One percent of retailers sell 40 percent of guns used in California crime

December 14, 2005

A study by researchers at the UC Davis School of Medicine and Medical Center has found that 1.3 percent of the licensed gun retailers in the state sell 39.4 percent of the handguns used in violent crime, and that those retailers share similar profiles -- pawn shops and retailers with a high rate of background-check failure are at higher risk for selling a handgun that will be used in a criminal act.

While both sides of the gun control debate have agreed that a few retailers were responsible for a high percentage of crime guns, many dismissed it as simply a result of sales volume -- large volume retailers would surely sell more crime guns than their smaller counterparts. The UC Davis study, published in the December issue of Injury Prevention, refutes that belief. It also shows that there is no correlation between crime gun sales and a community's social and demographic characteristics or neighborhood crime rates.

"We hope our work helps law enforcement and community agencies better allocate their resources, allowing them to set up programs that deal with problem retailers and keep guns out of the hands of those people who will use them in acts of violence," said Garen Wintemute, professor of epidemiology and preventative medicine and director of the Violence Prevention Research Program at UC Davis Medical Center.

Wintemute and his team used California Department of Justice records to identify all handguns sold by retailers in the study between 1996 and 2000 and Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives gun-tracing data to determine which of these guns had been recovered by law enforcement in the United States or elsewhere, and traced by September 30, 2003. They used the data to look for factors at the retailer level and within the community that were associated with frequent and disproportionate sales of handguns later used in violent and firearm-related crime.

The study comes at a time of heightened interest in gun control and gun manufacturer/retailer liability, with city leaders in nearby San Francisco squaring off against gun advocates over a new municipal ban on handguns and new federal government policies offering liability protection to gun retailers. Also, while the state homicide rate has fallen over the last 10 years, the California Attorney General's office reported guns are still the most common weapons for homicides in the state.

"The next step is to look at how we can apply the California profile to the national scene," said Wintemute. "We know that nationally just over 1 percent of retailers sell nearly 60 percent of crime guns. If similar retailer profiles are discovered, then law enforcement can begin to address national crime gun sales more efficiently."

This research was supported with a grant from the National Institute of Justice, with preliminary work supported by the David and Lucile Packard Foundation, The Joyce Foundation, and the Richard and Rhoda Goldman Fund.

The UC Davis Violence Prevention Research Program is a multi-disciplinary effort researching the causes and prevention of serious violence with an emphasis on firearm violence. In addition to the handgun retailer study, other recent projects include: evaluations of the effectiveness of denying firearm purchase to previously convicted criminals, the relationship between gun design and gun violence, the effectiveness of gun buyback programs, and the risk for a violent death associated with the purchase of a handgun. Researchers work actively to inform the public and government leaders about the nature and prevention of violence and the evaluation of violence prevention policies. More information is available at

Media Contacts:
Brian Micek: (916) 801-4257
Carole Gan: (916) 734-9047
UC Davis Health System

UC Davis Health System is an integrated, academic health system encompassing UC Davis School of Medicine, the 530-bed acute-care hospital and clinical services of UC Davis Medical Center, and the 800-member physician group known as UC Davis Medical Group.

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