State background checks for gun purchase and firearm deaths: an exploratory study

Prev Med. 2012 Oct;55(4):346-350. doi: 10.1016/j.ypmed.2012.07.019. Epub 2012 Jul 29.


Objective: This study examines the relationship between the types of background-information check required by states prior to firearm purchases, and firearm homicide and suicide deaths.

Methods: Negative binomial models are used to analyze state-level data for homicides and suicides in the U.S. from 1996 to 2005. Data on types of background information are retrieved from the Surveys of State Procedures Related to Firearm Sales, and the violent death data are from the WISQARS. Several other state level factors were controlled for.

Results: More background checks are associated with fewer homicide (IRR:0.93, 95% CI:0.91-0.96) and suicide (IRR:0.98, 95% CI:0.96-1.00) deaths. Firearm homicide deaths are lower when states have checks for restraining orders (IRR:0.87, 95% CI:0.79-0.95) and fugitive status (IRR:0.79, 95% CI:0.72-0.88). Firearm suicide deaths are lower when states have background checks for mental illness (IRR:0.96, 95% CI:0.92-0.99), fugitive status (IRR:0.95, 95% CI:0.90-0.99) and misdemeanors (IRR:0.95, 95% CI:0.92-1.00). It does not appear that reductions in firearm deaths are offset by increases in non-firearm violent deaths.

Conclusions: More extensive background checks prior to gun purchase are mostly associated with reductions in firearm homicide and suicide deaths. Several study limitations are acknowledged, and further research is called for to ascertain causality.

MeSH terms

  • Commerce / legislation & jurisprudence*
  • Crime / classification
  • Firearms / economics
  • Firearms / legislation & jurisprudence*
  • Government Regulation*
  • Homicide / statistics & numerical data*
  • Humans
  • Law Enforcement / methods
  • Suicide / statistics & numerical data*
  • United States
  • Violence / legislation & jurisprudence
  • Wounds, Gunshot / mortality*