Promoting healthy public policies is a national priority, but state policy adoption is driven by a complex set of internal and external factors.
This study employs new social network methods to identify underlying connections among states and to predict the likelihood of new firearm-related policy adoption given changes to this interstate network.
This approach could be used to assess the likelihood that a given state will adopt a specific new firearm-related law and to identify points of influence that could either inhibit or promote wider diffusion of specific laws.
US states are largely responsible for the regulation of firearms within their borders. Each state has developed a different legal environment with regard to firearms based on different values and beliefs of citizens, legislators, governors, and other stakeholders. Predicting the types of firearm laws that states may adopt is therefore challenging.
We propose a parsimonious model for this complex process and provide credible predictions of state firearm laws by estimating the likelihood they will be passed in the future. We employ a temporal exponential-family random graph model to capture the bipartite state law–state network data over time, allowing for complex interdependencies and their temporal evolution. Using data on all state firearm laws over the period 1979–2020, we estimate these models’ parameters while controlling for factors associated with firearm law adoption, including internal and external state characteristics. Predictions of future firearm law passage are then calculated based on a number of scenarios to assess the effects of a given type of firearm law being passed in the future by a given state.
Results show that a set of internal state factors are important predictors of firearm law adoption, but the actions of neighboring states may be just as important. Analysis of scenarios provide insights into the mechanics of how adoption of laws by specific states (or groups of states) may perturb the rest of the network structure and alter the likelihood that new laws would become more (or less) likely to continue to diffuse to other states.
The methods used here outperform standard approaches for policy diffusion studies and afford predictions that are superior to those of an ensemble of machine learning tools. The proposed framework could have applications for the study of policy diffusion in other domains.