The statistics are mind-blowing.
Gun control is a hot issue in the United States, and now, the largest study ever conducted on gun laws has found strong evidence for a link between firearm regulation and fewer gun-related deaths around the world.
The new study, published in the journal Epidemiologic Reviews, reviewed 130 high-quality studies conducted in 10 countries over the past 60 years instead of taking a limited view on one city or country, which is what past studies on gun laws have done.
"Across countries, instead of seeing an increase in the homicide rate, we saw a reduction," lead researcher Julian Santaella-Tenorio from Columbia University told Vox.
The research team systematically analyzed studies from countries including the US, Australia, Brazil, Austria, South Africa, and more. Each of the studies explored specific gun legislation change and its impact on gun-related homicides, suicides, unintentional injuries, and deaths.
From their research, the team came up with three overlying conclusions:
Restricting access to guns and regulating gun purchase is linked to a reduction in deaths caused by firearms
Usually a major legislative shift is needed to see a significant change — not just one new law
Future studies must be better planned and executed in order to produce more convincing results
As per the second conclusion, the research showed that countries that passed several gun laws at once tended to decrease gun-related deaths. Santaella-Tenorio told Zack Beauchamp at Vox that these major legislative shifts usually included banning extremely powerful weapons (like automatic weapons), implementing background checks, and requiring permits and licenses for purchasing guns.
There were some incredible statistics in the research — for example, the Firearm Control Act implemented in 2000 in South Africa saw an impressive 13.6 percent reduction in firearm homicides every year for the next five years!
Australia saw similar results following a legislative shift in 1996 after a tragic mass murder occurred. Researchers report that overall firearm death rates decreased by 14 percent the next year, and there hasn’t been a mass shooting in the country in the 20 years since.
On the contrary, Missouri got rid of laws that required people to have a permit to purchase a gun in 2007. One study found that, following this law change, Missouri’s homicide rate increased by 25 percent.
"Laws restricting the purchase of (e.g. background checks) and access to (e.g. safer storage) firearms are also associated with lower rates of intimate partner homicides and firearm unintentional deaths in children, respectively," the researchers wrote in the study.
Although the researchers provide strong evidence for a link between gun control and decreased gun-related deaths, they stop short of claiming to prove the link. There are limitations to the studies that they analyzed — for one, all of the studies were observational, which means that the researchers couldn’t control for variables. Considering all of the factors in society that influence gun deaths outside of gun laws, there could be a number of other factors contributing to these results.
Nonetheless, the analysis still provides powerful evidence that gun control laws really do work, and capitalizing on this finding could save lives.
It’s a critical time for new research to analyze the patterns and trends of gun control and gun-related deaths, and hopefully come up with some new solutions for the United States — more Americans have died in the past year (2015) from gun violence than in the last 40 years from terrorist attacks. Over 8,500 people were killed by guns in the first 10 months of 2015 alone.
"This information is key to move this field forward," the authors write, "and for the development of effective policies that may counteract the burden that firearm injuries pose on populations."
Now that research is showing us that gun control really works, it’s time for policymakers to act.