Requiring gun purchasers to wait just a few days could save nearly a thousand lives each year, according to a study published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. The study looked only at waiting periods, suggesting that waiting periods could save lives without restricting who can own guns or which types of guns remain legal.
Guns kill about 33,000 people each year, mostly due to suicides. Previous research has found that access to firearms is a risk factor for suicide. People who attempt suicide with a gun are far more likely to die than those who use other means.
Waiting Periods to Reduce Gun Violence
The study spanned 45 years, looking at gun death rates from 1970-2014. The study analyzed state policy changes in gun rules, comparing how each legislative change altered gun death rates over time.
Overall, waiting periods reduced homicide rates by 17%, and suicide rates by 11%. According to the data, the implementation of waiting periods in 16 states and the District of Columbia in 2014 resulted in about 750 fewer homicide deaths. If all 50 states implemented waiting periods, the study claims, 910 more lives would likely be saved each year.
The study also analyzed data from 1990-1998 that covered the period before and after the implementation of the federal Brady Act. That law required waiting periods and background checks for many gun purchases. In that time frame, there was a 17% drop in homicides and a 6% drop in suicides. This suggests the drop in gun deaths associated with waiting periods is directly tied to those waiting periods—not due to some other factor that tends to co-occur in states that enact waiting periods.
The study did not directly assess how or why waiting periods might reduce gun deaths. Its authors believe an enforced waiting period might prevent impulsive acts of violence.
How ‘Cooling Off’ Might Prevent Suicide
Previous research supports the idea that suicide is often impulsive. People who attempt suicide may be dealing with depression, anxiety, or other mental health concerns and experience suicidal thoughts or a sense of hopelessness. Waiting a few days does not make these issues disappear, but it could give suicidal impulses time to dissipate.
According to 2008 research published in the New England Journal of Medicine, 24% of people who attempt suicide make the decision in less than five minutes, while 70% make the decision in less than an hour. If suicide is an impulsive act, then forced delays in the form of gun purchase waiting periods might allow people time to rethink their decision.
More than 90% of people who attempt suicide do not attempt a subsequent suicide. Waiting periods delay access to the easiest and most lethal means of suicide, potentially allowing people time to rethink their decision.
- Firearm access is a risk factor for suicide. (2017, January 06). Retrieved from https://www.hsph.harvard.edu/means-matter/means-matter/risk
- Luca, M., Malhotra, D., & Poliquin, C. (2017). Handgun waiting periods reduce gun deaths. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America. doi:10.1073/pnas.1619896114
- Miller, M., & Hemenway, D. (2008). Guns and suicide in the United States. New England Journal of Medicine, 359(10), 989-991. doi:10.1056/nejmp0805923
- Mole, B. (2017, October 17). Gun waiting periods prevent hundreds of homicides, according to 45-year study. Retrieved from https://arstechnica.com/science/2017/10/gun-waiting-periods-prevent-hundreds-of-murders-according-to-45-year-study
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