Waiting Periods For Firearm Purchases Can Reduce Gun Deaths

Henrietta Strickland
October 18, 2017

Gun control is, in fact, a serious public health issue, and it's time to start thinking of it in those terms.

Researchers at the Harvard Business School examined laws regarding waiting periods for handgun sales in 43 states and the District of Columbia from 1970 to 2014, CNN reports. They found that even short waiting periods "cause large and statistically significant reductions in homicides"; waiting periods also reduce suicides, though the effect is not quite as large.

According to the Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence, states have varied waiting period requirements for people intending to buy guns. "There seems to be a lot of evidence to suggest that suicides also are reduced, but further research might be necessary on that issue".

Again, the authors found that waiting periods were associated with a 17 percent drop in gun homicides. Yet a new study funded by Harvard Business School suggests that one policy-a mandatory waiting period between the sale of a gun and its delivery-could save hundreds of US lives each year if implemented nationally. Rolled out in 1994, it required licensed gun retailers to conduct background checks on people purchasing firearms (in states that weren't already doing so), and gave retailers a five-day waiting period to conduct the checks.

The delay serves as a "cooling off" period, so that any anger and suicidal impulses have passed. Researchers believe it could close the window of opportunity for violently motivated individuals, or stop people who have "malevolent" but temporary intentions, from using a firearm. 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.

Not everyone is convinced.

The rationale behind waiting periods, the study says, is that someone in a fit of depression or rage who's bent on doing harm to themselves or others might lose steam if they can't get a gun immediately. The gun was supposed to protect her from the man who killed her with a knife, Pratt said. Although computerized background checks replaced the mandatory waiting periods after 1998, some states kept the waiting period regulations in place.

Last year, epidemiologist Sandro Galea from Boston University wrote in the American Journal of Public Health that social scientists should take up gun violence as a public health issue and seek alternative funding for gun policy studies.

"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", the study concluded. In addition to helping reduce rates of gun-related homicides, the study also determined waiting periods were linked to a 7 to 11 percent decrease in gun suicides.

While gun violence prevention research has been severely underfunded, Winkler said, "studies like this can point the way towards effective reform - and away from ineffective proposals".

Other reports by Click Lancashire

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