Background Checks & Mandatory Waiting Times: Reviewing the Current State of Research on Firearm Laws’ Effectiveness, Part 2

Continuous (social) media coverage of the perceived higher mass shootings rate in the U.S. compared to European nations persists after each mass shooting in the country. In addition, general controversy exists surrounding the claims that U.S. gun ownership is the primary factor driving their high homicide rate, as well as claims that “common-sense gun legislation” is an effective way to mitigate this high homicide rate. In an attempt to clear the confusion and misinformation often arising in oft-heated discussions of this topic, I have analyzed all papers mentioned in the meta-analysis conducted by Santaella-Tenorio et al. (2016). People online engaged in a debate are often curious about extensive volumes research on the effectiveness of firearm legislation and suspicion often exists of possibly biased and/or cherry-picked articles on this topic by critics of their position. In such scenarios, a quick reference to meta-analysis could often be beneficial.

Their review of the current state of research concerning the effectiveness of firearm legislation on a variety of social factors is condensed by me into easy-to-read tables in order to offer readers a quick way to access the current consensus on academic literature with respect to any particular form of gun legislation. I have excluded all papers solely analyzing the association of firearm legislation with suicide rates, considering that general controversy is mainly focused on the perceived relation between gun-ownership and homicide rates. For similar reasons, I have excluded research purely focusing on the rate of firearm homicides without mentioning the overall homicide rate. Any reasonable definition of effective gun legislation should not be focused on merely shifting the means of homicide from firearms to alternative weapons. On the contrary, if the high gun-ownership rate—or the lack of regulation of firearms—is related to its high overall homicide rate, then it logically follows that effective firearm legislation would be negatively related with this homicide rate.

Part 1: Right-to-Carry & Stand Your Ground Laws

Part 3: Canadian Gun-Control

Part 4: Assault-Weapon Bans & Low-Quality Guns


The forms of legislation that are reviewed in Part 2 of the article are three-fold. First, research pertaining to the effectiveness of state-level background checks for gun-purchasers is reviewed. In addition, research in relation to state-level mandatory waiting times is similarly reviewed. Finally, the relation of the Brady Act in relation to overall homicide rates in the U.S. is analyzed. The Brady Act, officially known as the “1994 Brady Handgun Violence Prevention Act”, was a form of legislation that instituted federal-level background checks on firearm purchasers from federally licenses dealers, manufacturers, or importers. Prohibitions to sell include the following persons:

“Prohibitions applied to an individual convicted in any court of a crime punishable by imprisonment for a term exceeding 1 year, fugitives from justice, unlawful user of or addicted to any controlled substance, persons with mental conditions or committed to a mental institution, a person being unlawfully in the United States, a person with a court restraining order for domestic violence, or convicted in any court of a misdemeanor crime of domestic violence.” (Brady Handgun Violence Prevention Act)

 

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Table 1. Relation between mandatory waiting periods and background checks with the overall U.S. homicide rate

 

Effectiveness of Background Checks

A reasonable volume of literature has been devoted to the analysis of background check effectiveness on both local and federal levels. When research about both the Brady Act and more local forms of legislation are pooled, it is found that five out of six studies point to a lack of association between background checks and the overall homicide rate. A single one out of these five studies, despite finding no association with standard background checks, instead finds that complete firearm purchase bans for people listed as having a mental illness are related to a lower homicide rate. The sixth study written by LaValle (2007) finds the Brady Act—which combines background checks with mandatory waiting times—to be associated with a lower homicide rate.

The current state of research thus generally finds general background checks to be an ineffective method in reducing overall homicide rates in the U.S. However, a small volume of research suggests that focusing background checks on people with mental illnesses could have possible potential in the reduction of the homicide rate. In any case, additional research is certainly warranted before definite claims about the effectiveness of such legislation can be made. This is especially important considering that the majority of research suggests background checks to be ineffective as a whole.

Effectiveness of Mandatory Waiting Times

The academic analyses of mandatory waiting times are concluded in the same manner as analysis pertaining to background checks. Again, the act of pooling together research about local- or state-level waiting time legislation and the Brady Act is performed. Out of the total of six studies on the subject, five conclude that mandatory waiting times are not related to the overall homicide rate. Again, the same study by LaValle (2007) points to the negative association between the Brady Act and the overall homicide rate.

In conclusion, five out of six studies about mandatory waiting times point to a general lack of association with the U.S. homicide rate. Again, more research on the topic is warranted before definite scientific conclusions can be reasonably drawn. However, as of yet, the majority of research once more points to a lack of effectiveness of mandatory waiting times in reducing overall homicide rates, which could be an important deviation from the general perception that this form of legislation increases public safety with respect to murders. The same conclusion can be drawn with respect to background checks legislation.


References

  1. Brady Handgun Violence Prevention Act. Pub. L. No. 103-159, 107 Stat. 1536-1546.
  2. Kleck G, Patterson EB. The impact of gun control and gun ownership levels on violence rates. J Quant Criminol. 1993;9(3):249–287.
  3. La Valle JM. Rebuilding at gunpoint: a city-level re-estimation of the Brady law and RTC laws in the wake of hurricane Katrina. Crim Justice Policy Rev. 2007;18(4):451–465.
  4. Lott JR, Mustard DB. Crime, deterrence, and right-to-carry concealed handguns. J Legal Stud. 1997;26(1):1–68.
  5. Ludwig J, Cook PJ. Homicide and suicide rates associated with implementation of the Brady Handgun Violence Prevention Act. JAMA. 2000;284(5):585–591.
  6. McDowall D, Loftin C, Wiersema B. Easing concealed firearms laws: effects on homicide in three states. J Crim Law Criminol. 1995;86(1):193–206.
  7. Ruddell R, Mays GL. State background checks and firearms homicides. J Crim Just. 2005;33(2):127–136.
  8. Santaella-Tenorio, J., Magdalena, C., Villaveces, A., Galea, S. Epidemiologic Reviews. 2016: 38(1): 140-157
  9. Sumner SA, Layde PM, Guse CE. Firearm death rates and association with level of firearm purchase background check. Am J Prev Med. 2008;35(1):1–6.
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