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LWVCO Gun Violence Prevention TF

What to say when they say ...
By Rionda (State) Osman
Posted: 2024-05-17T18:54:06Z

Recent Discussion of Legislation Effectiveness

What do you say when opponents to gun legislation say that gun laws don't work to reduce violence?

Recently, the Colorado Coalition Against Gun Violence discussed the effectiveness of legislation. Peter Gurfein of Colorado Giffords Gun Owners for Safety has provided us with his summary and his background research.

Thank you, Peter !

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On a recent call of the Colorado Coalition Against Gun Violence, the issue was raised that opponents of gun laws often argue that gun laws have had little, if any, effect in reducing gun homicides. There was a discussion whether there was an expected lag time between enactment of a law and its meaningful impact on the problem the law was intended to address. I reached out to Giffords for any insight they might have on this issue. Their response it below. 


In sum, studying and understanding effectiveness of gun legislation is complicated by a reasonably expected lag time between enactment and enforcement of any legislation. It may take time for the law to be understood by those expected to enforce it and there may be variables in willingness or ability to enforce the laws. Analysis of gun legislation is especially difficult because there may be insufficient data to determine whether, when, and how a gun law was enforced or adequate statistical methods to definitively assess its impact. Because of our federal model, and variations in each state's laws and enforcement of laws, a universal determination is difficult. Moreover, the enactment of one gun law to address one issue may implicate gun use, including trafficking, that causes an increase in gun homicides unrelated to the issue addressed by that legislation. 

Nonetheless, even in states with a certain number of gun laws, the studies suggest that there appears to be a lag period of at least 7 years, on average, before the risk of firearm homicides declines. Some states, such as California, report a more immediate reduction in gun violence following passage of comprehensive gun safety legislation. It should be noted that a corollary finding may be more readily ascertained that the absence or relaxation of gun safety legislation leads to an increase in gun homicide rates, as in Texas which, in the last few years, has dismantled many gun regulations and approved, among other things, permitless carry. See the graphic below.  


Here is the analysis from which I have been working, together with links to the literature embedded in the text.


  •   This study looked at the lagged effect of gun policies—in other words, how much time after policy adoption it took to measure impacts. The researchers found that on average, it takes approximately seven years for states to see a reduction in firearm homicide risk following the enactment of gun safety laws. 

  •  There isn't a prescribed time period that researchers always look at to measure impacts of policies, but generally, studies that evaluate the impact of gun laws on gun death and injury outcomes look over multiple years. This study looked at how the adoption or repeal of licensing laws in four states impacted violence over a ten year period following the law passage. This study of ERPO laws in Connecticut and Indiana looked over at least ten years post-law adoption to measure impacts. 

  • Finally, there is a slightly less data driven point to be made about how long it takes to implement policies and for their impacts to accrue to a large enough level for us to measure the impact. For example, if a state passes an ERPO law, it could take months (or years) for the courts and law enforcement agencies to create protocol around using these orders, for people to become aware they exist, etc. And even if they were used some and prevented violence, if they don't prevent violence by a big enough margin, we might not be able to distinguish the policy's effect from natural variation in gun deaths. In other words, if a policy results in a true reduction in gun deaths by say 5% in one year, that might not be large enough for us to measure and know for sure is meaningfully different than natural expected variation in gun deaths.

  • And in a similar vein, we know that for some policies, the impact is a product of how the law changes behavior. For example, studies show that one of the reasons that lax CCW laws increase crime is that there are more gun thefts from cars and lower police clearance rates for violent crimes. In other words, the mechanism isn't as simple as bad law leads to more violence. Rather, the bad law influences more people to carry guns, which leads to more guns being left in cars, which leads to more thefts of guns, which are then used in crime. And when there is more crime with stolen guns, crime is harder to solve, meaning the people are not held accountable which increases their risk of subsequent crime. This might sound convoluted, but the ways that policies impact our behavior also take time to fully manifest and may not be fully apparent in just the months after a law is passed. 

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