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Effects of Policies Designed to Keep Firearms from High-Risk Individuals

January 7, 2015

This article summarizes and critiques available evidence from studies published between 1999 and August 2014 on the effects of policies designed to keep firearms from high-risk individuals in the United States. Some prohibitions for high-risk individuals (e.g., those under domestic violence restraining orders, violent misdemeanants) and procedures for checking for more types of prohibiting conditions are associated with lower rates of violence. Certain laws intended to prevent prohibited persons from accessing firearms -- rigorous permit-to-purchase, comprehensive background checks, strong regulation and oversight of gun dealers, and requiring gun owners to promptly report lost or stolen firearms -- are negatively associated with the diversion of guns to criminals. Future research is needed to examine whether these laws curtail nonlethal gun violence and whether the effects of expanding prohibiting conditions for firearm possession are modified by the presence of policies to prevent diversion.

The Epidemiology of Firearm Violence in the Twenty-First Century United States

December 12, 2014

This brief review summarizes the basic epidemiology of firearm violence, a large and costly public health problem in the United States for which the mortality rate has remained unchanged for more than a decade. It presents findings for the present in light of recent trends. Risk for firearm violence varies substantially across demographic subsets of the population and between states in patterns that are quite different for suicide and homicide. Suicide is far more common than homicide and its rate is increasing; the homicide rate is decreasing. As with other important health problems, most cases of fatal firearm violence arise from large but low-risk subsets of the population; risk and burden of illness are not distributed symmetrically. Compared with other industrialized nations, the United States has uniquely high mortality rates from firearm violence.

Support for a Comprehensive Background Check Requirement and Expanded Denial Criteria for Firearm Transfers: Findings from the Firearms Licensee Survey

November 8, 2013

Federal and state policies on eligibility to purchase and possess firearms and background check requirements for firearm transfers are undergoing intensive review and, in some cases, modification. Our objective in this third report from the Firearms Licensee Survey (FLS) is to assess support among federally licensed firearms retailers (gun dealers and pawnbrokers) for a background check requirement on all firearm transfers and selected criteria for denying the purchase of handguns based on criminal convictions, alcohol abuse, and serious mental illness. The FLS was conducted by mail during June–August, 2011 on a random sample of 1,601 licensed dealers and pawnbrokers in 43 states who were believed to sell at least 50 firearms annually. The response rate was 36.9 %, typical of establishment surveys using such methods. Most respondents (55.4 %) endorsed a comprehensive background check requirement; 37.5 % strongly favored it. Support was more common and stronger among pawnbrokers than dealers and among respondents who believed that "it is too easy for criminals to get guns." Support was positively associated with many establishment characteristics, including sales of inexpensive handguns, sales that were denied when the purchasers failed background checks, and sales of firearms that were later subjected to ownership tracing, and were negatively associated with sales at gun shows. Support for three existing and nine potential criteria for denial of handgun purchase involving criminal activity, alcohol abuse, and mental illness exceeded 90 % in six cases and fell below 2/3 in one. Support again increased with sales of inexpensive handguns and denied sales and decreased with sales of tactical (assault-type) rifles. In this survey, which was conducted prior to mass shootings in Aurora, Colorado; Oak Creek, Wisconsin; Newtown, Connecticut; and elsewhere, licensed firearm sellers exhibited moderate support for a comprehensive background check requirement and very strong support for additional criteria for denial of handgun purchases. In both cases, support was associated with the intensity of respondents' exposure to illegal activities.

Characteristics of Federally Licensed Firearms Retailers and Retail Establishments in the United States: Initial Findings from the Firearms Licensee Survey

August 31, 2012

Firearms have widely supported legitimate purposes but are also frequently used in violent crimes. Owners and senior executives of federally licensed firearms dealers and pawnbrokers are a potentially valuable source of information on retail commerce in firearms, links between legal and illegal commerce, and policies designed to prevent the firearms they sell from being used in crimes. To our knowledge, there has been no prior effort to gather such information. In 2011, we conducted the Firearms Licensee Survey on a probability sample of 1,601 licensed dealers and pawnbrokers in the United States believed to sell 50 or more firearms per year. This article presents details of the design and execution of the survey and describes the characteristics of the respondents and their business establishments. The survey was conducted by mail, using methods developed by Dillman and others. Our response rate was 36.9 % (591 respondents), similar to that for other establishment surveys using similar methods. Respondents had a median age of 54; 89% were male, 97.6% were White, and, 98.1% were non-Hispanic. Those who held licenses under their own names had been licensed for a median of 18 years. A large majority of 96.3% agreed that "private ownership of guns is essential for a free society"; just over half (54.9%) believed that "it is too easy for criminals to get guns in this country." A match between the job and a personal interest in the shooting sports was the highest-ranking reason for working as a firearms retailer; the highest-ranking concerns were that "there are too many 'gun control' regulations" and that "the government might confiscate my guns." Most respondents (64.3%) were gun dealers, with significant variation by region. Residential dealers accounted for 25.6% of all dealers in the Midwest. Median annual sales volume was 200 firearms for both dealers and pawnbrokers. Dealers appeared more likely than pawnbrokers to specialize; they were more likely to rank in the highest or lowest quartile on sales of handguns, inexpensive handguns, and tactical rifles. Sales of inexpensive handguns and sales to women were more common among pawnbrokers. Internet sales were reported by 28.3% of respondents and sales at gun shows by 14.3%. A median of 1% of sales were denied after purchasers failed background checks; firearm trace requests equaled G1 % of annual sales. Trace frequency was directly associated with the percentage of firearm sales involving handguns, inexpensive handguns, and sales to women. Frequency of denied sales was strongly and directly associated with frequency of trace requests (pG0.0001). These results are based on selfreport but are consistent with those from studies using objective data.

Gun Shows Across a Multistate American Gun Market: Observational Evidence of the Effects of Regulatory Policies

June 1, 2007

Objective: To describe gun shows and assess the impact of increased regulation on characteristics linked to their importance as sources of guns used in crime.Design: Cross-sectional, observational.Subjects: Data were collected at a structured sample of 28 gun shows in California, which regulates these events and prohibits undocumented private party gun sales; and in Arizona, Nevada, Texas and Florida -- all leading sources of California's crime guns -- where these restrictions do not exist.Main outcome measures: Size of shows, measured by numbers of gun vendors and people in attendance; number and nature of guns for sale by gun vendors; measures of private party gun sales and illegal surrogate ("straw") gun purchases.Results: Shows in comparison states were larger, but the number of attendees per gun vendor was higher in California. None of these differences was statistically significant. Armed attendees were more common in other states (median 5.7%, interquartile range (IQR) 3.9 - 10.0%) than in California (median 1.1%, IQR 0.5 - 2.2%), p = 0.0007. Thirty percent of gun vendors both in California and elsewhere were identifiable as licensed firearm retailers. There were few differences in the types or numbers of guns offered for sale; vendors elsewhere were more likely to sell assault weapons (34.9% and 13.3%, respectively; p = 0.001). Straw purchases were more common in the comparison states (rate ratio 6.6 (95% CI 0.9 to 49.1), p = 0.06).Conclusions: California's regulatory policies were associated with a decreased incidence of anonymous, undocumented gun sales and illegal straw purchases at gun shows. No significant adverse effects of these policies were observed.

Risk Factors Among Handgun Retailers for Frequent and Disproportionate Sales of Guns Used in Violent and Firearm Related Crimes

December 1, 2005

Objective: To determine the retailer and community level factors associated with frequent and disproportionate sales of handguns that are later used in violent and firearm related crimes (VFC handguns). Design: Cross sectional. The authors used California records to identify all handguns sold by study subjects during 1996-2000 and federal gun tracing records to determine which of these guns had been recovered by a police agency in the US or elsewhere and traced by 30 September 2003. Subjects and setting: The 421 licensed gun retailers in California selling at least 100 handguns annually during 1996-2000. Main outcome measure: The number of VFC handguns per 1000 gun years of exposure. Differences are expressed as incidence rate ratios (RR) with 95% confidence intervals (CI). Results: Subjects accounted for 11.7% of California retailers with handgun sales, 81.5% of handgun sales, and 85.5% of VFC handguns. Among subjects, the 3426 VFC handguns accounted for 48.0% of all traced handguns and 65.0% of those linked to a specified crime. The median VFC handgun trace rate was 0.5/1000 gun years (range 0-8.8). In multivariate analysis, this rate increased substantially for each single-point increase in the percentage of proposed sales that were denied because the purchasers were prohibited from owning guns (RR 1.43; 95% CI 1.32 to 1.56), and was increased for pawnbrokers (RR 1.26; 95% CI 1.02 to 1.55). Community level crime rates and sociodemographics had little predictive value. Conclusions: Risk factors, largely determined at the retailer level, exist for frequent and disproportionate sales of handguns that are later used in violent and firearm related crimes. Screening to identify high risk retailers could be undertaken with data that are already available.

Where the guns come from: The gun industry and gun commerce.

September 1, 2002

Under federal law, it is illegal for youth under age 18 to purchase rifles or shotguns, and for those under age 21 to purchase handguns. However, fatality and injury statistics clearly show that guns are finding their way into young people's hands. Many of these youth obtain guns through illegal gun markets. This article focuses on how guns in the United States are manufactured, marketed, and sold. The article shows how the legal and illegal gun markets are intimately connected and make guns easily accessible to youth. "Although the domestic gun manufacturing industry is relatively small and has experienced declining sales in recent years, it has significant political clout and a large market for its products, and has engaged in aggressive marketing to youth." Lax oversight of licensed firearms dealers, combined with little or no regulation of private sales between gun owners, mean that guns can quickly move from the legal gun market into the illegal market, where they can be acquired by young people. Certain guns, especially inexpensive, poorly made small handguns, are particularly attractive to criminals and youth. The author observes that several policy innovations -- including increased regulation of licensed firearms dealers, intensified screening of prospective buyers, regulation of private sales, gun licensing and registration, and bans on some types of weapons -- hold promise for decreasing the flow of guns into the hands of youth. [Note: The photo on page 68 is not longer available and deleted from the online publication.]