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ISU study: Lawmakers' gender matters on gun laws

Economist Rajiv Goel
Charlie Schlenker
Economist Rajiv Goel.

It turns out when there are more women in a state house of representatives, the more likely it is legislation will pass that deals with firearms. That's according to new scholarship by an Illinois State University economist.

The study looked at 30 years of gun laws in all 50 states. Retired Illinois State University professor Rajeev Goel said as the percentage of women lawmakers has increased since the 1980s, so did gun laws. Societal changes prompted a lot of firearm legislation. But the presence of women had an effect on gun law passage that's higher than the amount of growth in the number of women lawmakers, according to the study.

"They don't have to have a majority necessarily, and very few states do, if any, but the critical mass seems to be in the 30-40% range to be effectively having an impact," said Goel.

In the study co-authored by Michael Nelson and published in Social Science Quarterly, Goel said he controlled for variables such as income, education, the percentage of people who own guns, the state's political tilt and population, education, and population density.

Goel has a couple theories why women matter more.

"Women have different behavioral aspects from men. There is research that women are, in some instances, less competitive behavior than men, and also they may have different exposure to violence," said Goel.

The proportion of female state house members had an impact on firearm legislation. But female state senators did not.

That could be because state senators serve longer terms than house members in many states and representatives could tend to be more responsive to constituent concerns because their elections come up faster and more often than for senators. Tenure lengths may be different in a state house and senate, said Goel. Seniority can influence the ability to pass measures.

Goel said that has implications for potential candidates interested in firearm legislation.

"It matters where, for now, female legislators appear. In terms of gun legislation, it makes more sense or more effectiveness is there when they are elected to the house than the senate," said Goel.

Oh, one more thing? The study finds the impact of women state representatives on gun legislation is true on both sides of the debate — not just gun control measures, but including stand your ground, concealed carry, and gun control repeal bills as well.

Goel said there also could be gender differences in the prevalence and success of legislation in other areas than guns.

“Generally speaking, people have viewed and I have also done research that women are less corrupt," said Goel. "This is across nations. We did research earlier this year that it depends on where they are in the in the parliament. So, that has shown some differences. And the other part that data came out in the context of corruption is that women also perceive corruption differently.

"So not only are their lawmakers, but if you're a public official, you're have different exposure. So perhaps, given the relative disadvantage, in some cases, women as entrepreneurs, so they're not facing corruption in licensing for a new business, but perhaps they are facing corruption in some countries to go and get electricity connection, when electricity companies are owned by the state.”

Goel's research was supported by Illinois State University's Katie Insurance School in the College of Business and the Institute for Studies on the Mediterranean in Naples, Italy.

WGLT Senior Reporter Charlie Schlenker has spent more than three award-winning decades in radio. He lives in Normal with his family.
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