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This special collection brings together evidence and insights from nonprofits, foundations, and research organizations working to understand the full impact of firearm use and gun violence in the US. By providing us with analyses of current state and federal laws as well as valuable data on suicides, homicides, accidents, and mass shootings, these organizations seek to inform sound public policy and to curb this ongoing public health epidemic.

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"Gun Violence" by M+R Glasgow licensed under CC 2.0

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Silencers: A Threat to Public Safety

June 1, 2017

A push by the firearms industry and gun lobby to make it far easier for private citizens to buy and possess firearm silencers will only place the police and public at increased risk warns a new and expanded edition of the Violence Policy Center's (VPC) study Silencers: A Threat to Public Safety. In detailing this marketing push, the study also documents examples of lethal attacks and criminal activity involving silencers.

Purchasing Firearms; Statistics & Surveys

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

April 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).

Purchasing Firearms; Statistics & Surveys

Effects of Policies Designed to Keep Firearms from High-Risk Individuals

January 7, 2015

This article summarizes and critiques available evidence from studies published between 1999 and August 2014 on the effects of policies designed to keep firearms from high-risk individuals in the United States. Some prohibitions for high-risk individuals (e.g., those under domestic violence restraining orders, violent misdemeanants) and procedures for checking for more types of prohibiting conditions are associated with lower rates of violence. Certain laws intended to prevent prohibited persons from accessing firearms -- rigorous permit-to-purchase, comprehensive background checks, strong regulation and oversight of gun dealers, and requiring gun owners to promptly report lost or stolen firearms -- are negatively associated with the diversion of guns to criminals. Future research is needed to examine whether these laws curtail nonlethal gun violence and whether the effects of expanding prohibiting conditions for firearm possession are modified by the presence of policies to prevent diversion.

Policy Recommendations & Models; Purchasing Firearms

Focused Deterrence and the Prevention of Violent Gun Injuries: Practice, Theoretical Principles, and Scientific Evidence

January 7, 2015

Focused deterrence strategies are a relatively new addition to a growing portfolio of evidence-based violent gun injury prevention practices available to policy makers and practitioners. These strategies seek to change offender behavior by understanding the underlying violence-producing dynamics and conditions that sustain recurring violent gun injury problems and by implementing a blended strategy of law enforcement, community mobilization, and social service actions. Consistent with documented public health practice, the focused deterrence approach identifies underlying risk factors and causes of recurring violent gun injury problems, develops tailored responses to these underlying conditions, and measures the impact of implemented interventions. This article reviews the practice, theoretical principles, and evaluation evidence on focused deterrence strategies. Although more rigorous randomized studies are needed, the available empirical evidence suggests that these strategies generate noteworthy gun violence reduction impacts and should be part of a broader portfolio of violence prevention strategies available to policy makers and practitioners.

Purchasing Firearms

In the Business Outside the Law: How Unlicensed Sellers Are Flooding the Internet with Guns

December 1, 2013

This investigation of high-volume online sellers shows that hundreds of gun sellers are using the internet to transfer tens of thousands of firearms each year, blurring the line between private sellers and licensed dealers, undermining the background check system, and putting guns in the hands of killers

Purchasing Firearms

Support for a Comprehensive Background Check Requirement and Expanded Denial Criteria for Firearm Transfers: Findings from the Firearms Licensee Survey

November 8, 2013

Federal and state policies on eligibility to purchase and possess firearms and background check requirements for firearm transfers are undergoing intensive review and, in some cases, modification. Our objective in this third report from the Firearms Licensee Survey (FLS) is to assess support among federally licensed firearms retailers (gun dealers and pawnbrokers) for a background check requirement on all firearm transfers and selected criteria for denying the purchase of handguns based on criminal convictions, alcohol abuse, and serious mental illness. The FLS was conducted by mail during June–August, 2011 on a random sample of 1,601 licensed dealers and pawnbrokers in 43 states who were believed to sell at least 50 firearms annually. The response rate was 36.9 %, typical of establishment surveys using such methods. Most respondents (55.4 %) endorsed a comprehensive background check requirement; 37.5 % strongly favored it. Support was more common and stronger among pawnbrokers than dealers and among respondents who believed that "it is too easy for criminals to get guns." Support was positively associated with many establishment characteristics, including sales of inexpensive handguns, sales that were denied when the purchasers failed background checks, and sales of firearms that were later subjected to ownership tracing, and were negatively associated with sales at gun shows. Support for three existing and nine potential criteria for denial of handgun purchase involving criminal activity, alcohol abuse, and mental illness exceeded 90 % in six cases and fell below 2/3 in one. Support again increased with sales of inexpensive handguns and denied sales and decreased with sales of tactical (assault-type) rifles. In this survey, which was conducted prior to mass shootings in Aurora, Colorado; Oak Creek, Wisconsin; Newtown, Connecticut; and elsewhere, licensed firearm sellers exhibited moderate support for a comprehensive background check requirement and very strong support for additional criteria for denial of handgun purchases. In both cases, support was associated with the intensity of respondents' exposure to illegal activities.

Policy Recommendations & Models; Purchasing Firearms

What a Difference a Law Makes: Online Gun Sales in States With and Without Background Checks

September 16, 2013

It is estimated that today there are about 4,000 websites dedicated to facilitating gun sales between private individuals. One of the largest of these sites -- -- essentially serves as an eHarmony or Craigslist for gun sales, connecting gun buyers and sellers in each of the 50 states. Buyers can search for-sale listings or want ads within their state or city, locate unlicensed sellers or buyers, and arrange to meet up in person to purchase guns. As long as the gun doesn't cross state lines or travel through the U.S. Postal System, 34 states allow these sales between strangers to take place unregulated and without criminal background checks. By contrast, 16 states require background checks for gun sales between private, unlicensed individuals like the stranger-to-stranger sales promoted on this study, we sought to determine if these laws make a difference. In particular, are there fewer online sales in states that require background checks compared to states that don't? Based on our survey of more than 90,000 online firearm listings, we conclude that online private sales are far more prevalent in states that do not require criminal background checks than among states that do. We recommend that states and Congress enact laws to require checks for these private sales and that gun safety organizations encourage private sellers to always use background checks when selling their firearms.

Purchasing Firearms

Felon Seeks Firearm, No Strings Attached: How Dangerous People Evade Background Checks and Buy Illegal Guns Online

September 16, 2013

The online marketplace for guns is vast -- and growing. Each year, millions of people connect through online ads to buy and sell firearms. And because many of the transactions are conducted by so-called 'private sellers' who are not required by federal law to conduct background checks, guns routinely change hands with no questions asked. In the digital age, convicted felons, domestic abusers and other dangerous people who are legally barred from buying guns can do so online with little more than a phone number or email address. And they do. Countless tragedies have demonstrated that determined criminals are exploiting this 'private sale loophole' to acquire guns online and murder innocent peopleThe National Rifle Association, which once supported the National Instant Criminal Background Check System (NICS), has recently opposed efforts to close this growing loophole. One argument often recurs: criminals won't submit to background checks.This report demonstrates that their claim is both false and true. Criminals undeniably do submit to background checks: in 2010 alone, federal and state checks blocked more than 150,000 gun sales to prohibited buyers. But criminals also undeniably avoid background checks -- by exploiting the private sale loophole. Indeed, one measure of NICS's success is that it appears to have forced a growing number of criminals to seek out private sellers since the system was established in 1998.

Purchasing Firearms

The Virtual Loophole: A Survey of Online Gun Sales

August 1, 2013

How easy is it to buy a firearm from a complete stranger without a background check? In an analysis of internet gun sales in 10 states from a single website during the months of June and July, Third Way found more than 15,000 guns -- onethirdof which were semi-automatics -- available for sale without background checks at any given moment. In 2,000 web ads in these states, buyers were intentionally seeking private sellers where background checks are specifically exempt from federal law. This report focuses on online sales in the 10 states where Senators were initially targeted but failed to support bipartisan legislation to close this virtual loophole.

Purchasing Firearms

Permit-to-Purchase Licensing for Handguns

January 1, 2013

This fact sheet explains the concept of permit-to-purchase licensing for handguns.

Purchasing Firearms

Characteristics of Federally Licensed Firearms Retailers and Retail Establishments in the United States: Initial Findings from the Firearms Licensee Survey

August 31, 2012

Firearms have widely supported legitimate purposes but are also frequently used in violent crimes. Owners and senior executives of federally licensed firearms dealers and pawnbrokers are a potentially valuable source of information on retail commerce in firearms, links between legal and illegal commerce, and policies designed to prevent the firearms they sell from being used in crimes. To our knowledge, there has been no prior effort to gather such information. In 2011, we conducted the Firearms Licensee Survey on a probability sample of 1,601 licensed dealers and pawnbrokers in the United States believed to sell 50 or more firearms per year. This article presents details of the design and execution of the survey and describes the characteristics of the respondents and their business establishments. The survey was conducted by mail, using methods developed by Dillman and others. Our response rate was 36.9 % (591 respondents), similar to that for other establishment surveys using similar methods. Respondents had a median age of 54; 89% were male, 97.6% were White, and, 98.1% were non-Hispanic. Those who held licenses under their own names had been licensed for a median of 18 years. A large majority of 96.3% agreed that "private ownership of guns is essential for a free society"; just over half (54.9%) believed that "it is too easy for criminals to get guns in this country." A match between the job and a personal interest in the shooting sports was the highest-ranking reason for working as a firearms retailer; the highest-ranking concerns were that "there are too many 'gun control' regulations" and that "the government might confiscate my guns." Most respondents (64.3%) were gun dealers, with significant variation by region. Residential dealers accounted for 25.6% of all dealers in the Midwest. Median annual sales volume was 200 firearms for both dealers and pawnbrokers. Dealers appeared more likely than pawnbrokers to specialize; they were more likely to rank in the highest or lowest quartile on sales of handguns, inexpensive handguns, and tactical rifles. Sales of inexpensive handguns and sales to women were more common among pawnbrokers. Internet sales were reported by 28.3% of respondents and sales at gun shows by 14.3%. A median of 1% of sales were denied after purchasers failed background checks; firearm trace requests equaled G1 % of annual sales. Trace frequency was directly associated with the percentage of firearm sales involving handguns, inexpensive handguns, and sales to women. Frequency of denied sales was strongly and directly associated with frequency of trace requests (pG0.0001). These results are based on selfreport but are consistent with those from studies using objective data.

Purchasing Firearms

Point, Click, Fire: An Investigation of Illegal Online Gun Sales

December 14, 2011

The internet revolution created extraordinary opportunities for commerce to be conducted at the click of a mouse. Instant access to almost unlimited choices and to vast communities of buyers and sellers is a principal asset of e-commerce. This feature, however, can also pose unique challenges for law enforcement. Over the last 15 years, a significant share of the firearms trade in the United States has moved online. The precise volume of online sales is largely unknown -- and, under current law, unknowable, because many of these transactions create no record that would allow them to be counted.Every day, firearms transactions are conducted on thousands of websites among largely anonymous actors. Criminal buyers who once had to purchase in person can now prowl hundreds of thousands of listings to find unscrupulous sellers. Negotiations can be conducted from the discreet remove of a phone call or an email exchange. Federally licensed firearms dealers are required to conduct background checks on all buyers to prevent sales to felons, the mentally ill, domestic abusers and other prohibited purchasers.4 These screenings are required whether the sale is made on Main Street or over the internet.But unlicensed "private sellers" -- those who are not "in the business" of selling firearms -- do not have to conduct background checks.5 These sales -- which take place in many venues, including gun shows and, increasingly, on the internet -- account for about 40 percent of U.S. sales, and fuel the black market for illegal guns.6 And they leave no electronic or paper trail behind them.

Purchasing Firearms