows red flag laws, or extreme risk protection orders, where guns are removed in response to risk, work. A study published in early June by UC Davis found in Connecticut and Indiana that one life is saved from suicide for every 10 to 20 extreme risk protection orders issued, and evidence is promising regarding how these orders prevent mass shootings. In California’s first three years of its red flag law, 58 cases involved people who threatened mass shootings, and in the years since, none of the people flagged had killed anyone or themselves.
A 2019 study by Boston University and Harvard found states with universal background checks for all gun sales, not just some, had homicide rates 15% lower than states without such laws.
Anestis says the communication of this science is of the utmost importance. He and his colleagues are the ones who find this data, but without its use in public discourse, he says it often lives in the shadows of popular partisan talking points, both right and left.
“We put communication of science on par with production and funding of science,” he said. “It’s extremely important that we actually get the data out there to empower communities impacted by gun violence to make data-driven decisions, and for there then to be a naturally developing demand for solutions based on those data.”
There are also studies that show some initiatives work to a degree, and such is the case with banning high-capacity magazines.
A study by researchers at the University of Pennsylvania found an average of 3.5 shots were fired by attackers in shootings that happened in Jersey City, New Jersey over a four-year period. That's far lower than the 10-round maximum lawmakers have suggested in their high-capacity magazine ban legislation, so Anestis says the ban would not do much to prevent overall gun violence as mass shootings make up 1% of gun violence in the US. Regarding mass shootings, however, high-capacity magazine bans could help.
According to the Giffords Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence, large-capacity magazines have been used in all ten of the deadliest mass shootings in the last decade, Giffords goes on to say, “Large-capacity magazines significantly increase a shooter’s ability to injure and kill large numbers of people quickly because they enable the individual to fire repeatedly without needing to reload.”
“Most of my professional career I’ve lived in South Mississippi and most of my work is with the military,” said Anestis. “I’m not here to overturn the second amendment. I’m here to prevent deaths, and there are policies not included in this bipartisan agreement that have more data behind them for preventing any form of gun death.”