Do Studies Show 'Gun Control' Works?

From Reason TV. Mar 31, 2022

After reaching historic lows in the mid-2010s, 'gun violence' rates in America have gone up in recent years, and they remain higher than in some other parts of the developed world. There are hundreds of laws and regulations at the federal and state level that restrict Americans' access to guns, yet according to some advocates, social science research shows that a few more "simple, commonsense" laws could significantly reduce the number of injuries and deaths attributed to firearms.

There has been a massive research effort going back decades to determine whether gun control measures work. A 2020 analysis by the RAND Corporation, a nonprofit research organization, parsed the results of 27,900 research publications on the effectiveness of 'gun control' laws. From this vast body of work, the RAND authors found only 123 studies, or 0.4 percent, that tested the effects rigorously. Some of the other 27,777 studies may have been useful for non-empirical discussions, but many others were deeply flawed.

We took a look at the significance of the 123 rigorous empirical studies and what they actually say about the efficacy of 'gun control' laws.

The answer: nothing. The 123 studies that met RAND's criteria may have been the best of the 27,900 that were analyzed, but they still had serious statistical defects, such as a lack of controls, too many parameters or hypotheses for the data, undisclosed data, erroneous data, misspecified models, and other problems.

And these glaring methodological flaws are not specific to 'gun control' research; they are typical of how the academic publishing industry responds to demands from political partisans for scientific evidence that does not exist.

Not only is the social science literature on 'gun control' broadly useless, but it provides endless fodder for advocates who say that "studies prove" that a particular favored policy would have beneficial outcomes. This matters because gun laws, even if they don't accomplish their goals, have large costs. They can turn otherwise law-abiding citizens into criminals, they increase prosecutorial power and incarceration, and they exacerbate the racial and socioeconomic inequities in the criminal justice system.

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Produced and edited by Justin Monticello. Written by Monticello and Aaron Brown. Graphics by Adani Samat and Isaac Reese. Audio production by Ian Keyser.


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