Recent Firearms Law Scholarship

  • Date:
  • January 29, 2021

Two recent firearms law articles have been recently published or are forthcoming in the near future. These papers add interesting new insights, arguments, and data points to the literature.


In the decade since District of Columbia v. Heller, the paradigm-shifting 2008 Supreme Court case affirming the right of individuals to keep handguns in the home for self-defense, lower courts have struggled to reconcile the case’s broad conception of the Second Amendment with longstanding restrictions on the keeping and bearing of firearms. A burgeoning literature has urged courts and scholars to approach this tension with an eye toward Heller’s repeated proclamations that self-defense is the “central component” of the Second Amendment right, suggesting that principles of common law self-defense may offer insight into the scope of the Amendment’s protections. Examining self-defense law specifically as a U.S. tradition, this Note contends that the right to self-preservation has evolved significantly from its common law origins, with different states adopting different standards, procedures, and definitions over time. This diversity makes it difficult to extract universal principles of self-defense law for purposes of shaping Second Amendment doctrine.

But even as the law has changed across time and jurisdictions, federal courts have been consistent in allowing states to define the contours of the self-defense right. Therefore, courts today should recognize self-defense as a dynamic, federalist tradition when they interpret the Second Amendment — and thus treat state policy regulating the instrumentalities of self-defense (i.e., firearms) with a degree of deference. This Note argues that this approach, which I term “Second Amendment Federalism,” comports with the dictates of Heller and may provide a roadmap for doctrinal development.


Objective: In this study, we analyzed the relationship between state firearm laws and the incidence and severity (i.e., number of victims) of mass public shootings in the United States during the period 1976–2018. Hypotheses: We hypothesized that states requiring permits to purchase firearms would have a lower incidence of mass public shootings than states not requiring permits. We also hypothesized that states banning large-capacity ammunition magazines would experience a lower number of victims in mass public shootings that did occur than states without bans. Method: We developed a panel of annual, state-specific data on firearm laws and mass public shooting events and victim counts. We used a generalized estimating equations logistic regression to examine the relationship between eight state firearm laws and the likelihood of a mass public shooting. We then used a zero-inflated negative binomial model to assess the relationship between these laws and the number of fatalities and nonfatal injuries in these incidents. Results: State laws requiring a permit to purchase a firearm were associated with 60% lower odds of a mass public shooting occurring (95% confidence interval [CI: −32%, −76%]). Large-capacity magazine bans were associated with 38% fewer fatalities (95% CI [−12%, −57%]) and 77% fewer nonfatal injuries (95% CI [−43%, −91%]) when a mass shooting occurred. Conclusion: Laws requiring permits to purchase a gun are associated with a lower incidence of mass public shootings, and bans on large capacity magazines are associated with fewer fatalities and nonfatal injuries when such events do occur.