News & Events

Study finds gaps in awareness of state gun laws across the US

Laura East | November 18, 2021
3 minutes to read

Nationwide, nineteen states and the District of Columbia have Extreme Risk Protection Order (ERPO) laws, which provide legal mechanisms to temporarily restrict a person showing dangerous behavior toward self or others from accessing firearms. A recent national study published in JAMA Network Open found that more than half of gun owners and three quarters of non-gun owners living in gun-owning households are unsure if their state has an ERPO law on the books. This research also indicated that a substantial proportion are unsure if their state has Child Access Prevention (CAP) laws, laws that require background checks for private firearms sales, or laws that require reporting lost or stolen guns.

“Knowledge of some gun laws could be integral to the public health safety measures and behaviors that those laws are intended to support,” described lead author Dr. Ali Rowhani-Rahbar, professor of epidemiology at the University of Washington (UW) and co-director of the Firearm Injury and Policy Research Program at the UW. “Our team was interested in whether people are aware that specific gun laws are in force in their state.”

Dr. Rowhani-Rahbar, along with a team of researchers at the UW, Harvard University, and Northeastern University, analyzed data from 4,030 respondents residing in gun-owning homes who participated in the 2019 National Firearm Survey. The individuals surveyed were asked whether they personally owned a gun, and whether particular gun laws were in place in their state, including policies regarding ERPO, CAP, mandatory reporting of lost or stolen guns, and required background checks before private sales of guns. The interactive graphic below reflects respondents’ beliefs as compared to whether their state does or does not have each policy in place.

These responses indicate that many adults in the United States are unsure which gun laws exist in their state, or incorrectly believe a law is or is not in effect. For the four particular gun laws analyzed for this study for which individual citizen’s actions or inaction may make a difference, awareness of legal consequences or remedies could potentially affect behavior when individuals in gun-owning households know that they exist.

“These findings indicate there’s more that can be done to increase awareness, among gun owners and non-gun owners alike, of what policies exist in their state, and the potential impact that each of us can have on preventable firearm injury and death,” described Dr. Rowhani-Rahbar.


Co-authors include Drs. Miriam Haviland (UW Firearm Injury and Policy Research Program), Deborah Azrael (Harvard Injury Control Research Center), and Matthew Miller (Bouvé College of Health Sciences, Northeastern University; and Harvard Injury Control Research Center). 

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