What Policy Options Reduce Gun Violence? updated after Uvalde and Buffalo

May 26, 2022

Firearm Mortality by State 2020


In 2020, Arizona had 1,265 deaths from guns, 385 by homicide, about 1 a day, and 830 were suicides, slightly more than 2 a day. State policies that encourage gun safety have a modest but significant impact on firearm homicide rates, e.g., California’s homicide rate is 20% less than Arizona’s. However, they have a much more significant impact on firearm suicide rates, as California’s firearm suicide rate is about one-third of Arizona’s.  Though these differences may also reflect other social policies that help alleviate financial and mental stresses that people most at-risk experience.

The first time GCI put out this blog was after the mass shootings in El Paso, Texas and Dayton, Ohio.  Today we’re focused primarily on mass shootings by an 18 year-old white supremacist targeting African-Americans at a grocery store in Buffalo, 200 miles from where he lived, as well as the shocking school shooting by another disturbed 18 year-old that killed two 4th grade teachers and 19 of their students.

Policy in the United States and Arizona toward guns is very different from other potentially dangerous activities. Consider that the perpetrators in these acts of domestic terrorism were too young to legally purchase alcohol, but they could legally purchase a deadly weapon.  Likewise, they had to go through training to obtain the driver’s license that each used to legally drive the vehicle to the site of their mass murders. But they needed no safety training in order to purchase and discharge their firearms.

We have these regulations in place for public safety reasons.  Research showed that alcohol and young drivers was a dangerous combination, so the drinking age was increased and deaths from auto accidents involving those under 21 dropped significantly.

When we fly, we take for granted that we need to be careful what we bring and are willing to wait in line to go through the TSA inspection process because even though we are not a terrorist, we recognize the public safety need.

For some reason, many people who support the above public health measures refuse to acknowledge them as it relates to gun safety.

The Grand Canyon Institute (GCI) has not conducted original research on the topic of reducing gun violence. However, it has taken this opportunity to review related studies in an effort to contribute to the discussion as policymakers in Arizona and Washington, D.C. consider public policy options.

Essentially, if we could do just three things to assure gun safety, it would be.
1) Require people who wish to purchase a firearm to get a license to do so from their local police department.  This is one of the most effective methods to ensure gun safety.
2) Create a nationwide electronic data base that tracks gun purchases. Currently, after the fact we can track where purchases were done, but law enforcement has no tool to pre-emptively identify risk, such as the two semi-automatic rifle purchases of the Texas shooter right after he turned 18.
3) Red Flag Laws–these are most helpful in preventing suicides by temporarily or permanently preventing individuals deemed to be a potential danger to themselves or others from procuring a firearm. These only work, though, if data bases used to conduct background checks are well integrated with mental health records as well as past violent offenses.

Dave Wells holds a doctorate in Political Economy and Public Policy and is the Research Director for the Grand Canyon Institute, a centrist fiscal policy think tank founded in 2011.  He can be reached at DWells@azgci.org or contact the Grand Canyon Institute at (602) 595-1025, ext. 2.


The Grand Canyon Institute, a 501(c) 3 nonprofit organization, is a centrist think tank led by a bipartisan group of former state lawmakers, economists, community leaders and academicians. The Grand Canyon Institute serves as an independent voice reflecting a pragmatic approach to addressing economic, fiscal, budgetary and taxation issues confronting Arizona.

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