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Violence Prevention: Firearms Laws

This page summarizes systematic reviews of the effects of eight federal and state firearms laws on violence-related outcomes. These laws aim to regulate the manufacture, distribution, sale, acquisition, storage, transportation, carrying, and use of firearms in the United States. As in other Community Guide violence reviews, the focus of this review is youth and children; however, most firearms laws do not affect children and youth alone, and thus this review covers a broader range of population ages.

Firearms Laws Reviewed:

Bans on specified firearms or ammunition
Bans prohibit the acquisition and possession of certain categories of firearms (e.g., handguns or assault weapons) or ammunition (e.g., large-capacity magazines). Bans are intended to decrease the availability of specified firearms or ammunition to potential offenders, thus reducing the capacity of these people to commit crimes with them.

Restrictions on firearm acquisition
Acquisition restrictions exclude people with specified characteristics (e.g., a history of criminal behavior or mental illness thought to indicate high risk of illegal or other harmful use of firearms) from purchasing firearms.

Waiting periods for firearm acquisition
Waiting periods for firearm acquisition require a specified delay between application for and acquisition of a firearm; the waiting period allows the assessment of the legitimacy of the purchase.

Firearm registration and licensing of firearm owners
Registration requires that records of the owners of specified firearms be created and retained by appropriate authorities. Licensing requires a person to obtain formal authorization or certification to purchase or possess a firearm.

“Shall issue” concealed weapons carry laws
“Shall issue” concealed-weapon carry laws (“shall issue laws”) require the issuing of a concealed-weapon carry permit to all applicants not disqualified by specified criteria. Shall issue laws are usually implemented in place of “may issue” laws, in which the issuing of a concealed weapon carry permit is discretionary (based on criteria such as the perceived need or moral character of the applicant). 

Child access prevention (CAP) laws
CAP laws are designed to limit children’s access to and use of firearms in homes. The laws require firearm owners to store their firearms locked, unloaded, or both, and make the firearm owner liable when a child uses a household firearm to threaten or harm him or herself or another.

Zero tolerance laws for firearms in schools
Laws that stipulate zero tolerance of firearms in schools might reduce school violence by removing potentially violent students, and by deterring the carrying of guns in schools.

Combinations of the above or other firearms laws
This review addresses whether a greater degree of firearms regulation in a jurisdiction results in a reduction of violence in that jurisdiction.

Summary of Task Force Recommendations and Findings

The Community Preventive Services Task Force finds insufficient evidence to determine the effectiveness of the following firearm laws to prevent violence or reduce violent outcomes.

Results from the Systematic Review

Evidence for the effectiveness of the firearms laws reviewed was found insufficient for several reasons, including:

  • Too few studies
  • Unreliable data on exposures, outcomes, and confounders
  • Inappropriate analyses
  • Inconsistent results

These findings were based on a systematic review of all available studies, conducted on behalf of the Task Force by a team of specialists in systematic review methods, and in research, practice and policy related to firearms laws.

Supporting Materials


CDC. First reports evaluating the effectiveness of strategies for preventing violence: firearms laws: findings from the Task Force on Community Preventive Services. MMWR 2003;52(RR-14):11-20. External Web Site Icon

Hahn RA, Bilukha O, Crosby A, et al. Firearms laws and the reduction of violence: a systematic review. Adobe PDF File [PDF - 451 kB] Am J Prev Med 2005;28(2S1):40-71.

Task Force on Community Preventive Services. Recommendations to reduce violence through early childhood home visitation, therapeutic foster care, and firearms laws. Adobe PDF File [PDF - 71 kB] Am J Prev Med 2005;28(2S1):6-10.

Task Force on Community Preventive Services. Violence. Adobe PDF File [PDF - 340 kB] In : Zaza S, Briss PA, Harris KW, eds. The Guide to Community Preventive Services: What Works to Promote Health? Atlanta (GA): Oxford University Press;2005:329-84.

Read other Community Guide publications about Violence Prevention in our library.

*PDF includes all of the information available and will not be updated.


The findings and conclusions on this page are those of the Community Preventive Services Task Force and do not necessarily represent those of CDC. Task Force evidence-based recommendations are not mandates for compliance or spending. Instead, they provide information and options for decision makers and stakeholders to consider when determining which programs, services, and policies best meet the needs, preferences, available resources, and constraints of their constituents.

Sample Citation

The content of publications of the Guide to Community Preventive Services is in the public domain. Citation as to source, however, is appreciated. Sample citation: Guide to Community Preventive Services. Firearms laws. Last updated: MM/DD/YYYY.

Reviews completed: October 2001, April 2002