Calif. handgun study to fortify crime prevention efforts

September 20, 2002

UC Davis researchers are releasing a groundbreaking report that provides the first complete description of how more than 200,000 handguns are sold legally in the state each year. The study, which gives results for the state as a whole, as well as for each county and major cities, will help policymakers identify trends and develop strategies to reduce gun-related violence. The results will be presented at the 16th Annual Conference on Childhood Injury Control on Sept. 23 at the Radisson Hotel, 500 Leisure Lane in Sacramento.

"While gun-related violence is an important public health concern, to date there has been no complete, accurate set of data about handgun commerce in the state," said Garen Wintemute, professor of epidemiology and preventive medicine and director of the Violence Prevention Research Program at UC Davis. "As we continue to gather these data in future years, we will be able to detect patterns in how and where handguns are sold that might help state and local officials prevent gun-related violence and crime."

The UC Davis researchers compiled the data using 1999 records of handgun sales and denied sales in California -- data that few states collect, according to Wintemute. Under a 1991 law, California requires that every transfer of a handgun go through a licensed dealer. While private individuals can sell guns at a gun show, they must go through a licensed dealer to file the necessary paperwork. The federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms collects data on the number of guns manufactured and guns involved in crimes, but not on handgun commerce, he added.

Based on these comprehensive data, the results show that:The federal Gun Control Act of 1968 and subsequent amendments prohibit the purchase of guns by felons, fugitives, narcotics addicts, individuals ruled to be mentally ill, illegal aliens, persons convicted of misdemeanor domestic violence crimes and those subject to restraining orders related to domestic violence. It is illegal for individuals younger than 21 years old to purchase handguns.

Because California has used background checks since the 1970s, criminals with felony convictions frequently seek black-market weapons, said Wintemute. Yet denial of weapons purchases continues to play an important role in deterring crime, he said. For instance, a 1991 California law prohibits the purchase of handguns by individuals convicted of violent misdemeanors such as assault or brandishing a weapon. A 2001 study authored by Wintemute and colleagues concludes that the law has resulted in a decreased risk of arrest for violent crimes by these individuals.
This research was supported with a grant from the David and Lucile Packard Foundation.

University of California - Davis Health System

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