Sources of Guns to Dangerous People: What We Learn By Asking Them

by Harold A. Pollack; Phillip J. Cook; Susan T. Parker

Apr 30, 2015
Gun violence exacts a lethal toll on public health. This paper focuses on reducing access to firearms by dangerous offenders, contributing original empirical data on the gun transactions that arm offenders in Chicago. Conducted in the fall of 2013, analysis of an open-ended survey of 99 inmates of Cook County Jail focuses on a subset of violence-prone individuals with the goal of improving law enforcement actions. Among our principal findings:
  • Our respondents (adult offenders living in Chicago or nearby) obtain most of their guns from their social network of personal connections. Rarely is the proximate source either direct purchase from a gun store, or theft.
  • Only about 60% of guns in the possession of respondents were obtained by purchase or trade. Other common arrangements include sharing guns and holding guns for others.
  • About one in seven respondents report selling guns, but in only a few cases as a regular source of income.
  • Gangs continue to play some role in Chicago in organizing gun buys and in distributing guns to members as needed.
  • The Chicago Police Department has a considerable effect on the workings of the underground gun market through deterrence. Transactions with strangers and less-trusted associates are limited by concerns over arrest risk (if the buyer should happen to be an undercover officer or a snitch), and about being caught with a "dirty" gun (one that has been fired in a crime).
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