Impact of Firearm Surveillance on Gun Control Policy: Regression Discontinuity Analysis

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Impact of Firearm Surveillance on Gun Control Policy: Regression Discontinuity Analysis

Category: Firearm Availability, Firearm Policies, Homicide, Mass Shootings|Journal: JMIR Public Health and Surveillance (full text)|Author: A Akhetuamhen, C Brandt, C Moss, H Mohammad, L Post, L Singh, M Mason, N Wlekinski, S Welch, T Issa|Year: 2021


Public mass shootings are a significant public health problem that require ongoing systematic surveillance to test and inform policies that combat gun injuries. Although there is widespread agreement that something needs to be done to stop public mass shootings, opinions on exactly which policies that entails vary, such as the prohibition of assault weapons and large-capacity magazines.


The aim of this study was to determine if the Federal Assault Weapons Ban (FAWB) (1994-2004) reduced the number of public mass shootings while it was in place.


We extracted public mass shooting surveillance data from the Violence Project that matched our inclusion criteria of 4 or more fatalities in a public space during a single event. We performed regression discontinuity analysis, taking advantage of the imposition of the FAWB, which included a prohibition on large-capacity magazines in addition to assault weapons. We estimated a regression model of the 5-year moving average number of public mass shootings per year for the period of 1966 to 2019 controlling for population growth and homicides in general, introduced regression discontinuities in the intercept and a time trend for years coincident with the federal legislation (ie, 1994-2004), and also allowed for a differential effect of the homicide rate during this period. We introduced a second set of trend and intercept discontinuities for post-FAWB years to capture the effects of termination of the policy. We used the regression results to predict what would have happened from 1995 to 2019 had there been no FAWB and also to project what would have happened from 2005 onward had it remained in place.


The FAWB resulted in a significant decrease in public mass shootings, number of gun deaths, and number of gun injuries. We estimate that the FAWB prevented 11 public mass shootings during the decade the ban was in place. A continuation of the FAWB would have prevented 30 public mass shootings that killed 339 people and injured an additional 1139 people.


This study demonstrates the utility of public health surveillance on gun violence. Surveillance informs policy on whether a ban on assault weapons and large-capacity magazines reduces public mass shootings. As society searches for effective policies to prevent the next mass shooting, we must consider the overwhelming evidence that bans on assault weapons and/or large-capacity magazines work.