What Gun Laws Work?

The research is not as robust as you'd think.

In what’s surely a futile effort, Andrew R. Morral, head of RAND’s Gun Policy in America initiative, tries to cut through the emotional and ideological arguments about guns laws with evidence. Alas, the effort is underwhelming.

We have reviewed thousands of scientific articles to identify those that credibly estimate the effects of 18 different gun laws that are commonly debated in state legislatures. In particular, we have looked for evidence that these laws caused changes in one of the outcomes of interest — not just that they are correlated with these outcomes (because mere correlation is poor evidence of causation). Several policies, we find, do have substantial support in the scholarly literature — with child access prevention legislation, also known as CAP laws, or safe storage laws, boasting some of the most potent evidence about effectiveness. Studies make clear that CAP laws decrease self-injuries and suicides among youths in states that adopt them, and also decrease unintentional injuries and deaths. Yet only 19 states have such laws.

Policies requiring firearms owners to keep guns in safes or other places where children can’t access them would not have changed events in Uvalde, but they deserve strong consideration by any legislators concerned about gun deaths. It’s an unfortunate fact that mass shootings are sufficiently rare that it is hard to establish with scientific rigor whether policies affect them — although some laws that reduce gun violence in general may also reduce mass shootings.

We had firearms around the house when I was growing up. While they were not locked in a safe, they were certainly kept out of reach.

Yet, while this seems like a no-brainer solution—it has no impact on one’s ability to go hunting or otherwise engage in shooting sports—the obvious rejoinder is “Well, what if a criminal breaks into the house in the middle of the night and I need my gun to protect my family?!” Rationally, the odds of this happening are pretty slim in comparison to those of killing someone in the family by accident. The idea that you’re going to be a hero when startled awake, successfully engaging the perpetrator in the dark while flushed with adrenaline—rather asinine. But it’s a widely-held fantasy that ostensibly motivates keeping a loaded firearm at the ready.

Of course, we should not expect to implement laws only for which we have strong scientific evidence. Often — usually — no such evidence is available. Even when it is, failure to find a statistically significant effect does not mean the law has no effect: It usually means the study wasn’t strong enough to say what the law’s effects might be. When no rigorous evidence of law effects is available, policymakers and the public instead must rely on logical considerations (for example, is it plausible that restrictions on magazine capacity might reduce the carnage mass shooters cause?) and weaker evidence (such as correlations).

You’re writing a column for a national newspaper about what research shows is effective and can’t get past one policy change before moving on to conjecture? That’s . . . really not helpful.

The results of Rand’s regularly updated and ongoing review of evidence might be, at first glance, underwhelming: Most of the gun policy effects for which we sought evidence have not been evaluated or haven’t been evaluated well enough to draw strong conclusions from. The two problems — weak studies or no studies — are related: For decades, we in the United States have underfunded research and data collection efforts that could help us establish the effects of gun laws and other firearm violence prevention interventions. (In fact, for nearly a quarter-century, almost no federal funding was available for research in this area, for political reasons.)

Well, okay. But, for example, RAND is a federally-funded research center that has had a Gun Policy in America initiative headed by you for the last six years. What have you been doing if not researching gun policies?

As mentioned, where positive effects are concerned, child access prevention laws have the strongest evidence in their favor. (According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 842 children younger than 18 died in firearms accidents or firearms suicides in 2020, and a larger number were injured, though some of these casualties were at the hands of older people.) Meanwhile, the research is similarly persuasive that “Stand your ground” laws are associated with an increase in firearm homicides, and there is moderate evidence suggesting they also drive up total homicides after their passage. “Stand your ground” laws remove the traditional obligation to avoid using deadly force in a conflict if retreat is a safe option. Such laws have been popular in recent years, and by now more than half of all states have implemented them.

Okay, how we’re getting somewhere. We have a second policy. And, like the first one, it’s one that I intuitively support. While I think people should have a right to defend themselves when being attacked, I agree that they shouldn’t just be able to haul off and shoot people simply because they’re scared. It makes sense to expect people to flee to safety if that’s an available alternative. As with the requirement to lock up firearms, it wouldn’t solve the problem of spree shootings. But, while those are what get the headlines, they’re a pretty small chunk of firearms deaths.

There is less robust, but still notable, evidence for the effects of other laws. Since the mid-1990s, all states have required background checks for firearms purchased from a licensed dealer. There is mounting evidence that these checks decrease homicides. Although almost half of U.S. states have some form of “universal” background check laws, which also require checks for sales between private parties, the effects of these laws are not yet well established. There is also moderately strong evidence that waiting period laws (found in fewer than half of all states) decrease firearm suicides and homicides, and that laws prohibiting firearms possession by people with domestic-violence restraining orders — variants of which are present in most state laws — decrease intimate partner homicides.

These policies all seem reasonable. Since the overwhelming number of people who purchase firearms through legal channels will not use them in a homicide, waiting periods and background checks are a nuisance. But, presuming they’re legitimately being used to screen for those with a history of violence or mental illness or to allow someone who is simply angry or depressed to cool off, they’re a pretty small burden. And, yes, if your behavior is so erratic that a magistrate has issued a restraining order, you probably shouldn’t be in possession of firearms.

Other policies — such as assault weapons bans of the sort the United States had in place for the 10 years after 1994 — don’t yet provide enough scientific evidence to indicate what their effects might be. That is not to say that these laws do not have effects, only that they have not been rigorously demonstrated. By some definitions, for example, mass shootings declined in the United States during the period of the federal ban, but because mass shootings remain, at least in a statistical sense, relatively rare, and because rates of mass shootings highly variable from year to year, there are methodological challenges to reliably detecting even fairly strong effects for these laws.

There is at least anecdotal evidence that the kind of individual who is going to engage in mass shootings is attracted to military-style weapons. Certainly, a lot of the highest-profile shooters have used AR-15 variants. Considering that they’re actually fairly lousy weapons for sporting use, I’m not opposed to banning or at least seriously restricting their use. But, at the end of the day, they’re just regular, semi-automatic rifles that look scary.

Some people who argue about guns are simply never going to be swayed by scientific evidence regarding firearms policies, but many citizens and lawmakers are willing to take sound evidence into consideration. We have extraordinary levels of firearms violence in this country — but also research-proven ways to reduce it.

Alas, the column doesn’t provide much evidence. How many deaths would gun safes, registration requirements, cooling-off periods, and the abolition of “stand your ground” laws prevent? Presuming we could pass them into law (I know, we can’t) I’m willing to find out. But I’m guessing the impact would be relatively small.

FILED UNDER: *FEATURED, Guns and Gun Control, US Politics, , , , ,
James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College and a nonresident senior fellow at the Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security at the Atlantic Council. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm vet. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.

Comments

  1. Tony W says:

    This is America – everything is about money, so that’s the American approach for gun laws too.

    Fine people for the illegitimate use of their guns. Make them purchase insurance (or demonstrate financial capability, perhaps by posting a bond), and let the insurance companies decide the risk of insuring people who don’t lock up their guns.

    Mandatory registration, confiscation of unregistered weapons until ownership can be determined, mandatory reporting of lost and stolen weapons to release liability for their use, etc.

    We have to go after their money. It’s the American way.

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  2. OzarkHillbilly says:

    Alas, the column doesn’t provide much evidence.

    As the GOP made sure of for 25 years: “An awful lot of untouched questions.” The state of U.S. gun violence research

    In the past two weeks, the United States has seen two horrific high-profile mass shootings: A racially motivated attack at a Buffalo grocery store left 10 dead on 14 May, and a shooter at an elementary school in Uvalde, Texas, killed 2 adults and 19 children on 24 May. Guns are now the number one cause of death in U.S. children, overtaking automobile accidents, according to data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

    For years, researchers including Rebecca Cunningham, an emergency room physician and gun violence researcher at the University of Michigan, have been sounding the alarm on the need for more scientific study of the causes of gun violence and ways to prevent it. But “historically, funding was very kneecapped,” says Cunningham, because beginning in 1996 Congress barred the CDC from spending money “to advocate or promote gun control.” In 2020, however, lawmakers set aside $25 million for the CDC and National Institutes of Health (NIH) to study the issue.

    “Now, there is some money for this research — but it’s still massively underfunded,” Cunningham says, especially compared with research for cancer or other diseases that kill children. ScienceInsider recently spoke with Cunningham about the current state of U.S. gun violence research and what she thinks is needed. The conversation has been edited for length and clarity.

    Don’t shoot the messenger because he can’t cite much specific evidence, James. There is precious little by design.

    eta: and as far as I can find in what little googling I am willing to invest on a Sunday morn, that $25 million in 2018 is all that has been appropriated for study of gun violence. I would expect there is more since then, But the few pieces I read this AM don’t mention any.

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  3. EdB says:

    “But, at the end of the day, they’re just regular, semi-automatic rifles that look scary.” I’m not sure what a “regular semi-automatic rifle” is, but I have read that military type assault weapons do a lot more damage to a body than other guns. Any comments on this from people who know something about it?

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  4. Sleeping Dog says:

    Something that has been left out of research in the effectiveness of particular gun policies is that Congress has restricted the Feds from collecting particular types of data. Also the fact that at the state level, we have 50 different takes on gun control and easy interstate trafficking in guns, makes evaluating state level policies nearly impossible.

    For years, Virginia was the place to go to purchase guns in order to avoid the tougher gun laws in the northeast. Though I don’t know if that is still the case.

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  5. Lounsbury says:

    @Tony W: Not unique to America, but from afar analytically the levers you highlight would seem pragmatic and more realisable than the direct controls: although attention to being effective in communications.

    Mandating insurance with legal minimum levels of coverage or otherwise subject to significant fines, etc. would on its face appear rather harder to oppose – and of course an added lever for law enforcement for illegal ownerships. The analogy with automobiles would appear to be a reasonale foundation.

    Rather than continously playing political Don Quixote aiming for what in the end is impossible goals, recentre efforts on achievable paths (and of course inoculate yourselves with political sales rhetoric aimed not at your own pre-sold base but the semi-floating margins).

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  6. gVOR08 says:

    Ozark and Sleeping were typing while I was Googling the Dickey Amendment. One should also note that the pro-gun side has even less evidence. They’re reduced to, “I got my Second Amendment rights.” because they’ve got nothing else. Unlike other rights, it’s hard to see how, except for tender fee fees, anyone is really harmed by being denied a gun. Exceptions are generally made for legit hunting, target shooting, and people like diamond couriers. As James notes, home defense is essentially a chimera. In this case it’s OK to err on the over-restrictive side.

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  7. Argon says:

    In fact, for nearly a quarter-century, almost no federal funding was available for research in this area, for political reasons…

    One suspects that the NRA and the manufacturers it represents already have a good idea that the evidence doesn’t point to “more guns make us safer”.

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  8. Lounsbury says:

    @EdB: Bullets do damage, not the rifle itself, so that is a nonsensical assertion, technically incorrect and incoherent.

    The specific type of ammunition [bullets] is rather more important (as for example, illustratively armour penetrative versus soft point for greater tissue damage, etc). Also important is of course the calibre (size potential ammunition chambered), but modern military calibres are not out of keeping with hunting.

    The ability to rapid fire (that is semi-automatic) is distinguishing and not an ability that is per se useful for hunting for food (or sport except perhaps if you’re blasting away in a captive reserve). As are high capacity cartridges, the utility of which is essentially for war/comat, not hunting.

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  9. CSK says:

    As I pointed out yesterday, the best news the pro-gun crowd ever got was the revelation post-Uvalde that the police, contrary to their motto, have no duty to protect you. None.
    You’re on your own. So what’s the solution? Get a gun to protect yourself.

    That’s how this is going to play out. The NRA must be jumping for joy.

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  10. Matt Bernius says:

    @EdB:

    I’m not sure what a “regular semi-automatic rifle” is, but I have read that military type assault weapons do a lot more damage to a body than other guns. Any comments on this from people who know something about it?

    For the sake of definitions:
    Semi-automatic generally means that the act of firing and discharging bullet loads the next bullet into a firing position. However, another pull of the trigger is needed to fire the bullet.

    Fully-automatic means that the gun will continue to fire so long as there is ammunition and the trigger is depressed.

    @Lounsbury is right that ammunition is an important component. My understanding is that gun construction also matters as it adds or detracts from the velocity of the bullet leaving the gun. The AR-15 platform is a high-velocity platform. That plus specific types of ammunition lead to the need to use DNA to identify remains because so many of the children’s bodies were destroyed or disfigured beyond visual recognition.

    To the broader point about “looks” the reality is that the internal mechanics of the gun matter for than the external trappings. So you can buy AR-15s that look like an average person’s imagining of a traditional hunting rifle. You can also buy tacticool ones that look like what we imagine an “assault weapon” to look like. Exact same platform, just different skins.

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  11. Matt Bernius says:

    James wrote:

    Well, okay. But, for example, RAND is a federally-funded research center that has had a Gun Policy in America initiative headed by you for the last six years. What have you been doing if not researching gun policies?

    To be fair to RAND, as with criminal legal system data, the public data that exist for gun-related injuries and deaths are really, really messy, often incomplete, and dispersed.

    Additionally, its hard to control for additional variables, like how to handle data collected from areas of a State that border another State which has more lax regulations.

    And while RAND is partially funded by Federal Grants, an until 2019 those couldn’t be used to fund this research. So that potentially impacted the size of that research team. More on that underfunding here: https://abcnews.go.com/Politics/decades-long-gap-gun-violence-research-funding-lasting/story?id=80646946

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  12. Sleeping Dog says:

    @Matt Bernius:

    There was a comment on the Bulwark last week from an individual who seems knowledgeable in firearm design. He pointed out several aspects of gun construction that are mostly unique to military weapons, though he ID’d 4 rifles that are considered hunting/sport weapons that have one or more of those features. None of these features had to do with the look of the weapon and all either the ammunition or the firing mechanism. His point was to move AR-15 style weapons into the catagory of full machine guns so they can be restricted to those with proper licensing.

  13. Lounsbury says:

    @Matt Bernius: It is worth noting that full automatic is itself depracated in military usage itself for personal arms as ammo wasteful.

    Otherwise, while yes the arm itself can effect the damage potential of the ammunition, the ammunition itself is more the driver – high velocity armour penetration ammunition typically passes through with less damage, and that would be quite regardless of the weapon firing.

    If there is a public safety aspect, rather than focus on the “tacticool” aspects (as one sees often wiht Lefty and journo comment) it would be more practical to focus on those features that have no genuinie application to hunting (or even home defence in theory) but are aimed at combat (and thus fundamentally mass casaulty).

    Otherwise with respect to data and research – really this strikes me as entirely a mirage concern. So what? Do you all really think more data, more research would really in any substantive fashion change anything about your politico-cultural problem here?

    It strikes me as magical thinking given other similar issues.

    Rather than dreaming of being Europe, one should rather recentre to more pratical paths that might be genuinely achievable (and also to pursue with preparation to sell such outside of one’s pre-sold urban-centric base audience, the really poor job the US Left does in own-project sales is quite a transversal one. Whinging on about how the media is against you rather doesn’t solve anything, true or not)

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  14. Matt Bernius says:

    @Sleeping Dog, I am honestly not familiar enough with the AR-15 platform or guns in general to respond to that proposal in any intelligent way. The other Matt is our resident expert on that.

    My uneducated opinion is that if you are going to effectively regular it is probably better to focus on internals of the gun versus externals like certain types of stocks or accessories.

  15. drj says:

    You’re writing a column for a national newspaper about what research shows is effective and can’t get past one policy change before moving on to conjecture? That’s . . . really not helpful.

    Very, very few laws are enacted based on rigorous scientific research. It’s not the norm at all. So this makes perfect sense:

    Of course, we should not expect to implement laws only for which we have strong scientific evidence. Often — usually — no such evidence is available. Even when it is, failure to find a statistically significant effect does not mean the law has no effect: It usually means the study wasn’t strong enough to say what the law’s effects might be. When no rigorous evidence of law effects is available, policymakers and the public instead must rely on logical considerations (for example, is it plausible that restrictions on magazine capacity might reduce the carnage mass shooters cause?) and weaker evidence (such as correlations).

    Unless, of course, one is in urgent need for an excuse to do nothing.

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  16. drj says:

    As to the question how much damage a guns does, the applicable equation is F= mv^2, i.e., the amount of lethal or wouding force is a function of the mass of the bullet times its velocity squared.

    Hence, the most important aspect when it comes to damage (apart from rate of fire) is velocity. Mass is far less important. Thus, a 9x19mm parabellum (a typical handgun round) does less damage than 5.56×45 NATO (the standard round for AR-15-type rifles.

    What is easiest to regulate, however, (if hunting should remain possible) is rate of fire. The practical rate of fire of an AR-15, being lighter and having less recoil, is far greater (especially with a large magazine) than that of an M1 (the standard US WW2 service rifle – also a semi-automatic weapon), let alone a bolt-action rifle.

    The ability to kill many people at once mostly depends on the amount of lead in the air at any given time.

  17. Slugger says:

    Australia. If you are interested in the impact of weapon regulation.

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  18. @Slugger: Indeed. To answer this question requires comparative study.

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  19. wr says:

    @Lounsbury: Wow. Lounsbury goes from smug and condescending when he says this:

    “Bullets do damage, not the rifle itself, so that is a nonsensical assertion, technically incorrect and incoherent.”

    to smug and condescending when he says he opposite:

    “Otherwise, while yes the arm itself can effect the damage potential of the ammunition,”

    without even pausing for one second to concede that his first smug and arrogant message was flat wrong or — what a wild and wacky thought — apologizing for being smug and condescending to someone who was right when he was wrong.

    Just when you thought a gun discussion couldn’t get more tedious…

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  20. Lounsbury says:

    @drj: This “how much damage a guns does, the applicable equation is F= mv^2, i.e., the amount of lethal or wouding force is a function of the mass of the bullet times its velocity squared.” is incorrect as significantly and materially over-simplifying.

    The damage a bullet does depends on the degree to which its energy is transmitted to the impacted body for very significant differences. A high mass and high velocity hard bullet (such as armour penetrating) that passes clear through flesh and even bone can and does do materially less damage than a softer and potentially less mass bullet which ‘mushrooms’ or flattens on impact, transmitting in this fashion significantly more energy (as in destroying flesh).

    A mass and velocity calculation is far too simplistic. The nature of the actual bullet construction and most particularly if it is designed for maximizing flesh damage by mushrooming and shattering (unlike the typical hunting bullet)…

    In any case, indeed rate-of-fire is a point of regulation as it is a feature that is essentially combat – killing humans at speed and numbers – feature of no real utility in hunting or even home defence.

    3
  21. Matt Bernius says:

    @wr:
    Glad I wasn’t the only one who read it that way. I just have come to expect that from him.

    For the record, my intent wasn’t to correct him. I just wanted to add some additional context as I understood it… hence my saying “Lounsberry’s correct… and”.

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  22. Lounsbury says:

    @wr: Well your bizarre personal obsession with me combined with your impoverished reading skills once again lead to bizarre rant that is entirely wrong.

    The quoted statements are not in any way in contradiction. The second merely notes that the actual physical characteristics of a weapon have some efffect (illustratively, length of barrel) but the damage factor is really resolves principally to the ammunition itself not whether it is a military rifle or a hunting rifle. Concern over the form of the gun is a point of Lefty obsession that is an ongoing failure point … but insofar as it is obvious you prefer high morale dungeon and performative outrage theatrics, well….

    Regardless there is no contradiction, only your pathetically incompetent reading skills combined with your pathetic obsession with myself for some queer reason that rather escapes me.

    @Matt Bernius: well really mate, it did not pass my mind, this all rather seemed to me to be refining an observation, not correction, so additional comment and context.

    1
  23. Michael Cain says:

    @Lounsbury:

    A mass and velocity calculation is far too simplistic. The nature of the actual bullet construction and most particularly if it is designed for maximizing flesh damage by mushrooming and shattering (unlike the typical hunting bullet)…

    For big game, my state requires expanding bullets and sets minimums for caliber, bullet mass, and impact energy at 100 yards. The 5.56x45mm crowd has lobbied unsuccessfully for years that sufficient muzzle velocity is a cure-all…

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  24. CSK says:

    @Lounsbury:
    I think you mean “high moral dudgeon,” as opposed to “high morale dungeon.”

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  25. Just nutha ignint cracker says:

    @Lounsbury:

    recentre efforts on achievable paths

    Good advice. Now all we need are some achievable paths. At the moment, the achievable path seems to be to accept that Americans are selfish and bloodthirsty in sufficient numbers that burying large numbers of school children is simply a cost of doing business here.

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  26. Just nutha ignint cracker says:

    “Exact same platform, just different skins.”

    Thank you. Under other circumstances, this information would be important in a practical sense in addition to the metaphysical sense it has in abstract. In another America in an alternate universe, this information is probably being used to help define what an assault weapon is or for some similar purpose.

    It just isn’t going to happen here.

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  27. Jim Brown 32 says:

    @drj: This, rate of sustained and concentrated fire is the primary predictor of the outcome of an exchange. Its the reason man-carried weapons moved from automatic fire to burst (3 rounds per trigger pull) fire. Automatic fire gives you superior rate but at the expense of concentration due to barrel rise.

    The only legislative options available are to limit the availability of semi-auto rifles or the capacity of the magazines which ultimately limits the rate of fire. Otherwise the gun industry will manufacture rifles that look different but do the exact same thing the black scary ones do. The AR-15/47 platforms are not the sole platforms that can effectively conduct assaults.

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  28. Just nutha ignint cracker says:

    @Lounsbury: If I were in my usual snarky mood, I would note that “it did not pass my mind” explains a lot more of what you say than any of us account for, but this topic depresses me to the point of trying to be a better person, so I’m not going to note that today.

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  29. Michael Cain says:

    Bloomberg recently ran an article interviewing a couple of researchers who have done analysis of long-term data posing the question of which state laws had an effect of reducing either mass shooting frequency or mass shooting fatalities. Their five effective laws were: permitting, universal background checks, extending the crimes covered by such checks to include some violent misdemeanors, red flag laws, and magazine size limits. Interestingly, they found that banning AR-15 style rifles didn’t have a significant effect.

    I thought some of what they found about background checks interesting. Two in particular struck me. The first was the need to include serious violent misdemeanors because so many initial felony charges are plea-bargained down to misdemeanors. The general subject of plea-bargaining is discussed here from time to time, I believe. The other was just how sloppy some jurisdictions are about getting the information into the databases used for the checks.

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  30. gVOR08 says:

    Lethality of bullets is, as noted above, complicated. There are, for instance, “cop killer” bullets designed to penetrate body armor. Assault rifles put a lot of spin on the bullet, so as it starts to drop, the bullet stays a little nose up, causing it to tumble when it hits flesh, creating way more damage. Assault rifles are pretty much defined by selectable full auto fire AND a compromise cartridge, larger than a pistol cartridge but smaller than, say, a WWII M1 rifle’s .30-06 cartridge. This compromises effect at long range, where the average soldier can’t hit anything anyway, in favor of being able to carry more ammunition.

    Regulating lethality is infeasible. The clear line is semi-automatic, as applied in Canada and Australia. Banning semi-auto would also ban the handguns favored by gang bangers. I’m good with using school shootings to push restrictions. It’s akin to using highly visible tigers to fund protecting ecosystems. But semi-auto pistols do a lot more damage and should be the priority. (I’m not much of a gun nerd, but apparently terminology has shifted. Pistol used to include pretty much any handgun. Now apparently pistol means semi-auto and excludes revolvers.)

    There’s a long list of possible restrictions. I’d favor a ban on advertising, a la cigarettes and mandatory liability insurance, along with repealing the gun manufacturers special exemption from liability. We’re a litigious capitalist country, let that do the work. The Uvalde shooter apparently had 200+ rounds on him. 200 .30-06 in eight round M1 clips would be a lot harder to carry and force a lot more reloading. But it’s hard to see how any restriction does actual harm to anyone and anything might help a little. Any regulation on guns at all breaks the taboo and, hopefully, leads to a slippery slope toward rationality.

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  31. Matt Bernius says:

    @Just nutha ignint cracker:

    Thank you. Under other circumstances, this information would be important in a practical sense in addition to the metaphysical sense it has in abstract. In another America in an alternate universe, this information is probably being used to help define what an assault weapon is or for some similar purpose.

    In my attempt to understand people who oppose regulation or “assault weapon bans” I have done my best to really dig into their arguements. And with few exceptions, I think they have a point that too often the bans focused on exterior traits of weapons (i.e. a pistol grip or only allowing x number of modifications) versus the internal mechanics. Ultimately they often focus more on “black scary guns” to @Jim Brown 32‘s point.

    On that note, JB wrote:

    The only legislative options available are to limit the availability of semi-auto rifles or the capacity of the magazines which ultimately limits the rate of fire.

    Limiting the capacity of magazines (as has been done in a number of states) is something that I definitely support. Especially since, in a number of recent mass shootings, the shooter was stopped during reloading.

    Here is the article that @Michael Cain is referring to:
    https://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2022-05-25/to-curb-mass-shootings-require-gun-permits-and-set-magazine-limits

    I thought some of what they found about background checks interesting. Two in particular struck me. The first was the need to include serious violent misdemeanors because so many initial felony charges are plea-bargained down to misdemeanors.

    This is very much the case. And part of the challenge is that the initial charging isn’t typically recorded in court outcomes. I have mixed feelings about this from a criminal legal system reform perspective, in so much as initial overcharging is so frequent in our system. I also worry about the further criminalization of misdemeanors (which already have so many existing collateral consequences). I also see the public safety argument on that.

    The other was just how sloppy some jurisdictions are about getting the information into the databases used for the checks.

    Yup, which also makes actual gun research so hard as well.

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  32. Matt Bernius says:

    Also TY @gVOR08 for pointing out that pistols are actually an even bigger issue in the US in terms of gun crime and should be included in any gun safety legislation.

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  33. James Joyner says:

    @gVOR08:

    Assault rifles are pretty much defined by selectable full auto fire

    While the early incarnations of the M-16 had a full-auto capability, the versions issued over the last 30-odd year have not. But the civilian AR-15 variants have never had fall-auto. As noted upthread, while useful for suppressive fire, it’s just a giant waste of ammunition. Even with crew-served machine guns like the M-60, we were trained to fire off short bursts, both to save ammo and to improve accuracy.

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  34. Matt Bernius says:

    @James Joyner:

    But the civilian AR-15 variants have never had fall-auto.

    Correct. This also gets into the confusion between “assault rifles” (which I believe are defined by having various select fire modes) and “assault weapons” which have been defined by various legislative means (often, in gun control opponents’ opinions, very arbitrary ways with a focus on “scary black guns”).

    No one seems to be able to agree with who came up with “assault weapons” as a category nor does anyone seem to agree on the definition. People often use the two interchangeably and it ends up derailing gun safety combinations (much like when someone uses “clip” when they are talking about a “magazine”).

  35. MarkedMan says:

    @Lounsbury: You are digging your hole deeper. A high velocity bullet can turn the meat in a body to mush as it “passes cleanly through”.

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  36. Scott says:

    @Tony W: That’s the approach I’ve been pushing. Any expenses for “hardening” schools, training teachers, hiring security, etc have to be fully funded by taxes on weapons and ammo.

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  37. Kari Q says:

    I’ve noticed that those who argue that the kind of gun used doesn’t have any impact on the amount of injury done to a person shot will also turn around and talk about how gun x has far more “stopping power” than gun y. I always wonder if they think “stopping power is completely unrelated to injury inflicted.

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  38. Michael Cain says:

    @Matt Bernius:
    Well, we’ll see if it makes any difference. Here in Colorado we’ve had at least our share of mass shooters. We also now have four of the five recommended laws. (Won’t get the fifth without some ballot action, as it’s a pretty safe bet any sort of “permitting” will run afoul of the state constitution’s ban on registration.)

    The majority of the red flag cases have been filed by local police, who are almost always successful at getting a court order. There’s no statistics, but the cases I’ve seen in the paper read very much like the police thinking, “All these guns. The guy’s been drinking. Next time we have to answer a domestic violence call here, he may be shooting.” Also at least suggestions that in those cases the guy’s lawyer is advising him that they have a court date related to child visitation or similar coming up, so “We’re trying to make you look reasonable and responsible. Voluntarily surrender the f*cking guns for a year.”

  39. EdB says:

    …so my “nonsensical assertion, technically incorrect and incoherent” had the desired effect. Lots of good discussion here, some by people who seem to have some knowledge. BTW I do know what a semi-automatic weapon is, but the idea of a class of gun as a high velocity ‘platform” is new to me. Thanks for the discussion…

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  40. Kathy says:

    I’m far from learned on the subject, but one issue with high kinetic energy* rounds is cavitation. Not enough attention is paid to this issue. Often the temporary cavity created by a high speed round does more damage than the round itself.

    * BTW one half the mass multiplied by the square of the speed.

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  41. Just nutha ignint cracker says:

    I always wonder if they think “stopping power is completely unrelated to injury inflicted.

    I’ve always assumed it was because people don’t want to connect the two factors unless they’re dealing in “shop talk.” Luddite always used to connect “stopping power” and “injury inflicted” when talking about the hand-load cartridges he used to make from his spent shells. Of course, he was talking about potentially needing to shoot someone at the store where he worked graveyard (no pun intended).

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  42. Matt Bernius says:

    @EdB:

    the idea of a class of gun as a high velocity ‘platform” is new to me.

    For a bit more context, as I understand it, because the AR-15 patent expired in 1977, it essentially became a “platform” because the specs were public domain and that led to a significant amount of customization possibilities. So many see it as a foundation to build on and customize.

    For more details, see:
    https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/AR-15_style_rifle

  43. Hal_10000 says:

    I wouldn’t be so dismissive of the RAND study. It is the first in 15 years to try to look at gun control systematically. Their data clearly show that child access, background checks and repealing SYG laws would work, but that other policies don’t have a lot of evidence behind them.

    And there *have* been lots of studies — thousands of them. But the quality of them ie extremely poor. Or most of them are politically motivated and so sift through the data to cherry pick stats that show gun controls law work (the Bloomberg folks) or don’t (Lott).

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  44. Flat Earth Luddite says:

    @Jim Brown 32:

    The only legislative options available are to limit the availability of semi-auto rifles or the capacity of the magazines which ultimately limits the rate of fire.

    Uh, maybe I’m more delusional than usual, but didn’t we have such a limitation in place? Oh wait, we did, from 1994-2004 (although the underlying law was idiotic, IMNSHO)

    https://www.ncjrs.gov/txtfiles/billfs.txt