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Open Access Publications from the University of California

Factors Affecting a Recently Purchased Handgun’s Risk for Use in Crime under Circumstances That Suggest Gun Trafficking

  • Author(s): Wright, Mona A.
  • Wintemute, Garen J.
  • Webster, Daniel W.
  • et al.

While many handguns are used in crime each year in the USA, most are not. We conducted this study to identify factors present at the time of a handgun’s most recent retail sale that were associated with its subsequent use in crime under circumstances suggesting that the handgun had been trafficked—purchased with the intent of diverting it to criminal use. Handguns acquired in multiple-gun purchases were of particular interest. Using data for 180,321 handguns purchased from federally licensed retailers in California in 1996, we studied attributes of the handguns, the retailers selling them, the purchasers, and the sales transactions. Our outcome measure was a handgun’s recovery by a police agency, followed by a gun ownership trace, conducted by the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, that determined (a) that the recovery had occurred within 3 years of the handgun’s most recent purchase from a licensed retailer and (b) that the person who possessed the gun when it was recovered by police was not its most recent purchaser. Altogether, 722 handguns were recovered and had trace results that met the additional criteria. Handguns acquired in multiple-gun, same-day transactions were more likely to be traced than were single-purchase handguns (odds ratio [OR] 1.33, 95% confidence intervals [CI] 1.08 to 1.63). This was not the case for multiple-purchase handguns defined more broadly as multiple handguns purchased by one individual over any 30-day period as used in “one-gun-a-month” laws. Bivariate regressions indicated increased risk of a handgun being traced when it sold new for $150 or less (OR 4.28, 95% CI 3.59 to 5.11) or had been purchased by a woman (OR 2.02, 95% CI 1.62 to 2.52). Handguns sold by retailers who also had a relatively high proportion (≥2%) of purchases denied because the prospective purchasers were prohibited from owning firearms were more likely to be traced than were those sold by other retailers (OR 4.09, 95% CI 3.39 to 4.94). These findings persisted in multivariate analyses. Our findings suggest specific strategies for intervention to prevent gun violence.

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