Properly implemented firearm access policies are effective at reducing injury, study finds

Firearms and bullets lay on a wood surface.

When evidence-based firearm injury prevention policies such as extreme risk protection orders are implemented properly, they can play a significant role in preventing gun-related injuries and death, according to a new scientific policy review led by the University of Michigan Institute for Firearm Injury Prevention.

The study, published in The Annals of the American Academy of Political and Social Science, reveals common challenges in implementation processes for firearm injury prevention policies.

In order to determine a policy's effectiveness, researchers found it's crucial to carefully consider and identify gaps in the processes of granting and enforcing extreme risk protection orders, or ERPOs, and domestic violence restraining orders, DVROs, and other firearms safety policies and laws.

Policies should utilize evidence-based strategies that seek to restrict access to firearms  for individuals who are deemed to be at high risk for future firearm violence, or be considered a danger to themselves or others. Purchaser licensing laws are a way to enforce those restrictions by requiring that an individual obtain a license from local authorities to purchase a firearm.

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According to the review, in many states that have passed ERPO laws, the number of petitions issued has been low due to unfamiliarity with the law, lack of knowledge about when to petition for an ERPO and confusion around necessary evidence needed to issue the petition. 

Similarly, DVRO laws that include a firearm restriction see varied outcomes based on whether they include dating partners and temporary orders, and whether the court is authorized to order relinquishment of firearms  already possessed, the researchers say. 

Although laws that include these provisions are associated with a 12%-14% decrease in total intimate partner homicide, more data is necessary to determine whether the laws further reduce firearm  violence risk, if and when they are fully implemented, they say.

"It is inarguable that more research is needed on both the implementation and outcomes of these gun safety laws," said April Zeoli, associate professor of Health Management and Policy at Michigan Public Health, and policy core director at the Institute for Firearm Injury Prevention.

"However, the research that we currently have is compelling. Research has shown that well-implemented firearm policy that is based on evidence-based risk factors can be effective in reducing all types of firearm injury."

The findings also show that, when implemented properly, background checks at point of sale keep those prohibited from possessing a firearm from obtaining one. However, states that adopt these laws do not necessarily see a decrease in rates of violence, indicating inadequate implementation processes. Purchaser licensing laws, however, see more robust decreases in firearm  violence rates.

Each policy has been found to have unique challenges, most notably inconsistent enforcement, that likely decrease effectiveness compared to policies that have been fully and properly implemented as intended.

Zeoli and colleagues also note that future work in this space should identify and assess relationships between firearm injury prevention policies and whether and how a combination of policies can best identify and restrict firearm  access to high risk individuals in an equitable way to prevent firearm injury and death.

Written by Kate Barnes, Office of the Vice President for Research


Destiny CookDestiny Cook

Senior Public Relations Specialist
University of Michigan School of Public Health