Publication Date: 
Sunday, July 12, 2009

The Problem: Firearms are the second leading cause of injury and deaths in the United States accounting for 30,896 deaths and 71,417 injuries in 2006. Over 80 percent of teen homicides and almost half of teen suicides involved a gun in 2005.  CDC: WISQUARS.  Overall, more than half of all homicides involve a gun. US Department of Justice: Crime Statistics

The Law: Federal, state, and local laws prohibit specific firearms and ammunition. These bans often apply to firearms and ammunition viewed as exceedingly dangerous and not regularly used for hunting (e.g., hollow point bullets in New Jersey, N.J.S. 2C:39-3(f)). In 1994 Congress passed the Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act (VCCLEA), which proscribed the manufacture, transfer, and possession of semiautomatic assault weapons and large capacity magazines. VCCLEA expired in 2004. State laws have also targeted guns disproportionately involved in crimes, such as inexpensive, small-caliber handguns (e.g., “Saturday night specials,” in Massachusetts, 140 MGL 123501 CMR 7.00) and assault pistols (e.g., MD Crim Code §4-303 (Maryland)). In 1976, Washington D.C. banned the transfer and possession of all handguns (DC ST §§7–2502.01(a), 7–2502.02(a)(4)). Provisions of this law were found unconstitutional in District of Columbia v. Heller, 128 S.Ct. 2783 (2008).

The Evidence: Hahn et al. reviewed nine studies that measured the impact of state or local bans on specific firearms and ammunition.Hahn, et al. Firearms laws and the reduction of violence: a systemic review. Am J Prev Med. 2005;28(2S1):40-71. Five of the studies examined the impact of the Washington D.C. handgun ban; one study examined the impact of the VCCLEA provisions banning assault weapons and large capacity ammunition; and one measured the impact of a ban on Saturday night specials. Outcomes measured included intentional firearm injury, gun-related suicide, and unintentional firearm injury. The remaining studies measured the proportion of banned firearms (Saturday Night Specials and assault pistols) in Maryland among all firearms involved in crimes. Although there was some positive evidence suggesting a link between VCCLEA and reductions in homicides and between the banning of Saturday Night Specials in Maryland and reduction of such guns in Maryland crime, the studies also found inconsistent results. Based on the findings and the limited number of primary studies, the reviewers concluded that there is currently not enough evidence to validate the effectiveness of bans on specific firearms and ammunition as a public health measure.

The Bottom Line: In the judgment of a Community Guide expert panel, there is insufficient evidence to establish the effectiveness of such bans as public health interventions aimed at reducing gun-related harms.

Additional Information: A new firearms research database launched by the Harvard School of Public Health makes scholarly articles more accessible to reporters, law enforcement, public health officials, policymakers, and the general public. The Firearms Research Digest  provides summaries of articles gathered from social science, criminology, medical and public health journals and is written in clear, accessible language for use by those outside academia.

The website currently covers six years of research published between 2003 and 2008. The digest will be expanded over time to include articles from 1988 to the present.

Additional Resources: Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and FirearmsThe Firearms Research Digest

Impact: Uncertain