How Gun Policies Affect Violent Crime | RAND

How Gun Policies Affect Violent Crime

The Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) defines violent crime as including forcible rape, robbery, aggravated assault, and murder or nonnegligent manslaughter. The last category excludes deaths caused by suicide, negligence, or accident, as well as justifiable homicides (such as the killing of a felon by a peace officer in the line of duty) (FBI, 2016e).

Gun Policy Effects on Violent Crime

No Studies Met Our Criteria

  • Extreme Risk Protection Orders
  • Firearm Sales Reporting, Recording, and Registration Requirements
  • Gun-Free Zones
  • Laws Allowing Armed Staff in K–12 Schools
  • Lost or Stolen Firearm Reporting Requirements

Gun policies could affect violent crime rates. Policies that make the use of firearms during assaults more or less common could affect both firearm and overall murder rates because assaults involving weapons that are less lethal than firearms will result in fewer deaths (Cook, 1983). Policies that expand the number of gun owners or people carrying guns could deter violent crime if would-be attackers fear confrontations with armed victims (Kleck, 2009), or the policies might make the consequences of violent crime less severe for victims if they are able to successfully use firearms to repel attackers. And policies that make it easier for criminals or suspected criminals to arm themselves could result in more officer-involved shootings if police officers expect most suspects to pose a threat of deadly force (Kivisto, Ray, and Phalen, 2017).

One source of data on violent crime is the FBI’s Uniform Crime Reporting Program, which relies on voluntary reporting of crimes by city, university/college, county, state, tribal, and federal law enforcement agencies. Data from the program indicate that there were approximately 1.25 million violent crimes in the United States in 2017, including 810,825 aggravated assaults, 319,356 robberies, 135,755 rapes, and 17,284 instances of murder or nonnegligent manslaughter (FBI, 2018d). The overall violent crime rate was 400.0 per 100,000 people, with the highest rate for aggravated assault (252.4 per 100,000), followed by robbery (101.2 per 100,000), rape (42.4 per 100,000), and murder or nonnegligent manslaughter (5.3 per 100,000) (FBI, 2018e). Nationwide, firearms were used in 72.6 percent of all instances of murder or nonnegligent manslaughter, 40.6 percent of robberies, and 26.3 percent of aggravated assaults in 2017 (FBI, 2018a).

As with the suicide outcome, we separately consider total homicides and firearm homicides because reductions in firearm homicides do not necessarily have a one-to-one correspondence with overall homicide rates, given that there may be some substitution of means for committing a homicide. That is, some prevented firearm homicides might still end in a homicide with a knife or other weapon.

Death certificate data and emergency department admission data provide additional insights into the prevalence and consequences of violent crime. Using mortality data, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimated that there were 19,510 homicides in the United States in 2017, for a rate of 5.99 per 100,000 people; of these, 14,542 (75 percent) were caused by a firearm (CDC, 2019a). Emergency department data show that in 2014 there were more than 1.5 million admissions to hospital emergency departments for assault; of these, 60,470 (3.8 percent) were firearm-related (CDC, 2017c).[1]

Originally published March 2, 2018

Further Reading on This Topic

  • Firearms hanging on rustic wooden background

    Essay

    The Relationship Between Firearm Prevalence and Violent Crime

    In the past 12 years, several new studies found that increases in the prevalence of gun ownership are associated with increases in violent crime. Whether this association is attributable to gun prevalence causing more violent crime is unclear. If people are more likely to acquire guns when crime rates are rising or high, then the same pattern of evidence would be expected. An important limitation of all studies in this area is the lack of direct measures of the prevalence of gun ownership.

  • Guns that have just had their barrels crushed in Sydney are stacked after they were handed over on the last day of the Australian gun buyback scheme, September 1997.

    Essay

    The Effects of the 1996 National Firearms Agreement in Australia on Suicide, Homicide, and Mass Shootings

    Australia’s 1996 National Firearms Agreement (NFA) banned several types of firearms and resulted in the government buying hundreds of thousands of the banned weapons from their owners. This essay analyses the evidence from studies examining the effect of removing so many weapons from the community.

Notes

  1. This is a crude estimate because nonfatal firearm injury estimates produced by the CDC are highly uncertain. See Campbell and Nass, 2019. Return to content

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  • Vigdor, E. R., and J. A. Mercy, “Do Laws Restricting Access to Firearms by Domestic Violence Offenders Prevent Intimate Partner Homicide?” Evaluation Review, Vol. 30, No. 3, 2006, pp. 313–346.
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  • Vittes, K. A., and S. B. Sorenson, “Recreational Gun Use by California Adolescents,” Health Education and Behavior, Vol. 32, No. 6, 2005, pp. 751–766.
  • Vittes, K. A., J. S. Vernick, and D. W. Webster, “Legal Status and Source of Offenders’ Firearms in States with the Least Stringent Criteria for Gun Ownership,” Injury Prevention, Vol. 19, No. 1, June 23, 2012, pp. 26–31.
  • Vittes, Katherine A., Daniel W. Webster, Shannon Frattaroli, Barbara E. Claire, and Garen J. Wintemute, “Removing Guns from Batterers: Findings from a Pilot Survey of Domestic Violence Restraining Order Recipients in California,” Violence Against Women, Vol. 19, No. 5, 2013, pp. 602–616.
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  • Webster, D., C. K. Crifasi, and J. S. Vernick, “Effects of the Repeal of Missouri’s Handgun Purchaser Licensing Law on Homicides,” Journal of Urban Health, Vol. 91, No. 2, 2014, pp. 293–302.
  • Webster, D. W., L. H. Freed, S. Frattaroli, and M. H. Wilson, “How Delinquent Youths Acquire Guns: Initial Versus Most Recent Gun Acquisitions,” Journal of Urban Health, Vol. 79, No. 1, 2002, pp. 60–69.
  • Webster, Daniel W., Alexander D. McCourt, Cassandra K. Crifasi, Marisa D. Booty, and Elizabeth A. Stuart, “Evidence Concerning the Regulation of Firearms Design, Sale, and Carrying on Fatal Mass Shootings in the United States,” Criminology and Public Policy, Vol. 19, No. 1, 2020, pp. 171–212.
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  • Webster, Daniel W., Jon S. Vernick, and Maria T. Bulzacchelli, “Effects of State-Level Firearm Seller Accountability Policies on Firearm Trafficking,” Journal of Urban Health: Bulletin of the New York Academy of Medicine, Vol. 86, No. 4, 2009, pp. 525–537.
  • Webster, Daniel W., Jon S. Vernick, and Lisa M. Hepburn, “Relationship Between Licensing, Registration, and Other Gun Sales Laws and the Source State of Crime Guns,” Injury Prevention, Vol. 7, 2001, pp. 184–189.
  • Webster, Daniel W., Jon S. Vernick, and Lisa M. Hepburn, “Effects of Maryland's Law Banning ‘Saturday Night Special’ Handguns on Homicides,” American Journal of Epidemiology, Vol. 155, No. 5, 2002, pp. 406–412.
  • Webster, Daniel W., Jon S. Vernick, Emma E. McGinty, and Ted Alcorn, “Preventing the Diversion of Guns to Criminals Through Effective Firearm Sales Laws,” in Daniel W. Webster and Jon S. Vernick, eds., Reducing Gun Violence in America: Informing Policy with Evidence and Analysis, Baltimore, Md.: Johns Hopkins University Press, 2013, pp. 109–121.
  • Webster, D. W., J. S. Vernick, A. M. Zeoli, and J. A. Manganello, “Association Between Youth-Focused Firearm Laws and Youth Suicides,” JAMA, Vol. 292, No. 5, 2004, pp. 594–601.
  • Webster, D. W., and G. J. Wintemute, “Effects of Policies Designed to Keep Firearms from High-Risk Individuals,” Annual Review of Public Health, Vol. 36, 2015, pp. 21–37.
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  • Wintemute, Garen J., Marian E. Betz, and Megan L. Ranney, “Yes, You Can: Physicians, Patients, and Firearms,” Annals of Internal Medicine, Vol. 165, No. 3, 2016, pp. 205–213.
  • Wintemute, G. J., D. Hemenway, D. Webster, G. Pierce, and A. A. Braga, “Gun Shows and Gun Violence: Fatally Flawed Study Yields Misleading Results,” American Journal of Public Health, Vol. 100, No. 10, 2010, pp. 1856–1860.
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  • Wintemute, Garen J., Carrie A. Parham, Mona A. Wright, James J. Beaumont, and Christiana M. Drake, “Weapons of Choice: Previous Criminal History, Later Criminal Activity, and Firearm Preference Among Legally Authorized Young Adult Purchasers of Handguns,” Journal of Trauma: Injury, Infection, and Critical Care, Vol. 44, No. 1, 1998, pp. 155–160.
  • Wintemute, Garen J., Veronica A. Pear, Julia P. Schleimer, Rocco Pallin, Sydney Sohl, Nicole Kravitz-Wirtz, and Elizabeth A. Tomsich, “Extreme Risk Protection Orders Intended to Prevent Mass Shootings: A Case Series,” Annals of Internal Medicine, August 2019.
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  • Wright, M. A., G. J. Wintemute, and B. E. Claire, “Gun Suicide by Young People in California: Descriptive Epidemiology and Gun Ownership,” Journal of Adolescent Health, Vol. 43, No. 6, 2008, pp. 619–622.
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  • Zeoli, April M., Shannon Frattaroli, Kelly Roskam, and Anastasia K. Herrera, “Removing Firearms from Those Prohibited from Possession by Domestic Violence Restraining Orders: A Survey and Analysis of State Laws,” Trauma, Violence, and Abuse, Vol. 20, No. 1, 2019, pp. 114–125.
  • Zeoli, April M., Alexander McCourt, Shani Buggs, Shannon Frattaroli, David Lilley, and Daniel W. Webster, “Analysis of the Strength of Legal Firearms Restrictions for Perpetrators of Domestic Violence and Their Associations with Intimate Partner Homicide,” American Journal of Epidemiology, Vol. 187, No. 11, 2018, pp. 2365–2371.
  • Zeoli, April M., and Jennifer K. Paruk, “Potential to Prevent Mass Shootings Through Domestic Violence Firearm Restrictions,” Criminology and Public Policy, Vol. 19, No. 1, 2020, pp. 129–145.
  • Zeoli, A. M., and D. W. Webster, “Effects of Domestic Violence Policies, Alcohol Taxes and Police Staffing Levels on Intimate Partner Homicide in Large U.S. Cities,” Injury Prevention, Vol. 16, No. 2, 2010, pp. 90–95.
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View the full project bibliography