Effectiveness of Firearm Restriction, Background Checks, and Licensing Laws in Reducing Gun Violence

Published date01 November 2022
AuthorApril M. Zeoli,Alexander D. Mccourt,Jennifer K. Paruk
Date01 November 2022
Subject MatterThe Efficacy of Interventions
118 ANNALS, AAPSS, 704, November 2022
DOI: 10.1177/00027162231165149
Effectiveness of
Checks, and
Licensing Laws
in Reducing
Gun Violence
We present the rationale behind four types of laws that
restrict access to firearms for those who are deemed to
be a high risk for future gun violence and two types of
laws that implement firearm purchase prohibitions. We
also present evidence on the effectiveness of these
laws. Broadly, these are laws that restrict access for
domestic violence abusers, individuals convicted of
misdemeanor violence, and individuals at high risk of
violence against themselves or others. We briefly dis-
cuss relinquishment of firearms by those who are newly
restricted, but we focus mainly on how purchase
restrictions are implemented by the federal govern-
ment and across states. Extant research shows that
well-implemented firearm policy that is based on
evidence-based risk factors can be effective in reducing
firearm injury.
Keywords: firearms; background checks; extreme risk
protection orders; domestic violence;
homicide; suicide
In 2016, the U.S. was among the nations with
the highest rate of firearm deaths, including
having the second highest rate of firearm sui-
cides (The Global Burden of Disease 2016
Correspondence: azeoli@umich.edu
April M. Zeoli is an associate professor in the School of
Public Health and the director of the Policy Core for the
Institute for Firearm Injury Prevention at the University
of Michigan. Her main field of investigation is the effec-
tiveness of firearm policies that restrict high-risk indi-
viduals from purchase and possession of guns and those
that facilitate the implementation of firearm restriction
Alexander D. McCourt is an assistant professor in the
Department of Health Policy and Management at the
Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health. His
research focuses on the relationships between law and
public health, including the effects of firearm policies
on population health outcomes.
Jennifer K. Paruk is a PhD candidate in the School of
Criminal Justice at Michigan State University. Her
research interests include public health and criminal
justice policies related to violence prevention.
Injury Collaborators 2018). In 2020, the firearm homicide rate dramatically
increased from an age-adjusted rate of 4.59 per 100,000 in 2019 to 6.19 per
100,000, while the firearm suicide rate continued to hover around the high of
7.00 per 100,000 (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention [CDC] 2022).
Gun violence is a major public health problem in the U.S., and public health
problems need population-level solutions. Among the population-level solutions
employed to combat gun violence are laws that restrict high-risk individuals from
possessing or purchasing firearms.
The logic behind laws that restrict individuals deemed to be high risk from
accessing firearms is based on two main premises. The first premise is that there
are identifiable behavioral risk factors for future violence. For example, individu-
als who are high risk for suicide often signal their intent (Bagge et al. 2022; Rudd
et al. 2006), providing an opportunity for intervention. Similarly, past interper-
sonal violence is predictive of future interpersonal violence (Campbell et al.
2003; Wintemute et al. 1998). Some predictors of future violent behaviors may
therefore be threats of suicide or interpersonal violence, criminal convictions for
violence, and restraining orders put in place due to risk of violence.
The second premise behind restricting access to firearms for high-risk indi-
viduals is that firearm access increases risk of suicide and homicide for those
individuals (Anglemyer, Horvath, and Rutherford 2014; Campbell et al. 2003). If
someone engages in behaviors that indicate a risk of future violence against
themselves or others, preventing their access to firearms could reduce their risk
of suicide and homicide. Laws that restrict firearm access for high-risk individu-
als are, therefore, a logical approach to reduce firearm violence. While some
high-risk individuals may voluntarily relinquish or transfer their firearms, only
the legal system has the authority to disqualify an individual from firearm pur-
chase and possession, either temporarily or permanently, and to legally remove
firearms from prohibited persons’ possession.
In this article, we first present the basis for and the evidence regarding four
types of firearm-restriction laws. Each of these laws prohibits high-risk individu-
als from purchasing and possessing firearms, but they do this using different
criteria and in different ways. Two of the laws we discuss are granted through civil
courts and are temporary prohibitions: extreme risk protection orders (ERPOs)
and domestic violence restraining orders (DVROs). Once these orders are lifted,
the firearm restriction is also lifted. The other two firearm-restriction laws that
we discuss are mandated through criminal misdemeanor convictions for domes-
tic violence, which has a relationship requirement and is a lifetime prohibition,
or more general violence, which does not have a relationship requirement and is
often in place for a set number of years.
While these laws hold promise in reducing firearm deaths, and indeed there
is evidence supporting their effectiveness, the prohibitions against possession and
purchase need to be fully implemented to meet their potential. Included in our
discussion of these firearm restriction laws are common implementation issues,
including requiring that the prohibited person relinquish any firearms and
ammunition they already possess. We then focus on the better-studied preven-
tion of illegal purchase through background checks at the point of sale and

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