Evidence-Based Policies to Prevent Gun Violence: Background Checks and Purchaser Licensing

This is the eighth post in a series about Reducing Gun Violence in the United States. The previous post described Mental Illness, Violence, and Laws.

In this post, I’ll explore two methods designed to keep guns out of the hands of people who are prohibited from owning them: background checks and purchaser licensing laws.

Background Checks

The Brady Handgun Violence Protection Act of 1993 created the federal National Instant Criminal Background Check System, which enables federally licensed firearm dealers to conduct background checks for gun sales. These dealers are required by that law to perform a background check before proceeding with any gun sale.

When conducting a background check, sellers are often immediately alerted that a sale may proceed. Sometimes, sellers are immediately alerted that a sale is prohibited for any reason, or delayed if more time is needed to perform the background check.

In the case of a delay, law enforcement has three days to complete any additional checks, after which the sale may go forward if it does not have a decision, even if the sale would have been prohibited by law. If law enforcement later realizes that the sale should have been prohibited, it is obligated to find the purchaser and retrieve the firearm obtained.

Below is a flow chart of how the federal background check system works, starting from the left and moving to the right by following the arrows.

NICBCS Process for Purchasing a Firearm from a Dealer (source: GAO Gun Control)

In theory, this system should work fairly well. However, due to states and government agencies not always reporting records that might trigger a sale denial, gaps in records exist for individuals to which sales should be prohibited. These gaps can come from mental health records, criminal prohibitions, or other sources. As a result of these gaps, sales are sometimes made to individuals who would have been prohibited from owning a gun; and those individuals, on occasion, then use those weapons to commit violent acts.

States Requiring Private Sale Background Checks (source: Universal Background Checks)

While all sales of firearms by federally licensed dealers must go through background checks, only fourteen states require that private sales must also include a background check, such as individuals meeting through Craigslist or friend-of-a-friend.

Do background checks on firearms purchases have any effect?

Enforcing background checks for firearms sales have been shown to (sources: Firearm Trafficking, Reducing Gun Violence, Comprehensive Background Check Policies, Firearm Laws)

  • reduce interstate trafficking of firearms
  • serve as an important framework for other laws to screen individuals from purchasing guns

In particular, states with weak gun laws that did not require private sale background checks regularly have large exports of guns to states with strong gun laws. Universal background checks in all states would help reduce this.

However, background checks alone have not been shown to reduce rates of gun homicide.

Purchaser Licensing

Handgun purchaser licensing laws require that prospective handgun purchasers obtain a permit to buy a firearm from a state or local government before a purchase can be made. As part of applying for a license, applicants might submit a photograph, fingerprints, or a copy of a government-issued id. They may need to be interviewed by a law enforcement officer, and they may be required to show proof of completing a firearm safety training course.

States and local governments that have licensing requirements take thirty days on average to process the license application, which may involve a background check. States or cities may have access to more records that have not yet been submitted to the federal National Instant Background Check System yet, which increases the chance that a prohibited purchaser would be denied from being able to purchase a handgun.

States Requiring Licenses for Every Handgun Purchase (source: Universal Background Checks)

Only nine states require obtaining a license before purchasing a handgun, and the licensing varies:

  • permits have varying expiration dates
  • law enforcement’s capability to deny permits to qualified but dangerous applicants vary
    • for example, denying a permit to an individual with an arrest record for anger issues but no convictions
  • safety training requirements for prospective purchasers vary

Individuals committing gun crimes in states with purchaser licensing laws often use guns obtained from states with weaker licensing laws. Like the universal background check requirements described above, a strong body of evidence shows that handgun purchaser licensing laws are associated with fewer guns illegally moving across state lines from states with weak gun laws to those with strong gun laws.

Do purchaser licensing restrictions on handgun purchases have any effect?

Unlike universal background checks, handgun purchaser licensing laws reduce firearm homicide and suicide as well as prevent guns from being illegally diverted to criminals through dealers. A likely explanation for this is that direct interaction with law enforcement, a background check, and a built-in waiting period counteracts impulsive purchasers to harm oneself or others. Among the effects: (sources: Firearm Trafficking, Reducing Gun Violence, Initial Impact, Impact of Sales Laws, Association Between Law and Homicides, Effects of Changes, Effects of the Repeal, Evaluating Missouri, Association in Urban Counties)

  • Connecticut’s 1995 licensing law (including in-person application, fingerprinting, and safety training) cut the firearm homicide rate by 40% and the firearm suicide rate by 15% after ten years
  • Missouri’s licensing law was eliminated in 2007; the firearm homicide rate went up by 27% and the firearm suicide rate went up by 16% afterward
  • In large urban counties, purchaser licensing laws are associated with 11% reductions in firearm homicide


Background Checks

  • All firearm sales from gun dealers must go through the federal instant background check system
    • In practice, this system is not perfect due to missing records from states or government agencies which would prohibit sales in some cases
  • State background check laws address weaknesses in federal firearms law
    • Only fourteen states require background checks between individuals (private sales)
  • Background checks:
    • reduce illegal gun transfers from states with weak gun laws to states with strong gun laws
    • ensure that restrictions for purchasing and possessing firearms are enforced
    • do not reduce rates of gun homicide

Purchaser Licensing

  • Purchaser handgun licensing laws require prospective purchasers to obtain a permit before purchase
    • May include direct interaction with law enforcement, fingerprinting, safety training
  • Only nine states require purchasers to have a permit to purchase handguns
  • Handgun purchaser licensing laws:
    • Significantly reduce firearm homicide (between 11 – 40%)
    • Reduce firearm suicide (~ 16%)
    • Reduce illegal diversion of guns to criminals

Next up: Gun Dealer Oversight and Regulation


  • GAO Gun Control – a 2016 GAO report on analyzing available data for improving background checks involving domestic violence records
  • Universal Background Checks – a report from the Giffords Law center on universal background checks
  • Firearm Trafficking – a 2009 study investigating the relationship between oversight of gun dealers and state regulation of private sales of handguns with rates of intrastate gun trafficking
  • Reducing Gun Violence – a 2013 paper on informing policy on reducing gun violence overall
  • Comprehensive Background Check Policies – a 2018 paper estimating the effect of the repeal of comprehensive background check laws
  • Firearm Laws – a 2018 study designed to test the effects of firearm laws on homicide in large, urban U.S. counties
  • Initial Impact – a 2017 study assessing the impact of Maryland’s Firearm Safety Act (FSA) of 2013 on indicators of diversion of handguns to prohibited persons
  • Impact of Sales Laws – a 2015 study examining the effect of more restrictive state gun laws and regulations on the illegal diversion of guns to criminals
  • Association Between Law and Homicides – a 2015 study to estimate the effect of Connecticut’s implementation of a handgun permit-to-purchase law in October 1995 on subsequent homicides
  • Effects of Changes – a 2015 study evaluating how permit-to-purchase (PTP) laws for handguns could potentially reduce suicides by making it more difficult for persons at risk of suicide to purchase a handgun
  • Effects of the Repeal – a 2014 study estimating the impact of Missouri’s 2007 repeal of its permit-to-purchase handgun law on states’ homicide rates
  • Evaluating Missouri – a 2019 study of the effect of the repeal of Missouri’s permit-to-purchase handgun law on its firearm homicide rate
  • Association in Urban Counties – a 2018 study designed to test the effects of firearm laws on homicide in large, urban U.S. counties

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Evidence-Based Policies to Prevent Gun Violence: Gun Dealer Oversight and Regulation

This is the ninth post in a series about Reducing Gun Violence in the United States. The previous post described Background Checks and Purchaser Licensing.

In this post, I’ll explore using gun dealer oversight and regulation as a method to keep guns out of the hands of people who are prohibited from owning them.

For those who want to see the highlights without going through the data, skip right to the conclusions at the bottom of this post.

Reducing Gun Diversion to Criminals through Gun Dealer Oversight and Regulation

How big is the problem of guns falling into the hands of criminals?

Let’s review some data from my previous post on Gun Markets, Ownership, and Violence Risk, and recall how many guns enter the market illegally via different avenues. In particular, I want to draw attention to three specific entry points:

  • Straw purchasers / straw purchase rings
  • Diverted firearms stolen from licensed dealers
  • Firearms diverted by licensed dealers

Data from Federal Firearms Trafficking Investigations, 1999-2002 (source: Illegal Gun Market)

Let’s first focus on straw purchasers / straw purchase rings. This represents cases where someone purchased a gun for someone else (which is illegal). This is a fairly common practice (more than 38 thousand firearms recovered in a three year period) in which gun dealers “look the other way” or simply are not doing a sufficiently careful job selling guns to those who are allowed to have them. This represents the largest number of firearm trafficking investigations by far, and there are a variety of voluntary efforts that honest gun dealers are participating in to help identify these purchasers.

Next, let’s look at firearms stolen from licensed dealers. As it turns out, there are no federal laws that set standards for securing a gun dealer’s property against theft. Think about how easy it is for a criminal to break a glass window of gun shop overnight and make off with a large number of guns.

Finally, let’s look at firearms “diverted” by licensed dealers. Diversion, in this case, means a gun dealer who is actively and knowingly handing guns to criminals. Note that over 55 thousand guns were trafficked by “dirty” dealers in a three year period – more than any other type of gun trafficking. Clearly, this is a huge problem.

A Case Study: Badger Guns & Ammo

Let’s take a look at one particular investigation into firearms diverted by licensed dealers, just one of the 158 investigations conducted between 1999 and 2002. The study is of a gun shop in West Milwaukee, Wisconsin – Badger Guns & Ammo.

In 1999, the federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms (ATF) identified Badger of being the number one seller of guns used in crimes in the US. Remember from my post on Gun Markets, Ownership, and Violence Risk that the ATF automatically receives information about each and every gun that is sold and anytime local, state, or federal law enforcement officers recover a gun from a crime scene or criminal suspect. This 1999 report made national news, and two days later, Badger announced publically that they were going to make voluntary changes to their sales activities.

Badger was not the only gun dealer being highlighted as selling many guns used in crimes; many dealers in the late 1990s and early 2000s were being flagged in this way. Some of these large gun dealers flagged had “friends” in high places, including politicians like Todd Tiahrt. Does that name sound familiar? Recall the Tiahrt Amendment of 2005 from my post on Laws, the Second Amendment, Litigation, and Obstacles to Research and Policy – the law that:

  • limits the availability and use of gun trace data, by prohibiting the ATF from releasing that data to anyone other than a law enforcement agency or prosecutor in connection with a criminal investigation
  • prohibits the ATF from requiring gun dealers from doing inventories of their firearms as part of compliance inspections
  • requires the FBI to destroy firearm license background check data within 24 hours after a background check is complete

Tiahrt essentially provided regulatory cover for shady gun dealers like Badger. Recall from that previous post on Laws that also in 2005, Congress passed yet another law, the Protection of Lawful Commerce in Arms Act (which provided broad protections to gun manufacturers and dealers from legal liability), which restricted lawsuits against gun dealers like Badger.

Ultimately, in 2006, the ATF recommended the revocation of the federal firearms dealer license from Badger, but not before thousands of guns were illegally made available to criminals who should not have had them.

Guns diverted to criminals within a year of retail sale, Badger vs other dealers (source: Temporal Association)

In the chart above, gun crime trace data was used from 1995 through 2005 from the Milwaukee Police Department, tracking guns sold by Badger and other dealers and then recovered from gun crimes within one year. The chart clearly shows a decrease in crime guns recovered within a year after Badger was identified as the number one seller of crime guns in the country – a decrease of approximately 77%. In short, the data transparency and reporting on gun crime trace data being available had a huge positive effect on guns sold by Badger being used in crimes.

Later in 2003, when the Tiahrt Amendment went into effect which eliminated this data transparency, an estimated 200% increase in guns sold by Badger and later used in crimes occurred within just another year or two.

The data clearly shows how powerful data transparency alone is in solving the problem of criminal diversion of guns – and how much the Tiahrt Amendment is a major contributor to this problem. Curiously, the impact of the Tiahrt Amendment does not show up with other gun dealers in as major way as Badger; perhaps this was because other gun dealers in the Milwaukee area were selling guns in a legal, responsible way.

Effects of Stings and Lawsuits against Gun Dealers on Gun Flows to Criminals (sources: Undercover Police Stings, Reducing Gun Violence)

In the late 1990s, the cities of Chicago and Detroit staged several straw gun purchase stings to disrupt the illegal diversion of guns from dealers. Data from studies about these sting operations, in which undercover law enforcement officers used fake straw purchasers making obvious attempts to illegally purchase guns for someone else, show a decrease of 62% of guns diverted illegally from Chicago dealers and a decrease of 36% of guns diverted illegally from Detroit dealers.

Officials from New York City saw this data and wanted to replicate the decrease in their city. New York state had very strict gun laws, and most of the guns in New York City were coming from states outside of New York which had much more lax gun restrictions. Rather than using sting operations, New York City successfully sued many out-of-state gun dealers in an attempt to effect changes in gun sale policies, like installing better on-site security or reducing employee theft. The result of these lawsuits, many of which were settled, was a huge, 82% reduction in guns sold by these dealers being diverted for criminal use.

How does data transparency affect criminal gun diversion?

A study of gun crime trace data from over fifty cities in various US states shows that when a state has stronger gun laws regulating dealers, including requirements like:

  • security cameras
  • proper storage and security of firearms
  • employee screening

gun diversion to criminals was lower; however, only when those checks were enforced (source: Seller Accountability Policies).

In short, strong gun oversight and regulation laws which require dealers to tighten up their operations lead to fewer guns diverted to criminals but only when they are enforced.


  • Close to 100,000 guns were trafficked due to illegal and poor safety practices by gun dealers between 1999 and 2003
    • This is a huge problem
  • Many of these illegally trafficked guns come from a small handful of dealers
  • Data transparency about dealers whose guns end up in the hands of criminals goes a long way in reducing gun trafficking
    • But laws like the Tiahrt Amendment make gun crime data transparency very hard
  • Law enforcement activities like gun dealer stings and lawsuits have had a big effect to reduce gun trafficking
  • Gun dealer regulations, including security, training, and storage requirements, work to prevent gun trafficking but only when those regulations are enforced with proper law enforcement oversight.

Next upWaiting Periods and Red Flag Laws


  • Temporal Association – a 2012 study of the number of guns diverted to criminals within a year of sale by gun dealers
  • Undercover Police Stings – a 2012 study of the effects of undercover police stings and lawsuits against gun dealers suspected of facilitating illegal gun sales in three US cities (Chicago, Detroit, Gary) on the flow of new firearms to criminals
  • Reducing Gun Violence – a 2013 paper on informing policy on reducing gun violence overall
  • Seller Accountability Policies – a 2009 study examining the associations between law enforcement agencies’ practices to promote compliance with gun sales laws and gun trafficking indicators

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Evidence-Based Policies for Reducing Gun Violence: Mental Illness, Violence, and Laws

This is the seventh post in a series about Reducing Gun Violence in the United States. The previous post described Violence, Alcohol, Drugs, and Guns.

In this post, I’ll explore the relationship between mental illness and violence, firearm restrictions affecting people with mental illnesses, and related laws and their effectiveness.

Is Violence Related To Mental Illness?

In the United States alone, 10 million people have serious mental illnesses, and 3 million of those people – 30% – are not getting the treatment they need. You may even know one of these people who has struggled with mental illness: depression, bipolar disorder, schizophrenia, or one of many other conditions. They could be in your family or your friend circle. Treatments exist for these conditions, and some people who have access to treatment do well and recover, but for many individuals, treatment is out of reach.

Often, we hear about mental illness from a law or policymaker in the wake of a mass shooting. When these horrific events occur, we try to rationalize and understand what caused them with a straight answer. And often the answer that is given is “mental illness”. Sometimes, shooters in these situations do have documented mental health conditions, like untreated schizophrenia, involving hallucinations or delusions, and so the public can be led to think that the problem is all about mental illness. The solution proposed is often to fix or more properly fund the woefully inadequate mental health system in the US.

But is fixing the mental health care system really going to reduce the mass shootings and prevent gun violence more generally?

If fixing the mental health care system was really the silver bullet to preventing gun violence:

  • we’d have to assume that people with mental illnesses are violent
  • we’d have to assume that it’s the mental illnesses that are making them violent
  • we’d have to assume that people with mental illnesses are causing the violence that we see
  • and we’d conclude that curing mental illness or removing those with mental illness from a community would largely solve the problem

Public opinion polls show that many Americans believe these things – 60% of Americans believe that people with an illness like schizophrenia are likely to be violent towards other people. Let’s take a look at the facts and see if those four statements above actually hold true.

Of people that are violent: (sources: Characteristics of Person, Homicide and Deinstutuionalization)

  • 17% have a serious mental illness
  • 83% do not have a serious mental illness

So, most violent people and criminals are not mentally ill. Mentally ill people do get arrested for offenses, but the vast majority of those arrests are for minor non-violent offenses, like public intoxication or trespassing.

Let’s look at mentally ill individuals and their rates of violence. To be clear, let’s focus on individuals who have been hospitalized for a psychiatric illness and have been later been released into the community. Of those individuals: (sources: Schizophrenia + Violence Crime, Social-Environment Context)

  • 13% engage in some sort of violence, mostly minor, like shoving, slapping others, pushing people up against a wall
  • 83% are completely non-violent

So, not only are violent people and criminals not generally mentally ill, but individuals who have been treated for mental illness are rarely violent.

What if we do a random study of people and see if they are both violent and have had or currently have a mental illness? Studies that have looked at this have shown: (source: Population Impact)

  • 4% of violent behavior in society is directly relatable to mental illness

What this means is:

  • if we had a perfect healthcare system (which we know that we don’t)
  • and we could completely cure schizophrenia and bipolar disorder and all other mental health issues
  • then we would only reduce violent activity by 4%
  • the other 96% of it would still be there

Many, many other things contribute to that 96% of violent activity, which includes gun violence. It’s just not related to mental illness, no matter how many public opinion surveys or lawmakers heard on TV tell us that it is. It’s important to note that the 96% of violence could be preventable – just that most of it is not being caused by people with mental illness and is not going to be eliminated by curing mental illness.

Firearm Restrictions Related to Mental Illness

As we saw in an earlier post on Legal Issues related to Gun Violence Laws, among those people who cannot purchase firearms are individuals who have at any point in their lives been any of the following:

  • involuntarily committed to a hospital for a mental illness
  • determined by a judge to be mentally incapable of handling their personal affairs
  • charged with a crime and found incompetent to stand trial or pled not guilty by reason of insanity

These restrictions originated with the Gun Control Act of 1968. At a quick glance, these might seem reasonable.

However, thinking more critically, these restrictions would apply to a person who might have spent a single night in a hospital for depression thirty years ago, a person who has not had any mental health issues since, and is completely law-abiding. Are these restrictions too strict in this case?

On the other hand, these laws would not apply to a person who has a history of violence, though no criminal record – someone who has anger management issues, for instance, who tends to throw and break things, yells at people at work, gets into fights with friends. They might have problems, but those mental stability issues never rise to the level of “mental illness”, so guns are never taken away and purchase restrictions are never applied. 10% of people in the United States have anger traits like these and also have access to firearms (source: Guns and Anger). Are these restrictions too narrow in this case?

There is no perfect law-based solution to prevent all of the people who should not have guns from having them while allowing all of the people who can handle them safely to do so. However, it is important to realize that a mental health diagnosis alone is not a perfect indicator of whether someone should be allowed to purchase or own a gun. Should we update our fifty-year-old law on mental health restrictions?


Is Violence Related To Mental Illness?

  • Only 17% of violent individuals have a mental illness
  • Only 13% of individuals who were previously hospitalized for a mental illness engage in violent behavior
  • Only 4% of the general population is both violent and has a serious mental illness
  • If we could perfectly cure mental illness (which we can’t), 96% of the violent acts in the US, including gun violence, would still remain

Firearm Restrictions Related to Mental Illness

  • Mental health restrictions for gun purchase and ownership are based on the Gun Control Act of 1968
  • These laws are too strict (covering people who are not a threat to anyone) and too broad (missing people who are a threat to others) at the same time
  • Mental health diagnoses should not any kind of gold standard for firearm purchase or possession restrictions

Next up: Background Checks and Purchaser Licensing


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Legal issues related to preventing gun violence: Violence, Alcohol, Drugs, and Guns

This is the sixth post in a series about Reducing Gun Violence in the United States. The previous post described Age-Related Firearm Restrictions and Safe Storage Laws.

In this post, I’ll explore gun violence as it relates to intimate partners, violent misdemeanors, alcohol and drug usage.

Gun Violence, Intimate Partner Violence, and Gun Policy

Firearms are used as a way to intimate and control others as well as harm them physically. In domestic violence situations, they’re often used to pressure a partner into some behavior (or to prevent some behavior), and they’re incredibly effective at doing so. In intimate partner homicides, firearms were used in over 50% of cases.

  • When a violence domestic partner has access to a firearm, the risk of intimate partner homicide increases by 400%.

One might ask the question: if we remove the firearm from a partner who might be violent, would that solve the problem?

Federal law allows for something called a domestic violence restraining order, which allows a judge to order the removal of a gun from a person at risk for harming their partner. However, these restraining orders come with some severe restrictions:

  • the partners must be married or must have been married at one point or must be living together currently or have a child together (collectively known as the Boyfriend Loophole)
  • a hearing must be held before a judge, including both the offender and the victim, before an order can be signed

Imagine dating a violently abusive partner who you don’t live with – you can’t use federal law to get a gun violence restraining order. Similarly, you cannot petition the court on your own – your violent partner must also show up in court with you. One can clearly see how weak federal law is in protecting domestic violence victims given these limitations.

A variety of temporary or emergency restrictions exist at the state level, which can remove firearms from a domestic abuser for a temporary period of time (such as 21 days in California) without a full court hearing, though they are inconsistent and sometimes hinge on having past criminal convictions for domestic violence. Only about 51% of severe domestic violence events are reported to the police anyway, with even fewer guilty convictions, which severely restricts the effectiveness of many of these state laws. So, the laws which protect those at risk for domestic violence leave much to be desired.

Nonetheless, there is research on the effectiveness of state laws for domestic violence gun restrictions, and it shows significant impacts (source: Legal Firearms Restrictions):

  • domestic violence restraining orders (either at the state or local level) restricting firearm possession and purchase reduce the rates of intimate partner homicide by about 10%
  • state laws restricting firearm possession and purchase due to previous violent misdemeanor convictions also reduce intimate partner homicide by about 23% (regardless of the relationship between partner and victim)
  • total intimate partner homicides (not just firearm-related) also go down with the implementation of these policies
    • so the reduction in firearm homicides is not “made up” by other kinds of homicides
  • when states include dating partners in these laws (not just legal spouses), there is an additional 13% reduction in risk of intimate partner homicide

In many cases, state laws that restrict firearm possession due to a restraining order like the ones above prohibit gun possession, but there is often no enforcement effect – no police officers arrive to collect those guns in many cases. As a result, the policies have a limited effect. However, in states where the laws order that the offender surrender their weapon to law enforcement officers promptly, there is a further 12% reduction in intimate partner homicide.

Violent Misdemeanors, Alcohol, and Drugs

Can we identify individuals who are at high-risk for committing firearm violence in order to take proactive steps to reduce that risk? It turns out that we can.

Does past violent behavior predict future violent behavior? (source: Prior Misdemeanor Convictions)

A study followed handgun purchasers who had previous violent misdemeanor convictions and those which had none; the study controlled for factors that could influence the arrest rate, such as age, gender,  and race. After 13 years, those individuals who had previous violent misdemeanor convictions who purchased firearms were over five times more likely to be arrested for another violent offense vs those without previous convictions (4.4% for purchasers without prior convictions vs 24.9% for those with prior convictions). In fact, those individuals with higher numbers of prior convictions had even higher rates of future violent act arrests.

Alcohol is also a factor in predicting violent behavior with firearms. Firearm owners are more likely to admit to heavy alcohol use than non-firearm owners, and, among firearm homicide offenders: (source: Alcohol-Involved Homicide)

  • an estimated 48% of those offenders were under the influence of alcohol during their offense

Do previous alcohol-related convictions predict violent behavior? (source: Firearms, Alcohol, and Crime)

Another study, similar to the one above, looked at future violent offender rates for those with previous alcohol-related crimes (such as driving while intoxicated or drunk and disorderly behavior) vs those without. Again, after 13 years, those individuals who had previous alcohol-related convictions who purchased firearms were over five times more likely to be arrested for a violent offense (5.7% for purchasers without prior convictions vs 32.8% for those with prior convictions).

The correlation between illegal drug use and violent behavior is less clear. There appears to be some correlation between illegal drug use and increased rates of violent behavior, but it varies per drug type, and so it’s unclear if the predictive effect is due to other behaviors (such as drug dealing or related alcohol use) (source: Controlled Substances and Violence).

How effective are laws that restrict firearm purchasing for individuals with past violent misdemeanor convictions? (source: Subsequent Criminal Activity)

One study from the implementation of a California law in 1991 restricting purchase or possession of firearms for individuals with prior violent misdemeanor convictions showed that

  • those individuals with such criminal records who were allowed to purchase or possess firearms were 3% more likely to be arrested for violent or firearm-related crimes than those who were denied purchase or possession

Three states and Washington, D.C. have laws with similar restrictions, but no studies have evaluated their effectiveness. There is also a federal law that bans purchase and possession of firearms for “An unlawful user of or addicted to any controlled substance”, but the effects of that law have also not been studied.

So, there clearly are risk factors for predicting violent behavior, and evidence that firearm purchase and possession restrictions do work, but more rigorous studies are needed.


Gun Violence, Intimate Partner Violence, and Gun Policy

  • In intimate partner homicides, firearms were used in over 50% of cases
  • When a violence domestic partner has access to a firearm, the risk of intimate partner homicide increases by 400%
  • Federal law for domestic violence restraining orders is weak and has severe limitations which reduce its effectiveness
  • State laws protecting domestic violence victims are most effective when they:
    • cover marital and dating partners
    • do not require the offender and victim to show up in court for temporary, emergency gun removals
    • implement prompt surrender of guns to law enforcement officers

Violent Misdemeanors, Alcohol, and Drugs

  • Clear risk factors exist for predicting violent behavior
    • past violent behavior (5x increase in risk)
    • past alcohol-related offenses (5x increase in risk)
    • some illegal drug use
  • Some evidence exists showing that firearm purchase and possession restrictions do work
  • More research is needed

Next up: Mental Illness, Violence, and Laws


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