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Criminal charge history, handgun purchasing, and demographic characteristics of legal handgun purchasers in California.



The prevalence and characteristics of handgun purchasers' criminal charge histories have never been described for a large population of firearm owners, but such information is critical to understanding risk factors for subsequent violence in this population. We sought to characterize legal handgun purchasers in California and compare this group to the state population, to quantify the proportion with a criminal charge history at purchase, and to identify modifiable factors associated with of having such a history.


This cross-sectional study of all 79,927 legal handgun purchasers aged 21-49 years in California in 2001 used log-linear generalized additive models to identify factors associated with having a criminal charge history at purchase. Subjects are from a longitudinal study of incident criminal activity among handgun purchasers.


The majority (91.03%) of purchasers were male; whites were overrepresented and Hispanics were underrepresented relative to their population size. At the time of purchase, 16.68%  had a criminal charge history and 10.71% had a criminal conviction. Among men with such a history, 31.28% had been charged with a violent crime and 16.54% had been charged with a firearm-related crime. The strongest factor associated with having a criminal charge history was redeeming a pawned handgun (prevalence ratio: 1.82; 95% confidence interval: 1.71, 1.93).


Despite California's stringent firearm purchase laws, more than 1-in-6 handgun purchasers had a criminal charge history at purchase. This proportion may be higher in states with less restrictive firearm purchasing eligibility criteria.

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