Scholarship Highlight: New Empirical Work on Firearms Purchasing & Social Determinants of Gun Violence

  • Date:
  • January 12th, 2024

By: Andrew Willinger

The scholarship highlighted in this post does not necessarily represent the views of the Duke Center for Firearms Law.

This post highlights three new pieces of empirical scholarship regarding firearms.  First, in their article Preferences for Firearms, Sarah Moshary, Bradley Shapiro, and Sara Drango examine consumer demand for different types of firearms and find that—while gun purchasers are generally price inelastic—first-time firearms purchasers and buyers who prefer handguns are more price sensitive than others.  While this suggests to Moshary et al. that interventions such as gun taxes might be effective in reducing handgun purchases and potentially handgun crime, the substitution effect that the authors find from long guns to handguns also suggests to them that policy interventions focused on semiautomatic rifles may have less impact.  Second, a new article by physicians and researchers at Tulane University suggests a link between food insecurity (FI) and firearm homicide in major U.S. urban areas—finding that higher rates of FI were associated with higher rates of firearm homicides.  The authors argue that “[c]ommunity- and hospital-based programs that target FI may help combat the gun violence epidemic and decrease gun violence recidivism.”  Finally, in a new article in The American Journal of Medicine, a team of researchers conducted a comparative analysis of mental illness and gun violence and found “that mental illness is not the major contributor to the increasing trends in deaths from gun violence.”

Sarah Moshary, Bradley T. Shapiro, and Sara Drango, Preferences for Firearms, Available on SSRN

From Abstract and Introduction


This paper provides a critical input into crafting effective firearms policy: an understanding of consumer demand for guns. We estimate individual-level price sensitivity and substitution patterns across gun types using stated choice experiments. We find that potential firearm buyers are price insensitive overall, but that first-time handgun buyers are the most price sensitive. We also estimate considerable substitution from semi-automatic long guns to handguns, which are associated with more crimes per gun. This finding suggests that firearm restrictions specifically targeting semi-automatic long guns would have minimal impact on gun ownership.

Our demand analysis yields three important findings. First, consumers are price inelastic, implying high valuations for firearms. This finding dovetails with the historical political challenges of firearms regulation. Second, first-time firearms purchasers and buyers who prefer handguns are more price sensitive than others. This finding implies that higher gun prices would disproportionately reduce the purchases of handguns by first-time buyers, which suggests some optimism about the potential for taxes to reduce crime (both because handguns are involved in more crimes than long guns, and also because those who already own guns can commit gun crimes without purchasing an additional firearm). Finally, we estimate considerable substitution from semi-automatic rifles and shotguns (which are often labeled “assault weapons”) to handguns, but little substitution in reverse. This finding suggests that restrictions specific to assault weapons may have little impact on overall gun ownership and would increase the sale of handguns, firearms statistically more likely to be involved in deaths

Michael Ghio, et al., Firearm Homicide Mortality is Linked to Food Insecurity in Major U.S. Metropolitan Cities: A Cross-Sectional Review, Available on SSRN

From Introduction and Conclusion


To better understand and address the rising rates of firearm homicides and injuries in the US, researchers have begun examining social and structural determinants to identify factors associated with firearm violence to describe who are most likely to be victims, and to pinpoint where violence occurs most frequently. Food insecurity (FI) is a social determinant of increasing concern and interest to those researching gun violence as rates of hunger have continued to rise in the US. The United States Department of Agriculture defines FI as “an inability to consistently have enough food for each individual in a household.” Food insecurity has negative consequences on the physical and mental development of both children and adults with higher rates of all-cause mortality. Other healthcare outcomes linked to FI includes poor glycemic control in diabetics, decreased antiretroviral adherence in patients with HIV/AIDS, and higher rates of depression and suicide attempts

Firearm violence has continued to rise over the last decade with increases in all forms. Likewise, FI has reached epidemic proportions with 11.1-11.8% of households in the US being food insecure in 2018. Prior studies have shown that FI contributes to the ongoing firearm violence epidemic. In this study, we demonstrated that FI likely plays a role in the gun violence epidemic being seen in large US metropolitan areas. The current results show that in addition to the physical and mental health consequences of FI, there also is an association with firearm homicide mortality (FHM). While this has previously been demonstrated in single metropolitan area or state regions, this present study establishes this association in the largest metropolitan statistical areas in the US. Analysis using linear regression shows that higher rates of FI were associated with higher rates of firearm homicides. 

Michelle Berglass, et al., Mental Illness and Gun Violence in the United States, Australia and United Kingdom: Clinical and Public Health Challenges, The American Journal of Medicine (Dec. 1, 2023), subscription required


In this Commentary we compared deaths from mental illness and gun violence in the United States, Australia and the United Kingdom and their clinical and public health challenges.

In the US, Australia and the UK, mental illness and deaths from gun violence pose significant clinical and public health challenges. Prevention of mental illness and gun violence should be societal priorities. The comparisons with Australia and the UK, indicate that mental illness is not the major contributor to the increasing trends in deaths from gun violence. In the US, the high rates of gun ownership and access to firearms and not mental illness seem more plausible explanations. Further, if mental illness, which is similar in the three countries, played a major role in gun homicides one would expect gun homicide rates to be comparably similar. In fact, they are vastly different between the US, Australia, and UK.