Research Supports Tighter Gun Laws to Reduce Mass Shooting Violence

March 24, 2021

In response to the deadly shootings in Atlanta on March 16 and Boulder on March 22, President Joseph R. Biden called for tougher gun laws to reduce mass shooting violence. “I don’t need to wait another minute, let alone an hour, to take commonsense steps that will save lives in the future and to urge my colleagues in the House and Senate to act,” said President Biden. In particular, he urged Congress to enact tighter restrictions on assault weapons and large-capacity magazines.

Members of Columbia University’s Scientific Union for the Reduction of Gun Violence (Columbia SURGE),  have conducted research related to measures proposed by President Biden, including on the impact of state gun laws and the Federal Assault Weapons Ban of 1994; the use of high-capacity magazines in high fatality shootings; and the effects of exposure to gun violence on children.

A 2019 study by Paul Reeping and Charles Branas of the Columbia Mailman School of Public Health and colleagues at Boston University and the University of Pennsylvania, published in the British Medical Journal (BMJ), found that U.S. states with more restrictive gun laws experience mass shootings at a significantly lower rate than states with more permissive gun laws. Specifically, the study found that “a 10 unit increase in state gun law permissiveness was associated with a significant 11.5 higher rate of mass shootings.”

Research conducted by Louis Klarevas of Teachers College, Columbia University, for his book Rampage Nation: Securing America from Mass Shootings found that during the 10-year period that the Federal Assault Weapons Ban of 1994 was in effect (September 13, 1994-September 12, 2004), the United States experienced a 37 percent decrease in high-fatality mass shooting incidents and a 43% decrease in high-fatality mass shooting deaths, in comparison to the 10-year period immediately preceding the federal ban. Immediately following the federal ban’s expiration, the U.S. experienced a 183 percent increase in high-fatality mass shooting incidents and a 239 percent increase in high-fatality mass shooting deaths. The Washington Post reviewed the research in a 2018 article

In subsequent research, published in 2019 in the American Journal of Public Health, Klarevas and his colleagues from Quinnipiac University and Harvard University found that the use of large-capacity magazines in high-fatality mass shootings resulted in a 62% increase in deaths, compared to incidents that did not involve magazines holding more than 10 bullets. They also found that, after accounting for population, jurisdictions that did not have LCM bans in place experienced a 129 percent increase in the incidence rate and a 206 percent increase in the fatality rate of high-fatality mass shootings.

The implications of these types of legislative restrictions are also significant as schools and communities contend with the ramifications of exposure to gun violence on the health and well-being of children in the wake of these most recent mass shootings. Indeed, a 2019 study published in the Journal of Behavioral Medicine by Sonali Rajan of Teachers College, Charles Branas, and their SURGE colleagues underscored the impact of this kind of violence on child development. In their research, they noted the critical importance of increasing access to needed resources for children affected by gun violence, whether directly or indirectly.