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Firearms and Violence: A Critical Review
and inspections. The increased scrutiny reduced the number of license holders in New York from 950 to 259 (Veen et al., 1997).
These state-level and local initiatives have not been rigorously evaluated to determine whether they have affected criminal access to guns and rates of gun misuse.
Limiting Gun Sales
Federal law requires FFLs to report multiple firearms sales to BATF. A few states, including Virginia, Maryland, and California, have passed laws that limit the number of guns that an individual may legally purchase from FFLs within some specified time period. Underlying this intervention is the idea that some individuals make straw purchases in the primary market and then divert these guns to proscribed persons or others planning to do harm. Trace data analyses conducted by BATF suggest that handguns that were first sold as part of a multiple sale are more likely than others to move rapidly into criminal use (Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms, 2000c). If multiple sales were limited, then the volume of new guns available to criminals might decline. In the language of supply and demand, this is a supply-side intervention aimed at raising the price of new guns to criminals. In principle this sort of intervention holds promise. However, in order for this intervention to work—in the sense of reducing violence—not only must the intervention make it more difficult for criminals to get new guns but also the substitution possibilities must be limited; that is, comparably harmful guns cannot be available from comparably accessible sources.
In July 1993, Virginia implemented a law limiting handgun purchases by any individual to no more than one during a 30-day period. Prior to the passage of this law, Virginia had been one of the leading source states for guns recovered in northeast cities including New York, Boston, and Washington, DC (Weil and Knox, 1996). Using firearms trace data, Weil and Knox (1996) showed that during the first 18 months the law was in effect, Virginia’s role in supplying guns to New York and Massachusetts was greatly reduced. For traces initiated in the Northeast, 35 percent of the firearms acquired before one-gun-a-month implementation took effect and 16 percent purchased after implementation were traced to Virginia dealers (Weil and Knox, 1996). This study indicates a change in the origin of traced crime guns following the change in the law. In this sense, the law change had an effect. However, the law may have been undermined by a substitution from guns first purchased in Virginia to guns first purchased in other states.4 An important question not addressed by this study is whether the
The Virginia legislature may nonetheless have achieved its goal of reducing the role of the state in the interstate illegal gun trade.