Do States With More Gun Laws Have Fewer Gun Deaths?

Obama made this statement in the aftermath of the Oregon shooting, probably in an effort to convince an already reeling American public to support more gun laws:

We know that states with the most gun laws tend to have the fewest gun deaths. So the notion that gun laws don’t work, or just will make it harder for law-abiding citizens and criminals will still get their guns is not borne out by the evidence.

The Washington Post picked up on his statement and did some fact-checking. The results are not pretty. As the article points out, 60% of gun deaths are suicides, and the rate of suicide is nearly immune to gun laws. Of course, if 60%, or 3 out of 5, of your gun deaths are from suicide, having less restrictive gun laws will result in more gun deaths every time—because a person who is set on committing suicide will have easier access to guns.

But it’s hardly fair to point to data that depends on suicide in order to transform policy in the wake of a mass shooting. The real question would have to be, “Do more gun laws decrease gun murder?” The answer to that question is a “probably not” to a clear “no.”

After you remove suicides from the data, gun laws seem to have no effect whatsoever on gun deaths. Hawaii still has the lowest gun deaths per capita, but apparently that hasn’t changed much from before Hawaii even had gun laws. The people there are just not generally shooting each other, apparently. On the other hand, three states with very loose gun laws show up in the top five.

And the gun law/gun murder connection might be even more tenuous than that. It might be the case that, like in Hawaii, other factors unrelated to gun laws contribute to high or low rates of gun murder. In the end, the ever-renewed call for more gun laws in the wake of national gun tragedy is misplaced and manipulative. And besides, Oregon is one of the states with restrictive gun laws. So there’s that.