By Steven Reinberg
MONDAY, June 11, 2018 (HealthDay News) -- U.S. states that require police background checks for a handgun license see 14 percent fewer gun murders in their urban counties, a new study found.
These "permit-to-purchase" licensing laws require a background check by state or local law enforcement, not just a background check conducted by gun dealers.
Prior research has linked such laws to fewer deaths statewide, but the new research looked at urban areas, where nearly two-thirds of all U.S. gun deaths occur.
"This study extends what we know about the beneficial effects of a licensing system on gun homicides to large, urban counties across the United States," said study lead author Cassandra Crifasi. She's an assistant professor with the Johns Hopkins Center for Gun Policy and Research.
For the study, the researchers assessed the effects of changes in gun policies in 136 of the nation's largest urban counties between 1984 and 2015.
They also found that states that only required dealer background checks, without other requirements, saw a 16 percent increase in firearm homicides in urban areas.
"Background checks are intended to screen out prohibited individuals, and serve as the foundation upon which other gun laws are built, but they may not be sufficient on their own to decrease gun homicides," Crifasi said in a Hopkins news release.
Handgun laws that send purchasers to law enforcement and require fingerprints provide a longer period for police to conduct background checks, the researchers noted.
Crifasi and her colleagues also examined the effect of right-to-carry laws, which allow concealed carry handgun permits, and stand-your-ground laws, which allow people to defend themselves against intruders.
They found that counties in states that adopted stand-your-ground laws saw a 7 percent increase in gun homicides, and counties in states with right-to-carry laws saw a 4 percent increase in firearm deaths.
"Our research finds that state laws that encourage more public gun carrying with fewer restrictions on who can carry experience more gun homicides in the state's large, urban counties than would have been expected had the law not been implemented," Crifasi said.
"Similarly, stand-your-ground laws appear to make otherwise nonlethal encounters deadly if people who are carrying loaded weapons feel emboldened to use their weapons versus de-escalating a volatile situation," she added.
The report was published online recently in the Journal of Urban Health.