New BU study finds universal background checks can lower homicide rates

BOSTON — In a first-ever side-by-side comparison of state gun laws, Boston University revealed the effectiveness and impact of background checks.

The new study, led by BU's School of Public Health, compares background checks and homicide rates --- tackling the notion that perhaps limiting what guns are sold may be less effective than who can purchase them.

According to the research, which was published in the Journal of General Internal Medicine, states with universal background check laws reported 15 percent lower homicide rates than states without them.

Dr. Michael Siegel, the study's lead author and professor at BU, said research has shown the biggest risk factor for violence is a history of violent behavior.

"Public health advocates should prioritize policies designed to keep guns out of the hands of people who are at a high risk of violence based on their criminal history," he said.

In an interview Siegel did with BU's online publication, he said the average firearm homicide rate in states without background checks is 58 percent higher than the average in states with background check laws in place. As of 2017, only 13 states, including Massachusetts, had laws requiring universal background checks.

In fact, last year in Mass. dozens of guns and thousands of rounds of ammunition were taken from people who were considered a danger to themselves or others. The emergency seizures were the result of the "red flag" law.

Massachusetts' Red Flag Gun Law: Saving lives or threatening civil rights?

To begin with, the process to purchase a gun in Mass. is much more extensive compared to some other states in the country. According to, to buy a gun, you must first have a license to carry (LTC) or firearms identification card (FID). The LTC includes all firearms, including handguns, but the FID only covers rifles and shotguns.

To get those, a person would have to pay a hefty fee, submit paperwork to their local police department, and then get their picture taken, fingerprints done, and be interviewed. Afterwards, the information is sent through a state background check system, which looks at criminal and mental health history.

Massachusetts law about guns and other weapons

Recently, Mass. reported the lowest homicide rates in the U.S., which could be credited to the state's strict gun laws and, as BU's study shows, the implemenataion of a thorough background check system.

The researchers at BU also found laws against selling guns to people convicted of violent misdemeanors -- not just violent felonies -- had an even larger effect than universal background checks. According to the study, those laws were associated with an 18 percent reduction in gun homicide rates.

When asked by BU Today what he believes will effectively reduce gun violence, Siegel listed a few options for lawmakers.

"The three most important things that lawmakers can do to reduce gun violence in their home states are to pass laws that: one, require universal background checks; two, prohibit gun purchase or possession by anyone with a history of violence, and three, provide a mechanism, called red flag laws, to address people who are at an extreme risk of committing violence, not only to other people but to themselves."

You can find the entire study here.