Reducing gun violence: Stanford scholars tackle the issue

UPDATED: March 24, 2021

After recent shootings at a grocery store in Boulder, Colorado, and at a spa in Atlanta, Georgia, many Americans are asking, yet again, how to prevent future acts of senseless violence from occurring. Concerns are being raised about the causes and solutions to gun violence: Why are so many people killed each year by guns? What gun laws need to be changed? How can Second Amendment rights be balanced with firearm safety? 

Stanford scholars have been studying these issues from a range of perspectives, including law, politics, economics and medicine. Here are some of their findings.

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Reducing Gun Violence

Many Americans are demanding practical steps to reduce gun crime. One way is to have more stringent gun safety policies, such as legislation requiring guns to be stored safely, more stringent background checks, or as President Biden announced Tuesday, a federal ban on assault weapons and high-capacity magazines. 

Research has shown that states with tighter policies save lives: one study by Stephanie Chao found that states with stricter gun laws have lower rates of gun deaths among children and teenagers, and states with child prevention access laws are linked with fewer gun suicides in this age group.

“If you put more regulations on firearms, it does make a difference,” said Chao, assistant professor of surgery and senior author of the study. “It does end up saving children’s lives.” Her analysis found that states with the strictest laws had a mortality rate of 2.6 per 100,000 and for states with the least strict laws, mortality rate was almost double at 5.0 per 100,000.  

John Donohue: One tragic week with two mass shootings and the uniquely American gun problem

In a Q&A, Stanford Law School gun law expert John J. Donohue III discusses mass shootings in the U.S., the challenges facing police when confronting powerful automatic weapons and the prospect of gun safety laws.

Lax state gun laws linked to more child gun deaths

States with strict gun laws have lower rates of gun deaths among children and teenagers, and laws to keep guns away from minors are linked with fewer gun suicides in this age group, a Stanford study found.

Improved gun buyer background checks would impede some mass shootings, Stanford expert says

Stanford Law Professor John Donohue says a background check system that was universal and effectively operated could impede gun acquisition by people who commit mass shootings.

How to solve more gun crimes without spending more money

Simple tweaks to how police process bullet casings could dramatically improve their forensic data.

Reducing civilian firepower would boost police and community safety, Stanford expert says

In addition to restricting the firepower a person can amass, Stanford law Professor John J. Donohue advocates efforts to build trust between communities and law enforcement agencies as a way to enhance both police and citizen safety.

crime scene tape with blurred forensic law enforcement background in cinematic tone and copy space
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Causes, impacts of gun violence

Uncovering the causes of gun violence has been a challenge, in part because research is limited by federal legislation that limits research funding on the issue. Stanford scholar Nigam Shah at the Stanford School of Medicine (SoM) has written about how this has affected empirical study. But that has not deterred scholars from examining its impacts. David Studdert, also at SoM, has studied the devastating consequences of gun violence, particularly the risks it poses to public health.  

Maya Rossin-Slater, an assistant professor of medicine and a faculty fellow at the Stanford Institute for Economic Policy Research (SIEPR), has also looked at the long-term impact of gun violence, specifically among American children who experienced a shooting at their school. Rossin-Slater found that they have higher rates of absenteeism, lower high school and college graduation rates, and  by their mid-twenties, earn lower incomes.

Below is some of that research. 

New study of gun violence in schools identifies long-term harms

Research from SIEPR’s Maya Rossin-Slater finds that students exposed to school shootings face 'lasting, persistent' adversity in their educational and long-term economic outcomes.

Disconnect: The gap between gun violence and research in numbers

Gun violence is much discussed but little studied, largely due to federal decisions governing research funding. A new analysis highlights just how big the gap between the violence and our knowledge of it is. The answer? It's huge.

Panel discusses how shootings affect those unscathed by bullets

A panel of faculty members at the School of Medicine said shootings can affect the mental health of people close to the violence.

California handgun sales spiked after two mass shootings

In the six weeks after the Newtown and San Bernardino mass shootings, handguns sales jumped in California, yet there is little research on why – or on the implications for public health, according to a Stanford researcher.

Mass Shootings: Public Face of a Much Larger Epidemic

While mass shootings have become the public face of gun violence, they account for less than 1% of the 40,000 firearm deaths each year.  

Short-term hospital readmissions for gun injuries cost $86 million a year

A study from Stanford researchers has found that readmissions account for 9.5 percent of the $911 million spent annually on gun-injury hospitalizations.

The silent cost of school shootings

SIEPR’s Maya Rossin-Slater finds the average rate of antidepressant use among youths under age 20 rose by 21 percent in the local communities where fatal school shootings occurred.

New study analyzes recent gun violence research

Consensus is growing in recent research evaluating the impact of right-to-carry concealed handgun laws, showing that they increase violent crime, despite what older research says.

Handgun ownership associated with much higher suicide risk

Men who own handguns are eight times more likely to die of gun suicides than men who don’t own handguns, and women who own handguns are 35 times more likely than women who don’t.

The silent cost of school shootings

SIEPR’s Maya Rossin-Slater — in collaboration with fellow economists Molly Schnell and Hannes Schwandt — finds that fatal shootings have a lingering impact on the mental health of those who survive them. Watch the videos explaining this work.

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Gun Legislation and Policy

For nearly three decades, Law Professor John Donohue III has studied what can be done to prevent gun violence in the United States. A lawyer and economist, Donohue explores how law and public policy are connected to gun violence, including how gun laws in the U.S. compare to other countries, as well as how legislation varies across the states, to better understand the effect that has on rates of violence. 

“The U.S. is by far the world leader in the number of guns in civilian hands,” Donohue explained. “The stricter gun laws of other “advanced countries” have restrained homicidal violence, suicides and gun accidents – even when, in some cases, laws were introduced over massive protests from their armed citizens.” 

Here are some of his findings, and other research related to legislating gun safety in the U.S.

Another mass shooting: An update on U.S. gun laws

In a Q&A, Donohue discusses gun safety law and legislative developments.

Violent crime increases in right-to-carry states

Stanford Law School Professor John Donohue found that states that adopted right-to-carry concealed handgun laws have experienced a 13 to 15 percent increase in violent crime in the 10 years after enacting those laws.

How US gun control compares to the rest of the world

While deaths from mass shootings are a relatively small part of the overall homicidal violence in America, they are particularly wrenching. The problem is worse in the U.S. than in most other industrialized nations. And it is getting worse.

4 gun control steps U.S. needs now

Donohue pens an opinion piece for CNN laying out four steps the United States should take to strengthen gun legislation.

Stanford GSE holds teach-in on research into gun violence in schools

Education scholars look at the evidence behind policy ideas to address school shootings.