Gun dealer oversight cuts trafficking to criminals

JOHNS HOPKINS (US)—U.S. states with strong regulations and oversight of gun dealers have far less gun trafficking than states that lack those oversights, according to a study led by researchers at Johns Hopkins University Bloomberg School of Public Health.

“In the U.S., few states have a comprehensive system to keep firearms sellers accountable,” says Daniel Webster, the study’s lead author and codirector of the Center for Gun Policy and Research.

Eighty-five percent of guns recovered by police were recovered from criminal suspects who were not the original purchasers of the guns, according to prior research from the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives.

The study, available online and in the July print edition of the Journal of Urban Health, is the first to gather and incorporate measures of the enforcement of gun sale laws into a study of the effectiveness of those laws.

Researchers examined state laws governing gun sales using data from ATF crime gun traces from 54 U.S. cities. The analysis also included a survey of law enforcement agencies’ practices to promote compliance with gun sale laws and data tracing the initial point of sale of guns recovered from crimes.

A gun was considered to have been trafficked if it had been purchased within a year of being recovered from a crime scene unless the criminal was also the legal purchaser of record.

The variables examined included strong gun dealer regulation and oversight; state and local law enforcement agency use of undercover stings of gun dealers; regulation of private gun sales; laws requiring a permit or license to purchase a handgun; and limiting the purchase of guns to one gun per customer per month.

Each of the cities with the lowest levels of in-state gun trafficking—Santa Ana, Calif.; Camden and Newark, N.J.; New York City; and Boston—was in a state that regulates private sales of handguns.

Additionally, four had strong gun dealer oversight and four had discretionary handgun purchase licensing systems.

Cities with the highest levels of in-state gun trafficking were Indianapolis and Gary, Ind.; Tucson and, Phoenix, Ariz.; and Albuquerque, N.M. None of these cities had any of the gun sales accountability measures examined in the study.

Overall, in-state gun trafficking was two to four times higher in cities located in states without these gun sales regulations. The study found no effect on gun trafficking within the state from laws limiting handgun sales to a maximum of one gun per person per month.

“While some have questioned the ability of gun sales regulations to keep guns from criminals,” says study coauthor Jon Vernick, codirector of the center for Gun Policy and Research and associate professor in the Department of Health Policy and Management, “our findings are consistent with other studies which found that measures intended to enhance gun seller accountability can significantly curtail the flow of new guns to criminals.”

In 2005, firearms were used in more than 12,000 homicides in the United States, with 84 percent occurring in large- and medium-sized metropolitan areas.

The research was supported by grants from The John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation and The Joyce Foundation.

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