About That Less Than Illuminating RAND Corporation’s Gun Law Research Report . . .

RAND Corporation

Courtesy RAND Corporation

By Elizabeth McGuigan

In 2018, the RAND Corporation released a review of available research on various gun-related laws and their impacts on a range of eight outcomes. RAND has recently released an update of the report, adding five new categories of gun policies, and examining an expanded research period of 1995-2018.

Weighing in at over 400 pages and accompanied by additional extensive information on the RAND website, we have read through the report and want to share a few thoughts and comments, without undertaking a line-by-line critique.

Yes, there are some issues with bias as the authors recommend certain policies that they do not find evidence to support. But overall, the update shows a well-intentioned, herculean effort on the part of the RAND researchers.

As with the initial report, the key takeaway is that there is no solid body of empirical evidence to support the common gun control wish list items such as bans on modern sporting rifles, magazine size limits, minimum age requirements for purchasing a firearmuniversal background checks, licensing and permitting requirements or mandatory sales reporting and registration. Also, the methodological quality of the existing body of research is low at best.

As the report concludes, “the scientific literature we reviewed shows that many of the best recent studies suffer from important methodological limitations that should be addressed in future research,” and, “with a few exceptions, there is a surprisingly limited base of rigorous scientific evidence concerning the effects of many commonly discussed gun policies.”

We know this already, of course.

Changes in 2020 Report

There are a couple of notable changes from the first edition of the report. For example, the authors concluded in 2018 that there was “limited evidence” that background checks decreased total suicides and “moderate evidence” they decreased firearm suicides.

Upon re-evaluating the earlier reports and considering additional studies, the new, downgraded conclusion is that there is “inconclusive evidence” for either. The same downgrade was found for the impact of background checks on violent crime.

Unfortunately, the report still excluded policies such as mandatory minimum sentences for crimes with firearms, enhanced prosecution of crimes and the types law enforcement/community partnerships that the Department of Justice’s Presidential Commission on Law Enforcement and the Administration of Justice point to as effective.

One type of gun law that the authors believe may have an impact on firearm suicides and unintentional injuries among young people, are child-access prevention laws. Part of the problem here is that the report does not study the effectiveness of other approaches, such as public education campaigns and training programs that cover safe use and storage practices.

For example, NSSF’s long-standing Project ChildSafe initiative has received federal grant funding and is widely acknowledged to be an effective voluntary program nationwide. In 2019, RAND (conducting research for the National Institute of Justice), noted that Project ChildSafe is the only program that offers freely available gun locks at a national level and concluded that Project ChildSafe is a “noteworthy component of national efforts to improve safe storage.” Yet these types of voluntary programs are merely referenced in passing, and not studied here, so there is no evidence that laws are more effective than such programs.

This is a concerning limitation to the report. It means that the report doesn’t tell us the most effective answer to the problem of unauthorized access, rather just that some variations of the laws may or may not have an impact.

We do know that unauthorized child-access is a fortunately rare event and unintentional firearm injuries and fatalities continue to decline. This suggests that additional laws may not further this trend and perhaps could have unintended consequences such as creating a false sense of security for gun owners that as long as they follow the letter of the law, they do not have to abide by the best practices for safe storage that fit their unique household needs.

The authors also note that even the limited research examined in this area does not show the whole picture of the safe use and storage of firearms. They write . . .

“The lack of research on a wide range of outcomes makes it difficult or impossible to conduct a comprehensive cost-benefit analysis of the gun policies. For instance, some of the strongest evidence we found suggests that child-access prevention laws could reduce firearm injuries or deaths among children. But restricting access to guns could also prevent gun owners from accessing their weapons in an emergency. The lack of research on defensive gun use means that we do not have a way of directly estimating how the benefits of these laws (in terms of the number of child lives saved) compares with the possible costs (in terms of forgone opportunities for self-defense).”

Research Quality Should Trump Quantity

The RAND report does reach the natural conclusion that more research is warranted. Unfortunately, they call for that to be conducted by the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), an inappropriate venue for criminal justice research, and by private entities. The very fact that RAND was unable to find any research on defensive gun use (DGU) demonstrates that the vast majority of research conducted on gun-related issues is driven by a pre-determined conclusion.

Defensive gun uses do not fit the narrative that all guns are bad. Rather they illustrate that the problem is criminal activities, regardless of the tool illegally used as a weapon. (Fortunately, the Heritage Foundation is stepping in with a database of DGU incidents.)

Further, another conclusion RAND reaches is that the existing body of research on firearm-related policies is riddled with terrible methodology, which we know. As the authors state . . .

“In conclusion, with a few exceptions, there is a surprisingly limited base of rigorous scientific evidence concerning the effects of many commonly discussed gun policies…it reflects the absence of scientific study of these policies or methodological shortcomings in the existing literature that limit rigorous understanding of policy effects.”

If the federal government and private entities are going to continue to fund such shoddy research, it will not serve any purpose except generating headlines to support gun control efforts. Forgive the firearm industry from being suspicious of recommendations such as eliminating the restrictions on the use of gun trace data for research purposes and having the CDC collect data on gun ownership and use.

More data, used improperly, will not help address the very real problems in our communities. The industry cares about finding real solutions for the problems driving criminal violence, suicides and unauthorized access and stands ready with evidence of the effectiveness that these solutions have across the country.


Elizabeth McGuigan is Director of Legislative and Policy Research at the National Shooting Sports Foundation. 


  1. avatar Ed Schrade says:

    Too bad there wasn’t the conclusion that the government has no authority to regulate or eliminate anything in the Bill of Rights.

    1. avatar Paul says:

      The obvious response to “no regulation” is, what about negligence?

      You have a home full of children, or maybe even run a day care center. And, the place is strewn with haphazardly stowed loaded weapons. Should there be “no regulation”, or should we rely on civil cases, or should there maybe be some (very) minimal regulation?

      Please don’t respond with “common sense says”, because so very many people have none.

      What I think is, child negligence laws should apply in such a situation, but an addon “with a lethal weapon” should apply as well. That addon should double or triple any penalties for the child negligence infactions.

      Serious, some sort of minimal regulations should apply to stupid people.

  2. avatar Sam I Am says:

    Tried the link to the Heritage dB, but was blocked.


    One of the important, but sorta downplayed, takeaways is that the lack of quality research also means claims of the effectiveness of privately owned firearms suffer from data paucity, as well. And this is in the face of the Kleck-Gertz effort being available. In short, in the war of dueling data, neither the gun-grabbers, nor POTG have a superiority in scientific validation of their position. Extrapolation is always a risky business (“It’s tough to make predictions, especially about the future”, Y. Berra)

    And besides, using data to support legal ownership of firearms makes the issue “need”, not “rights”. If zero bad guys are stopped by a good guy with a gun, or 250,000, the result does not alter the constitutionally-protected right.

    1. avatar I Haz A Question says:

      …using data to support legal ownership of firearms makes the issue “need”, not “rights”. If zero bad guys are stopped by a good guy with a gun, or 250,000, the result does not alter the constitutionally-protected right.

      May 1, 2020. The date in which Sam and Haz finally found something they solidly agree upon. Marking the calendar now…

      1. avatar Sam I Am says:

        “May 1, 2020. The date in which Sam and Haz finally found something they solidly agree upon. Marking the calendar now…”

        Nothing really remarkable about two blind squirrels colliding over the same acorn.

        1. avatar I Haz A Question says:

          (clamps hand over mouth, fights temptation to comment about how this squirrel walks away with the bigger nuts…)

          (fighting….fighting…still fighting…)

        2. avatar Sam I Am says:

          ” (clamps hand over mouth, fights temptation to comment about how this squirrel walks away with the bigger nuts…)
          (fighting….fighting…still fighting…)”

          Keep working at it; you can do it.

    2. avatar Mark N. says:

      Not only Kleck, but the CDC (at the orders of Obama) and John Lott. All three concluded that there were far more DGUs than there were gun murders or shootings with injuries. Why were these studies not reviewed? Heck, even that Hemenway from Harvard (bought and paid for by Everytown) says there are 60-80,000 DGUs every year. (From a limited amount of internet research, there appear to be roughly 700 accidental injuries and deaths per year of children (0-14). The most accidental injuries are among those 15-24, and average about 4000 per year.) So somewhere between 60,000 and 2.5 million lives are saved every year by guns, compared to fewer than 700 injuries and deaths of children and 4000 injuries and deaths among teens and young adults.

      1. avatar tdiinva says:

        Not every DGU saves a life. It merely stops a specific crime from happening and not all crimes end with death. Very few do. Unless the DGU results in the death, injury or apprehensive of the perp it has zero impact on the felony murder rate. Since we know most DGUs end without shots fired it is unlikely that defensive use saves any other life except yours. That may be important to you but it doesn’t help the bad guy’s next target.

        1. avatar Miles says:

          So, are you supporting Vigilantism, in that you’re seemingly advocating simply going ahead and shooting a badguy even if, when he sees a gun, does a ‘180’ and hightails it away?

          I mean, that’s being proactively keeping that next victim safe, right?

        2. avatar B7 says:

          yes but DGU on average prevent several crimes from happening per DGU,since criminals are only interdicted or caught about 17% of the crimes they commit.

    3. avatar TFred says:

      Looks like the link at the end of the snake in the grass is outdated. Google provide this one, which seems to work:


      1. avatar Sam I Am says:

        “Google provide this one, which seems to work:

        Yes, I had seen this before; didn’t realize it was from Heritage. Interesting presentation.


      2. avatar The Crimson Pirate says:

        They have an dot between Harrisburg PA and Allentown PA that is in my general area. When I click on it it reveals an Entry for Palmdale CA. I informed Heritage of the error.

  3. avatar Ralph says:

    The RAND (“Research ANd Development”) Corporation was established to provide R&D to the American military. A majority of its funding comes from the US government. So why is RAND poking its nose into civilian gun ownership? Talk about mission creep!

    1. avatar Ron says:

      Yeah they aught to get back to working on HAARP.

    2. avatar neiowa says:

      50yr old leftwing BS

    3. avatar B7 says:

      Rand also gets money directly from gun control advocates.

  4. avatar GS650G says:

    Can’t wait to read an assessment on the first amendment next. Then the 4th and 5th.

  5. avatar Debbie W. says:

    If it would do any good I’d keep the report on hand. Since it’s a bunch of fancy dancy uppity inconclusive gibberish and won’t do one thing to help me or anyone else in a crisis situation it goes in the trash.

  6. avatar Darkman says:

    Research Studies and Statistical Analysis did not Win Our Freedom from a Tyrannical Regime. They have not Preserved Our Freedoms from attacks by foreign enemies. Words and numbers offer No threat against those who wish Our Freedoms denied. As from the beginning of Our quest to Found and Preserve a nation based on Inalienable Rights. It has required the actions of Patriots to back by force the Words of Freedom placed within the Bill of Rights. When citizens fear the consequences of fighting for Freedom…More than they fear the lose of Freedom. Tyranny will Prevail. Keep Your Powder Dry.

    1. avatar guest says:

      Fuck’s sake. Ever written a paper or letter with spelling like that? Then why the hell do it here?

  7. avatar neiowa says:

    “NSSF’s long-standing Project ChildSafe initiative has received federal grant funding and is widely acknowledged to be an effective voluntary program nationwide. ”

    Because a $1 gun lock is such a good idea.

  8. avatar 9x39 says:

    From the article:

    “One type of gun law that the authors believe may have an impact on firearm suicides and unintentional injuries among young people, are child-access prevention laws. Part of the problem here is that the report does not study the effectiveness of other approaches, such as public education campaigns and training programs that cover safe use and storage practices.”

    That’s questionable. Pretty certain a return to the old values espoused in parenting where firearms are concerned, and general parental discipline would have a vast impact, vast. When I was growing up, we looked, but did not under any circumstances touch, play with, point at one another, nor anything else, any firearm we ran across. And there were many. Shotgun’s loaded, sitting on the wall in my Grandparents country store. Rifles, shotguns, pistols, even a derringer in the parlor end table.

    Friends father’s hunting rifles in the back window rack of their pickup, shotgun in the trunk of our cars. Pistol lying on the shelf above the t.v. when disarming after arriving home. Firearm’s a plenty in everyone’s closet, display case, or sock drawer. Several in my own from age 6 and later, starting with a Crossman 760 Powermaster, then a single shot break barrel Steven’s .410 (forget the model) and a 10/22 by the time I was 7. Joined by a Mossy 500 20ga. by age 8. More later ofc. Never touched them outside of the maintenance regimen, and when taken out to target shoot or hunt. Pretty much identical in that with everyone I knew of. Spent my earlier life growing up 1/2 in the country, other half in the city (school), so both ends of the spectrum were on display to me.

    All the children knew, and followed the parental admonished dictate, don’t touch. Knew they were dangerous if handled incorrectly, knew they could kill, and exactly nothing ensued.

    Only incident I knew of, was an older teenage kid down the street who intentionally committed suicide with a 12ga. when I was about 5. By all accounts, he should’ve been remanded to a mental ward, but wasn’t. Nothing else until my middling teens, when gangbanging became in vogue in the worst neighborhoods in the city. Mostly adults, but a couple of teens involved. All known gang hot spot’s, still mostly isolated incidents. Places bereft of proper parenting, mostly. Accelerated through the 90’s with the advent of widespread helicopter parenting/kind & gentler/everyone’s a winner/bad children don’t exist policies & law.

    Difference? Parenting, or a decided lack thereof. Law’s preventing discipline measures that had been much lauded, & were effective on us, not so very long ago. Spare the rod’s unique sobriquet in short parable form, of corporal punishment.

    Being frank, we’d have gotten our asses torn out of the frame for non-compliance. You’d do well to not to mention it to the neighbors, friends of the family, extended family, or sometimes complete strangers, lest you get another one. Had a hard time forgetting lessons, when every time you sat down, you had a sharp reminder for a couple of days on your backside. The flip side, was we were praised for our good behavior, that we did right. We were taught self control. Not abusively, administered from love & genuine disappointment in you. That last, crushed more than the proverbial rod ever could.

    And so, we never played with that which abounded around us. Look, but don’t touch, still remains firmly in mind today. Just a suggestion, but perhaps Rand should study that.

  9. avatar DinWA says:

    Regarding the quality of this “research”:


    1. avatar M1Lou says:

      The problem is, people that hate guns see guns as a simple problem when in fact, all of the problems they lump into gun violence are separate issues. This is before even getting into the constitutionality of gun control (it isn’t). Suicide is not a gun issue, murder is not a gun issue, gang violence is not a gun issue, mass shootings are not a gun issue. Banning guns doesn’t remove the core issues. It just attempts to place a band-aid over a sucking chest wound. The band-aid is doing something, but it’s not actually fixing the problem.

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