Sen. Doug Jones, D-Ala., listens as Vice President Mike Pence, right, administers the Senate oath of office during a mock swearing in ceremony in the Old Senate Chamber, Wednesday, Jan. 3, 2018 on Capitol Hill in Washington. (AP Photo/)
Photo: Jacquelyn Martin
Photo: Jacquelyn Martin

PolitiFact: Studies link waiting periods, drops in gun suicides

In his first speech on the Senate floor, Sen. Doug Jones, D-Ala., waded into the nation’s debate over gun violence.

Jones, who defeated Roy Moore in Alabama’s December 2017 special Senate election, voiced support for steps including a mandatory waiting period on the purchase of firearms. He linked waiting periods to reduced suicide rates.

Suicides accounted for just over 60 percent of the United States’ roughly 36,000 gun-related deaths in 2015, according to the most recent available government data.

The periods gun purchasers have to wait to obtain their weapon are typically between two and seven days. Nine states and the District of Columbia require a waiting period for purchases of at least some types of guns, according to the Giffords Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence.

There is no federal waiting period for gun sales now. Congress previously established a nationwide waiting period and background check through the 1994 Brady Handgun Violence Prevention Act. The federal wait period was in effect for just under five years before the provision expired.

Jones’ office pointed us to a 2000 study that looked at the effect of the Brady Law on gun violence and suicide.

That study found waiting periods were associated with reductions in the firearm suicide rate for people age 55 and older. However, waiting periods were not linked to lower suicide rates overall.

For a 2017 study, “Handgun waiting periods reduce gun deaths,” researchers examined every change to waiting-period laws in the United States from 1970 and 2014, and compared the laws with changes in the government’s annual data on gun-related deaths. (Forty-three states plus the District of Columbia had a waiting period for at least some time between 1970 and 2014; researchers also looked at the federal Brady Law.)

Michael Luca, a professor at Harvard Business School and one of the study’s authors, pointed us to the key passage for checking Jones’ claim: “Waiting periods lead to a 7–11 percent reduction in gun suicides (depending on the control variables used in the specification), which is equivalent to 22–35 fewer gun suicides per year for the average state.”

“Jones is on solid ground here,” Luca said.

However, David Kopel, a policy analyst at the libertarian Cato Institute and author of several books on gun control, said the study “has somewhat less certitude than Sen. Jones suggests.” He noted the findings’ statistical significance depended on which model was used.

In an October 2017 CNN article, Deepak Malhotra, a professor of negotiation and conflict resolution at Harvard Business School and Luca’s co-author, was somewhat measured when describing the study’s conclusions on suicide reduction.

“There seems to be a lot of evidence to suggest that suicides also are reduced, but further research might be necessary on that issue,” Malhotra said. (We reached out to Malhotra but did not hear back.)

Our ruling

A 2017 study — which was cited by some foremost gun control experts — found waiting periods led to a 7–11 percent reduction in gun suicides, or 22 to 35 fewer gun suicides per year for the average state. That said, one expert said the statistical significance of the study’s findings depended on which model was used, and one of the study’s co-authors was somewhat measured in describing its conclusions about waiting periods and suicide reduction.

We rate this Mostly True.