Publication Date: 
Saturday, November 14, 2009

The Problem: Firearms are the second leading cause of injury deaths in the United States accounting for 30,896 deaths and 71,417 injuries in 2006. CDC: WISQUARS.  Annually, firearm injuries generate life-time medical costs of roughly $2.3 billion. Cook PJ, Lawrence BA, Ludwig J, Miller TR. The medical costs of gunshot injuries in the United States.JAMA. 1999;282:447-454.

The Law: State and local legislators have sought to reduce the use and illegal possession of firearms by implementing firearm registration and licensing requirements. Firearm registration requires that a record of firearm ownership be kept. Firearm licensing requires individuals to obtain government authorization before purchasing a firearm.  For examples of state gun registration laws, see ARS § 13-3101 (Arizona) and N.Y. PEN § 400.00 (New York).  For examples of state licensing laws, see 430 ILCS 65 (Illinois) and MGL c.140, § 131, 131 F (Massachusetts).

The Evidence: Hahn et al. reviewed five studies that measured the impact of licensing laws and or registration laws on violent outcomes. Hahn, et al. Firearms laws and the reduction of violence: a systemic review. Am J Prev Med. 2005;28(2S1):40-71. The review defined violent outcomes as specific violent crimes (all murder, aggravated assault, robbery, and rape), firearm-related suicide, and unintentional firearm injury. Due to inconsistent and statistically insignificant findings in the limited underlying studies, the reviewers concluded that there is currently not enough evidence to determine the effectiveness of registration and licensing requirements as public health interventions aimed at reducing gun-related harms. 

The Bottom Line: In the judgment of a Community Guide expert panel, there is insufficient evidence to validate the effectiveness of firearm licensing and registration requirements as legal interventions aimed a reducing fire-arm related harms.

Additional Information: The Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms provides online access to firearm laws for the fifty states.

Additional Resources: Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms

Impact:  Uncertain