IN 2000, ALMOST 30,000 PERSONS DIED from firearm injuries in the United States, more than the number of deaths from HIV, alcohol abuse, or drug abuse (U.S. Bureau of the Census). This high number of deaths is despite almost 20,000 laws and regulations regulating gun usage to some degree (Ruffenach 19941). In addition, recent emotionally charged cases such as the Washington, DC area sniper and the Columbine, Colorado school shooting have elevated the gun control debate to one of the central political issues in the United States.
Despite the emotional debate, few researchers have attempted to take a comprehensive approach to the topic of gun control, focusing only on single gun-related laws. It is argued that some of the mixed results on the effectiveness of gun control laws may be a result of a use of different levels of gun control legislations. Therefore, more comprehensive measures of gun-related legislation would make a valuable contribution to this debate. The goal of this paper is to better trace the link between gun laws and deaths associated with firearms by using a more comprehensive measure of gun control legislation. A multivariate statistical technique will be used to establish the relationship between a set of determinants, including the holistic measure of state gun control laws, and gun-related deaths per state.
This study will begin by reviewing past investigations of gun control legislation with a focus on revealing a gap in the literature. The study will then discuss the method and data used to address this literature gap. The results of this analysis will be detailed and the implications will be reviewed. The paper will conclude by discussing how the results fit into a broader picture of research in this field, and public policy implications will be discussed.
THERE IS A BODY OF RESEARCH THAT HAS FOUND gun control laws to be ineffective (e.g., Wright 1988) in reducing firearm-related fatalities. For example, Kleck and McEltrath (1991: 669) claim that firearms "appear to inhibit attack and, in the case of an attack, to reduce the probability of injury (to victims)." Other research finds a theoretical link between right-to-carry concealed weapon laws and decreased crime or decreased felonious deaths of police (Lott and Mustard 1997; Mustard 2001). There clearly is a body of research that posits that firearms actually serve as a violence deterrent (e.g., Lott 1998).
There is also a body of research that finds a clear link between gun control laws and decreased violence (e.g., Zimring and Hawkins 1997). For example, in a comprehensive study of this issue, Duggan (2001) finds that gun ownership rates are strongly linked to homicide rates. In his work, Duggan links sales of gun magazines with gun ownership. After establishing and measuring the strength of this link, he then uses gun magazines as a proxy for gun ownership. This allows him to longitudinally link gun ownership with homicide rates from 1980 to 1998. Other research links gun ownership to an increased number of homicides (Kellerman et al. 1993) and increased crime (e.g., Zimring 1972).
Duggan (2001) also criticizes the results found in Lott and Mustard (1997) regarding right-to-carry concealed weapon laws. Lott and Mustard's work uses cross-sectional county-level data to measure the impact that the concealed weapon law has on violent crime. Their study finds that such provisions result in fewer violent crimes without increasing rates of accidental deaths. Investigating Lott and Mustard's results, Duggan uses his gun magazine proxy to see if right-to-carry laws result in increased gun purchases. His analysis finds no such relationship. He also analyzes whether counties with higher rates of gun ownership have decreased levels of violent crime after right-to-carry laws are passed. Again, he finds no such relationship. Finally, Duggan reanalyzes Lott and Mustard's study by using states, not counties, as the unit of analysis. …