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International Health

March 1, 2020

Permanent Gun-Carrying Restrictions Reduce Gun-Related Mortality in Two Colombian Cities, Study Finds

Gun-related death rates dropped twice as much in cities with permanent gun-carrying bans compared to cities without them

Permanent gun-carrying bans enacted in 2012 reduced monthly gun-related mortality rates in Bogotá and Medellín, Colombia, by 22%, new analysis from the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health shows. 

Researchers compared gun-related deaths in nine comparable Colombian cities using data from the Colombian National Statistics Department. Two of the cities, Bogota and Medellin, enacted permanent bans on carrying guns in 2012. While gun-related mortality rates were down in all cities, the annual rates decreased twice as much in Bogota and Medellin than in the cities where no bans were in place. The findings demonstrate the potential of permanent gun-carrying restrictions as a policy option to reduce gun-related injuries and mortality in urban centers of middle-income countries.

The study was published in The Bulletin of the World Health Organization on March 1, 2020, and was led by Andres Vecino-Ortiz, MD, PhD, assistant scientist in the Department of International Health at the Bloomberg School.

To assess the effect of the gun-carrying bans, researchers analyzed mortality data from Bogota and Medellin and seven other cities—Barranquilla, Bucaramanga, Cali, Cartagena, Cúcuta, Ibagué, and Soledad—with no similar restrictions. Between 2008 and 2016, researchers found that, overall, annual gun mortality fell by 37% in Bogotá and Medellín (from 31.84 to 18.43 per 100,000 people) compared to a drop of 18% in the cities with no bans (from 37.88 to 31.20 per 100,000 people).

Researchers then conducted statistical analysis to determine just how much of the decline the bans were responsible for. By comparing the mortality rates between cities with and without the bans, and within cities before and after the bans went into effect, researchers determined that the permanent bans reduced monthly gun-related deaths by 22% in Bogotá and Medellín. This part of the analysis excluded data from 2015 and 2016 because a ceasefire and peace agreement between the Colombian Government and the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) took place, leading to a steep reduction in the overall number of gun-related deaths. Including data from these years, therefore, could have overestimated the effect of the gun-carrying bans.

Researchers also looked at the effect of the bans on mortality rates by gender and location of death in Bogotá and Medellín. There was a steeper decline in mortality rates in public areas than in residences (22% vs 18%). This can be explained by the fact that the restrictions banned carrying, not possessing, firearms. A public area as defined by the Colombian National Statistics Department (and therefore, this study) includes outdoor spaces, such as parks, sidewalks and streets, but does not include inside a private business or home. Gun-related mortality rates among males decreased in both public areas and residences (22% and 15%, respectively). There was also a drop in the residential mortality rate among females (6%), suggesting the ban may have had some effect on gun-related deaths stemming from domestic violence. Gun-carrying restrictions, however, had no effect on the rate of female deaths occurring in public areas.

While there have been many studies showing the effectiveness of gun-carrying restrictions in high-income countries, most studies in low- and middle-income countries have focused on temporary restrictions. In addition to assessing permanent restrictions in middle-income countries, this study is the first to show the difference in effects by place of death and gender.

The study used individual-level mortality data from the Colombian National Department of Statistics— which contains anonymized information on all reported deaths in the country, including the basic cause of death, place of death, and gender of the deceased person. The study included all gun-related mortality, including suicides, homicides, and unintentional deaths. The study found that the restriction had prevented around 30 gun-related deaths per month since the restriction was enacted.

Colombia is one of the countries with the most gun-related deaths in the world after Brazil, the United States, India, and Mexico. Gun-related injuries are a leading cause of death and injury in Colombia, accounting for 41% of all years of life potentially lost between 1998 and 2011. Following the success of the permanent gun-carrying restrictions in Bogotá and Medellín, a gun-carrying restriction was enacted nationwide in 2016. As the restriction is an executive order and not a law, it must be renewed every year by the national government.

Gun violence highlights a public health problem with social and economic costs that go beyond the loss of life, including added health care costs, quality of life losses due to disability, psychological effects, and productivity losses. This study suggests that permanent gun-carrying restrictions are a policy option that can meaningfully reduce the rate of gun-related deaths in urban settings. Further research exploring the effects of permanent gun-carrying restrictions on domestic violence would be beneficial. This study contributes to the evidence base on the effectiveness of gun-carrying restrictions, not only for Colombia, but also for other middle-income countries that face high numbers of gun-related deaths.

Gun-carrying restrictions and gun-related mortality, Colombia: a difference-in-difference design with fixed effects, was written by Andres Vecino-Ortiz and Nicolas Guzman-Tordecilla.