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Firearms and Violence: A Critical Review
these interventions may lower firearms injuries, such as preventing children from accidentally hurting themselves or others (see Chapter 8).
Little is known about the potential effectiveness of a market-based approach to reducing criminal access to firearms. Arguments for and against such an approach are based largely on speculation rather than research evidence. There is very little of an analytic or evaluative nature currently available in the literature on market interventions. Even on most descriptive topics (e.g., gun ownership patterns, types of guns used in crimes), there are only a few studies, often not well connected, that have been adequately summarized in existing papers (e.g., Braga et al., 2002; Hahn et al., 2005).
We begin with a brief discussion of legal and illegal firearms commerce, followed by a summary of what is known about the methods by which offenders acquire guns. We then present an analytic framework to understand the effects of specific interventions on gun markets. The next section reviews the literature evaluating various interventions. The final section presents the committee’s views about high-priority research activities. The relationship of firearms acquisition and markets to suicide is quite different and is discussed in the chapter on suicide.
We note that the interventions discussed here may impose costs on legitimate users of firearms. A waiting period law inconveniences hunters and others who use firearms in legitimate fashion. In addition to delays, the system may generate errors, causing unnecessary embarrassment or worse. Some interventions putatively have no such effects and may even facilitate the activities of legitimate owners; for example, gun buy-backs can only help by providing another outlet for individuals wishing to dispose of existing weapons with minimal inconvenience. No research has explored these effects, although they may be important in forming attitudes toward gun control proposals.
HOW OFFENDERS OBTAIN FIREARMS
Legal and Illegal Firearms Commerce
In the United States, there are some 258 million privately owned firearms, including nearly 70 to 90 million handguns (Police Foundation, 1996; see also Table 3-2). Some 4.5 million new firearms, including about 2 million handguns (Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms, 2000b) and about 2 million secondhand guns, are sold each year in the United States (Police Foundation, 1996). Legal firearms commerce consists of transactions made in the primary firearms market and in the largely unregulated secondary firearms market. Acquisitions (other than theft) of new and secondhand firearms from federal firearms licensees (FFLs), whether conducted properly or not, form the primary market for firearms (Cook et al.,