The Rand Corp. has put a death toll on last year’s gun rights Supreme Court ruling, calculating that more permissive concealed-carry permit laws would lead to at least 150 additional firearms deaths each year.
In research released Thursday, Rand modeled combinations of state gun laws to calculate their relative lethality and came up with estimates for the lives that would be saved — or lost — if they were to change their policies.
Analysts said the biggest lifesaving change would be to require strict child access laws. If those were expanded to all 50 states, it could save nearly 1,500 lives a year, mostly by reducing the number of suicides. More than 48,000 people died from firearms in 2021, including suicides, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Ohio, Georgia and Pennsylvania could each register 100 fewer deaths a year by adopting that single change, according to Rand’s model, which gives state-level projections for current gun laws and what would happen if they were changed.
Universal background checks, age restrictions and waiting periods would be less effective than child access laws, Rand said.
Making all states adopt restrictive policies would result in a significant, though not massive, change in firearms death rates.
“If all states adopted restrictive firearm-access and carrying laws, firearm deaths would decline by 5 to 10 percent in most states,” Rand concluded. “This effect is driven by reductions in firearm suicides, although firearm homicides are also expected to decline in most states.”
Going the other way with more permissive laws “would be expected to increase firearm deaths in most states, but especially in those states that currently have more-restrictive firearm laws.”
Rand built its model by looking at state laws over four decades and calculating mortality rates based on the types of firearms laws in each state. It then built a tool to project how changing those laws would affect mortality.
It found that states in the Northeast and along the West Coast had lower rates of firearms deaths. States in the South and Mountain West had rates that were “especially high.”
Putting a death toll on the Supreme Court’s ruling was the most surprising of Rand’s findings.
In a 6-3 decision, the justices ruled in June that the Second Amendment’s guarantee of a right to bear arms means states cannot impose unwarranted restrictions on who can obtain a concealed-carry permit.
The ruling was aimed at New York and a handful of other states with restrictive policies, requiring permit-seekers to demonstrate a “good” reason, subject to state judgment, why they felt they needed a permit.
If states don’t figure out a way to circumvent the ruling, Rand said, they can “expect their firearm death rates to increase by 3 percent; it would raise the national firearm death rate by more than 150 deaths.”
In New York alone, it could mean roughly 30 more deaths, according to Rand. Most of those additional deaths would be homicides. Rand says the state’s current baseline is about 1,050 firearms deaths each year.
Mark Oliva, managing director of public affairs at the National Shooting Sports Foundation, said Rand didn’t study other options for reducing gun deaths, such as stricter enforcement of laws on the books.
“They’re not including efforts to increase prosecution of those who are committing crimes with firearms,” he said. “They’re only talking about increasing laws to propel gun control laws forward.”
He said it’s wrong to conflate homicide and suicide deaths because they often involve different circumstances.
“Suicide is a much more complicated issue than just saying, ‘It’s the gun,’” Mr. Oliva said.
He said the NSSF, which is backed by the firearms industry, works with the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention on ways to prevent those tragedies.
Mr. Oliva also said NSSF’s Project ChildSafe has over the years provided 40 million cable locks to help people voluntarily secure their weapons.
“These are not issues that the industry is blind to. We take a very proactive approach to ensuring those that shouldn’t have their hands on firearms don’t get them,” he said.
He said that is more effective than the child access prevention laws, which he said are unconstitutional under a 2008 Supreme Court ruling on Second Amendment rights.
The National Rifle Association questioned Rand’s attempt at modeling.
“It’s unsurprising the social scientists are unhappy with a Supreme Court decision that made clear our constitutional rights don’t depend on which side can concoct a more convincing ‘scientific’ model,” said Amy Hunter, director of media for the NRA’s Institute for Legislative Action.
“This most recent attempt by Rand to claim that they can accurately predict outcomes that depend on numerous known and unknown variables is exactly why this type of analysis should not be, and now, thanks to the Supreme Court, is not, part of the analysis on an important matter of public policy,” she said.
Rand said it looked at a limited set of options.
On the restrictions side, options included child access laws, universal background checks, waiting periods and minimum purchase ages. On the permissive side, they included concealed-carry and stand-your-ground laws.
The authors said they chose those options because states had experimented with policy changes over the years to produce enough data to draw conclusions.
Rand said Mississippi has the worst firearms mortality rate, at 101% higher than the national average. Its suicide rate is 27% higher, but its homicide rate is 186% higher.
The District of Columbia’s overall rate was 71% higher than the average, but that masked major differences between suicides, which were 80% lower than the average, and homicides, which were a staggering 274% higher.
Virginia and Maryland had firearm mortality rates that roughly matched the national average.
In Virginia, the homicide rate was slightly lower and the suicide rate was slightly higher.
Maryland, with stricter gun control policies, was the reverse. Its suicide rate was significantly lower than the average and its homicide rate was nearly 50% higher than the average, at 8.7 deaths per 100,000 people.