Almost all guns used in criminal acts enter circulation via an initial legal transaction. Background checks at the point of sale may be effective at preventing illegal access to firearms, but these checks are not required for all gun sales or transfers. This, plus the fact that guns are frequently transported across state lines, despite provisions in the 1968 Gun Control Act,33 may limit the effectiveness of the current system. The result of these inefficiencies is that illegal firearms are readily available to those with criminal intent. In 1998, 1,020 of 83,272 federally licensed retailers (1.2 percent) accounted for 57.4 percent of all guns traced by the ATF (Wintemute et al., 2005). Gun sales are also relatively concentrated; approximately 15 percent of retailers request 80 percent of background checks on gun buyers conducted by the National Instant Criminal Background Check System (NICS) (Wintemute et al., 2005). However, this information requires further study because Wintemute and colleagues (2005) also found that the share of crime gun traces attributed to these few dealers only slightly exceeded their share of handgun sales, which are almost equally concentrated among a few dealers.

Improve understanding of whether interventions intended to diminish the illegal carrying of firearms reduce firearm violence.

Examples of research questions that could be examined:

What is the degree to which background checks at the point of sale are effective in deterring acquisition of firearms by those who are legally disqualified from owning one?

What is the public health impact of removing firearms from persons who develop a disqualifying characteristic, for example, mental illness with potential for violence?

Do programs that focus on changing norms in a community decrease illegal gun carrying?

Improve understanding of whether reducing criminal access to legally purchased guns reduces firearm violence.

Examples of topics that could be examined:


33 Public Law 90-618, 82 Stat. 1213 (October 22, 1968).

The National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine
500 Fifth St. N.W. | Washington, D.C. 20001

Copyright © National Academy of Sciences. All rights reserved.
Terms of Use and Privacy Statement