Hundreds Shot Dead Every Year Because States Don’t Have Waiting Periods

Most send you home right away with a brand-new gun, and people are getting murdered because of it, a new study shows.
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Guns in America

Waiting periods save lives. A legally mandated delay imposed by some states, which makes would-be gun owners pause before actually getting a firearm, lowers rates of murder and suicide. 

While this nexus may seem as logical as night following day, a new study released this week proves it. Published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, Harvard Business School researchers Michael Luca, Deepak Malhotra and Christopher Poliquin found that waiting period laws reduce homicides in which a gun is used by 17 percent.

“Our results imply that the 17 states (including the District of Columbia) with waiting periods avoid roughly 750 gun homicides per year as a result of this policy,” said the study, which focused on laws in place during the 1990s. “Expanding the waiting period policy to all other U.S. states would prevent an additional 910 gun homicides per year without imposing any restrictions on who can own a gun.”

No mandatory waiting period will get in the way of methodical killers who plan for months or years to gun people down. Anger-fueled, spur-of-the-moment trips to the gun store are what these laws protect against. In addition to helping reduce rates of gun-related homicides, the study, published Monday, also determined that waiting periods were linked to a 7 percent to 11 percent decrease in gun suicides. A study published in 2015 also found gun laws linked to lower rates of gun suicides. “When you make a highly lethal method of suicide harder to access, you’re going to lower the suicide rate,” Michael D. Anestis, the study’s lead author, told the New York Times when the research was published. “We need to emphasize evidence-based gun safety among gun owners.”

The Harvard Business School researchers reviewed the history of waiting period laws from 1970 to 2014 and tracked firearm-related deaths through data kept by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The data was controlled for “changing economic and demographic factors that may be correlated with higher levels of gun violence or with the decision of lawmakers to adopt policies that delay gun purchases,” according to the study.

This study also specifically analyzed the relationship between waiting periods and gun-related deaths from 1990 to 1998, during which time the Brady Handgun Violence Prevention Act went into effect, requiring background checks for buyers from licensed dealers. In the years that followed, 19 states built on the statute by requiring additional, stand-alone waiting periods. “We find that waiting periods led to large and statistically significant reductions in gun violence during the Brady interim period,” the study concluded.

The researchers received funding from Harvard Business School, Luca said. The three men decided to conduct their study following the 2012 Sandy Hook school shooting in Newton, Conn., which left 20 children dead.

“We were upset, like lots of people at the time,” Luca said in a phone interview. We started thinking, “are there gun policies that seem to be effective?” 

The National Rifle Association dismissed the new report, calling the methodology “flawed” in an emailed statement.

Other research however runs counter to the new study’s conclusions. A gun study (PDF) published in 2012 was skeptical of the impact waiting periods have on firearms violence. And research by Jens Ludwig and Philip Cook from 2000 published in the Journal of the American Medical Association found that while gun suicides for Americans over the age of 55 decreased during the Brady Act years, overall rates of suicide and homicide didn’t.

Luca contends though that the JAMA study’s numbers don’t show the whole picture. “They didn’t have all the data we had,” he said.

According to his study, “the coding of Brady states in the study by Ludwig and Cook fails to capture all states that had preexisting waiting periods. In contrast, we precisely code which states had waiting periods (before 1994) and which implemented waiting periods only because of the Brady Act. In total, our coding differs from theirs for 16 states. This additional accuracy allows us to assess the causal impact of waiting periods resulting from the Brady Act.”

Luca pointed out that Cook, the co-author of the 2000 report, took part in the new study as an editor.

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