Universal background checks on firearm and ammunition purchases and the implementation of firearm identification would reduce national firearm mortality rates, according to a Thursday study by Lancet Global Heath.
In the report titled “Firearm legislation and firearm mortality in the USA: a cross-sectional, state-level study,” researchers analyzed a dataset from Nov. 1, 2014 until May 15, 2015 of firearm-related deaths in each state for the years 2008 to 2010. They also evaluated the 25 firearm state laws implemented in 2009 and examined state-specific characteristics that may factor into firearm mortality such as unemployment rate.
Out of the 29 state laws analyzed, 24 are applied in Massachusetts.
Universal background checks would potentially reduce firearm death rates by 57 percent, Bindu Kalesan, a co-author of the study, wrote in an email. Combined with background checks on ammunitions, the rate would drop by 83 percent, she wrote.
“The key message of this study is that comprehensive background checks, if implemented on a national level, may reduce gun deaths,” Kalesan, a professor at the Boston University School of Medicine, wrote. “Using the data we collected and the model used in this study, we predicted the potential change in national gun death rates with the federal-level implementation of all these three effective laws.”
Some firearm control laws are not as effective because laws vary by states, creating certain issues when people bring guns across state lines, Kalesan wrote.
“This may nullify the effect of the existing background check law if there is such reciprocity,” Kalesan stated. “Therefore, it is prudent to have a federal level background check law to reduce gun deaths across all states.”
Gun control is a complex and multifaceted issue, argued Sandro Galea, another one of the study’s co-authors. Though gun control laws are associated with unwanted consequences, Galea added that they do not cause harm.
“There is a compelling argument for legislation to limit the number of guns in the United States,” said Galea, dean of the BU School of Public Health. “What we are trying to do is to say impartially and seriously and soberly which of these legislation might work. It is an effort to make sure that engaging in effective legislation is a national priority.”
Several BU students said universal gun control is necessary to ensure the safety of gun owners and innocent people. Leo Huang, a freshman in the College of Arts and Sciences, said though people should be able to own guns, a proper education on usage is crucial before anyone can purchase a gun.
“[A] gun is something you will use for your own protection,” Huang said. “There should be a huge background check and a mandatory teaching section before you can buy a gun. It will be much safer to buy or use [guns].”
Gurvir Dhaliwal, a senior in the Questrom School of Business, said the best method to control guns is to reduce the supply and demand of the firearm market.
“[The government] should not just use background checks to make it harder to obtain a gun, but to make it hard to get gun licenses,” he said. “If there [are] less guns available, if less people can get guns, whether the guns [are] sold legally or illegally, the market will be smaller.”
Claire Sheehan, a freshman in the College of General Studies, said she is in favor of more background checks, as guns have become easier to purchase compared to products that have been deemed less dangerous.
“Sometimes it is hard to police guns, especially in the rural areas,” Sheehan said. “I just hear on the radio all the time, people are getting shot for seemingly no reason. Something is wrong with how guns are being handled.”
The problem is, a number of well-respected gun mortality researchers not connected to the effort just aren’t buying it.
“Briefly, this is not a credible study and no cause and effect inferences should be made from it,” Daniel Webster, director of the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg Center for Gun Policy & Research, told the Washington Post.
Webster went on to tell the UK’s Guardian, “You have to do some really bizarre mental gymnastics to explain what they’re seeing here.”
David Hemenway, a professor of health policy at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, explained the laws cited by Kalesan’s group aren’t that strong and the predicted impact of dropping gun deaths by 90 percent is wildly optimistic.
“I would just be flabbergasted; I’d bet the house if you did [implement] these laws, if you had these three laws and enforced them really well and reduced gun deaths by 10 percent, you’d be ecstatic,” said Hemenway.
A third researcher, James Alan Fox, a professor of criminology at Northeastern University, argued that in other countries that have adopted harsh gun control schemes, which included massive buybacks and destruction of privately owned firearms, such dramatic declines in firearms deaths were not observed.
“Look at countries with very strict gun laws and low homicide rates, such as Australia,” Fox told the Christian Science Monitor, “and if we reduce our gun deaths by 90 percent, we might even get lower than them, and that’s not realistic because there are other reasons for our high homicide rates, aside from guns.”