By Dan Kennedy • The press, politics, technology, culture and other passions

Data shows that certain gun control measures may bring down mass shootings

We are all horrified that we may be entering into a new period of mass shootings. Following a lull of about a year, probably related to the COVID lockdown, we’ve seen two in a week. Eighteen people have been killed by the shooters in Georgia and Colorado.

President Biden has called for new gun control measures. Would they work? Last night on CNN, U.S. Sen. Chris Murphy, D-Conn., said the ban on assault weapons that was in effect from 1994 to 2004 did indeed bring down the number of mass shootings. Cause and effect is tricky, of course. But did the law actually coincide with a period of fewer such crimes?

According to an analysis by Glenn Kessler of The Washington Post, the answer is yes. The assault-weapon ban, combined with a ban on large-capacity magazines (LCMs), did indeed help. In addition, my Northeastern colleague James Alan Fox has shown that state bans on LCMs and mandatory background checks are  associated with fewer mass shootings.

So what are we going to do about it?


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  1. Steve Ross

    This isn’t rocket science. MA gun death rate is 3.4 per 100,000 per year. RI, NY and NJ have similar low levels. Many red states have rates six or seven times higher. Aside from various automatic weapons bans, magazine limits and so forth, all the low-death states have one thing in common: Local police have a big say in whether you get a license to own a firearm.

    I know first-hand it can be a pain in the neck. I raised my family in NJ. When we built a replica muzzle loader, we had to file and be licensed by the local police.

    Small price to pay. In general, police (especially in smaller communities) know who the troublemakers are, who the unbalanced are, and what the real dangers to families might be. Is it perfect due process? Probably not. Is there a huge effect on felony murders by drug dealers and so forth? Probably not (they get their guns license-free anyway, often from straw buyers accommodated by Republican states). But there is a huge effect on mass shootings and on suicides.

    I’m not sure what to do about states where hunting is common and rural varmints are common. In New England, gun death rates in ME, NH and VT are triple the rates in MA and RI for instance. THAT is an argument for some federal bans and more localized state rules.

    BTW, some might say that if I hunted, I would say otherwise. I have hunted, with a bow. I do not have a Bambi complex. Some might say that if I lived in Harlem, I’d say otherwise. My wife and I, in a normal year, spend a third of our time living in Harlem.

    • Dan Kennedy

      Way back when, I was covering a medium-size town in Greater Boston. There was a well-known guy, kind of a police groupie, well-meaning, definitely dealing with some sort of mental issues. The police chief told me that he had applied for a gun license repeatedly, and he was never going to get one. As you say, no due process, but there’s no question that the public interest was served.

      • Steve Ross

        And the guy’s interest was served as well.

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