Avi Feller - Estimating the effects of a California gun control program with Multitask Gaussian Processes

Avi Feller, Associate Professor of Public Policy and Statistics at University of California, Berkeley
Encina Hall West, room 400

Gun violence is a critical public safety concern in the United States. In 2006 California implemented a unique firearm monitoring program, the Armed and Prohibited Persons System (APPS), to address gun violence in the state. The APPS program first identifies those firearm owners who be- come prohibited from owning one due to federal or state law, then confiscates their firearms. Our goal is to assess the effect of APPS on California murder rates using annual, state-level crime data across the US for the years before and after the introduction of the program. To do so, we adapt a non-parametric Bayesian approach, multitask Gaussian Processes (MTGPs), to the panel data setting. MTGPs allow for flexible and parsimonious panel data models that nest many existing approaches and allow for direct control over both depen- dence across time and dependence across units, as well as natural uncertainty quantification. We extend this approach to incorporate non-Normal outcomes, auxiliary covariates, and multiple outcome series, which are all important in our application. We also show that this approach has attractive Frequentist properties, including a representation as a weighting estimator with separate weights over units and time periods. Applying this approach, we find that the increased monitoring and enforcement from the APPS program substantially decreased homicides in California. We also find that the effect on murder is driven entirely by declines in gun-related murder with no measurable effect on non-gun murder. Estimated cost per murder avoided are substantially lower than conventional estimates of the value of a statistical life, suggesting a very high benefit-cost ratio for this enforcement effort.


Avi Feller is an associate professor at the Goldman School, where he works at the intersection of public policy, data science, and statistics. His methodological research centers on learning more from social policy evaluations. His applied research focuses on working with governments on using data to design, implement, and evaluate policies. Prior to his doctoral studies, Feller served as Special Assistant to the Director at the White House Office of Management and Budget and worked at the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities. Feller received a Ph.D. in Statistics from Harvard University, an M.Sc. in Applied Statistics as a Rhodes Scholar at the University of Oxford, and a B.A. in Political Science and Applied Mathematics from Yale University.