States with the highest amount of gun laws have the lowest amount of gun-related deaths, according to a new study published in JAMA Internal Medicine.
Researchers from Boston Children’s Hospital examined gun related fatalities laws in all 50 states from 2007-2010. Fatalities, including homicides and suicides, ranged from a high in Louisiana of 17.9 per 100,000 people to a low in Hawaii of 2.9 per 100,000.
To measure the effect of gun laws per deaths, they gave each state a “firearm legislative strength score” on a scale of 0 to 28 based on the number of laws enacted. Massachusetts had the highest score of 24; Utah came in at 0. Massachusetts had a fatality rate of 3.4 per 100,000.
“We found an association between the legislative strength of a state’s firearm laws — as measured by a higher number of laws — and a lower rate of firearm fatalities,” said Dr. Eric Fleegler, the study’s lead author and an emergency department pediatrician and researcher at Boston Children’s Hospital. “The association was significant for firearm fatalities overall and for firearm suicide and firearm homicide deaths, individually.”
According to the Associated Press, Fleegler is among hundreds of doctors who have signed a petition urging President Barack Obama and Congress to pass gun safety legislation, a campaign organized by the advocacy group Doctors for America.
In addition to Hawaii, which had 16 gun laws, New Jersey, New York and Massachusetts were among states with the most laws and fewest deaths. States with the fewest laws and most deaths included Alaska, Kentucky, Louisiana and Oklahoma.
Researchers used data from the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence, which has tracked firearm legislation annually since 2007. They found that higher legislative strength scores were associated with lower household firearm ownership; and higher percentage of household firearm ownership was associated with higher rates of overall firearm fatalities.
The states in the top quartile of gun regulation — those with a “gun score” between 9 to 24 — had 6.64 fewer firearm-related deaths per 100,000 relative to the bottom quartile — score between 0 to 2.
Prior to this study, most of the research had focused on specific laws, not the combined effect of all gun laws. For example, a study evaluating the Brady Act, which mandates background checks for firearm purchases, found a reduction in suicides for people aged 55 years or older was much stronger in states that had both waiting periods and background checks.
But that specific law by itself did not show a significant reduction in overall homicides and suicides, especially considering background checks are relatively easy to avoid at places like gun shows or private sales.
The new study — focusing on the combined effect of multiple restrictions — found that states with the most laws had a 37 percent lower rate of suicides by firearm and a 40 percent lower rate of homicides compared with those with the fewest laws.
“Critics of gun laws have said that gun laws don’t work, but our research indicates the opposite,” Dr. Fleeger told the Boston Globe. “In states with the most laws, we found a dramatic decreased rate in firearm fatalities, though we can’t say for certain that these laws have led to fewer deaths.”