Strong Gun Laws Save Kids’ Lives

(Bloomberg Opinion) -- The National Rifle Association is mounting another round of information warfare, this time against a proposal in the House of Representatives to require background checks on all gun sales. As the talking points fly, it’s worth recalling the growing body of evidence that finds close correlation between more rigorous gun laws and greater public safety.

One of the more recent studies in this vein comes from researchers associated with Stanford University, who tested the relationship between state gun laws and firearm-related fatalities among children and teens. Firearm-related mortality is the second-leading cause of pediatric death in the United States.

The variation among states is wide. Hawaii had 0.45 such deaths per 100,000. Alaska had 7.55 per 100,000 — more than 16 times higher. Hawaii has some of the strongest gun laws in the nation, including widespread registration of guns, while Alaska has some of the flimsiest.

The Stanford researchers used a grading system for state gun laws in effect at the end of 2014, measuring from least rigorous to most rigorous, and specifically noted whether states had child access prevention laws in place to impose liability on adults when a child gains unsupervised access to their guns. In the quartile of states with the least stringent laws, youth firearm-related mortality was roughly twice that in the quartile of states with the most stringent laws, holding other things constant.

In other words, the vast gap in safety between Hawaii and Alaska was part of a larger pattern. More stringent laws are associated with lower mortality among children and teens. Likewise, firearm suicide rates were significantly lower in states that had child access prevention laws than in states without them. What’s true of gun laws and youth mortality is true of gun laws and mortality more generally. The states with the weakest laws have higher rates of gun deaths than states with stronger laws.

Gun violence is complex, and understanding it requires much more research. For example, the New England states of Maine, New Hampshire and Vermont all have relatively weak gun laws but still have lower rates of gun death than states with similar laws, suggesting other factors are involved. But the weight of evidence on gun violence increasingly confirms the common-sense conclusion: More guns plus less regulation equals more needless deaths.

Editorials are written by the Bloomberg Opinion editorial board.

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