States with More Gun Laws Have a Lower Rate of Firearm Fatalities

March 6, 2013

Boston, Mass.—In the United States, the states with the most firearm legislation have the lowest rates of firearm-associated deaths overall, as well as the lowest rates of firearm-associated suicides and homicides, according to a new study by Boston Children’s Hospital. The states with the most laws have a mortality rate 42 percent lower than those states with the fewest.

“Our hope is this study will help inform the ongoing public debate related to firearms,” says Eric Fleegler, MD, MPH, of Boston Children’s Hospital, lead investigator of the study published online March 6 and in the May 15 issue of JAMA Internal Medicine.

The study is the first to look at the relationship between firearm legislation and firearm-associated fatalities state by state between 2007 and 2010.

Fleegler and fellow researchers from Boston Children’s Hospital, Harvard Medical School and Harvard School of Public Health, analyzed all firearm-related deaths reported to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and data on state firearm legislation aggregated by the Brady Center to Prevent Gun Violence.

Between 2007 and 2010, firearms were responsible for 31,224 to 31, 672 fatalities a year, with an average annual death rate ranging from a high of 17.9 per 100,000 individuals in Louisiana to a low of 2.9 per 100,000 in Hawaii. In 2010, firearms killed 68 percent of the homicide victims and 51 percent of the suicide victims.

 “We found that the states with the greatest number of laws not only had dramatically lower firearm-associated homicide rates, but dramatically lower firearm-associated suicide rates as well,” says Fleegler.

Findings from the study include:

  • States with the most firearm legislation had a 42 percent lower overall firearm-associated mortality rate than states with the least legislation.
  • The firearm-associated homicide rate was 40 percent lower, and the firearm-related suicide rate 37 percent lower, in states with the most legislation.
  • There was no increase in non-firearm-associated fatalities in states with the most firearm legislation as compared to states with the least legislation.
  • The types of legislation associated most clearly with decreasing rates of firearm-related homicides and suicides involved universal background checks and requiring permits to purchase firearms.
  • States with the most firearm laws had the lowest levels of household gun ownership.

Fleegler notes that the study did not determine cause and effect, but instead established the association between firearm laws and firearm fatalities.

Compared to states with the fewest laws, in states with the most there were 6.25 per 100,000 fewer firearm deaths from suicide and 0.40 per 100,000 fewer firearm deaths from homicide.

“Though the numbers may appear small, with 300 million people living in our country that adds up to thousands of people each year who may not have died if they lived in states with the most gun laws,” says Fleegler.

The other authors of the study are Lois K. Lee, MD, MPH; Michael C. Monuteaux, ScD; David Hemenway, PhD; and Rebekah Mannix, MD, MPH.

Meghan Weber
Boston Children's Hospital

Boston Children’s Hospital is home to the world’s largest research enterprise based at a pediatric medical center, where its discoveries have benefited both children and adults since 1869. More than 1,100 scientists, including nine members of the National Academy of Sciences, 11 members of the Institute of Medicine and 12 members of the Howard Hughes Medical Institute comprise Boston Children’s research community. Founded as a 20-bed hospital for children, Boston Children’s today is a 395-bed comprehensive center for pediatric and adolescent health care grounded in the values of excellence in patient care and sensitivity to the complex needs and diversity of children and families. Boston Children’s also is a teaching affiliate of Harvard Medical School. For more information about research and clinical innovation at Boston Children’s, visit: