A new study found handgun licensing laws were linked to fewer firearm homicides in large, urban areas.
STATES REQUIRING GUN purchasers to obtain a license saw a 14 percent reduction in firearm homicides in large, urban counties where nearly two-thirds of gun deaths occur, according to a new study.
Published in the Journal of Urban Health, the study analyzed 136 of the largest urban counties in the U.S. between 1984 and 2015 to assess the effects of changes in licensing policies over time. The study, which was the first to measure the effect of licensing laws on firearm homicides in those counties, found gun licensing laws are associated with fewer state-level firearm homicides.
“There’s a lot of discussion about policies to reduce gun violence,” lead author Cassandra Crifasi says. “Handgun licensing gives more time for background checks, it’s a more robust way to screen out prohibited individuals and provides more accountability. This is consistent with previous studies on gun policy.”
Researchers controlled for state and county demographics, including unemployment, poverty and the percentage of population who are young African-American males because they tend to have a higher rate of “victimization for firearm homicides,” Crifasi says.
Handgun licensing laws require purchasers to apply through a state or local law enforcement agency for a permit, which is issued upon passing an extensive background check. Surveys from the Johns Hopkins University Center for Gun Policy and Research, which conducted the study, found the majority of both gun owners and non-gun owners support this policy. In addition to collecting fingerprints in some states, these background checks generally provide access to more records, increasing the likelihood that law enforcement can identify problem candidates.
On the other hand, states that only require comprehensive background checks – in which the seller rather than law enforcement typically carries out the check – saw a 16 percent increase in firearm homicides in large, urban counties, according to the study.
The study noted that permit-to-purchase laws provide a longer period for law enforcement to conduct background checks at the local level, and these checks may have access to additional records. Researchers also assessed the effectiveness of right-to-carry and stand-your-ground laws. Stand-your-ground laws provide individuals permission to use lethal force in response to a perceived threat, while right-to-carry laws facilitate carrying loaded, but concealed firearms in public spaces.
Counties in states that adopted stand-your-ground laws experienced a 7 percent increase in firearm homicide, according to Crifasi, while counties in states with right-to-carry laws saw a 4 percent increase in firearm homicide after the laws were implemented.
“Four percent may not seem like a lot, but these are counties with smaller populations,” Crifasi says. “The numbers are much larger when you aggregate to the state level.”
Handgun purchaser licensing protects against a range of issues for public safety, Crifasi says, adding that the evidence should lead the way for more discourse surrounding gun violence.
“I hope this study contributes to conversations on evidence-based policies and I hope we can end up with a robust set of policies we know will reduce gun violence in the U.S.,” Crifasi says.
Tala Salem, Contributor