Reducing Unauthorized Access
Whether gun restrictions reduce firearm-related violence is an unresolved issue. One recent study found that the states with the most firearm legislation have a smaller number of firearm fatalities (Fleegler et al., 2013). It is not clear whether this legislation is affecting firearm violence directly or whether states where there is less firearm violence tend to pass more laws related to guns. Analysis of unintentional gun fatalities in 50 states revealed positive associations between the number of guns and the number of fatalities (Miller et al., 2001). Other studies found that gun restrictions had no net impact on major violence and crime (Kleck and Patterson, 1993).
Background checks are intended to curtail gun sales to prohibited persons, such as felons, the severely mentally ill, domestic violence perpetrators, and minors. But prohibited individuals may obtain firearms without background checks through unlicensed sellers at gun shows and private sales or through straw purchases.32 Most felons report obtaining the majority of their firearms from informal sources (NRC, 2005).
There is empirical evidence that gun turn-in programs are ineffective, as noted in the 2005 NRC study Firearms and Violence: A Critical Review. For example, in 2009, an estimated 310 million guns were available to civilians in the United States (Krouse, 2012), but gun buy-back programs typically recover less than 1,000 guns (NRC, 2005). On the local level, buy-backs may increase awareness of firearm violence. However, in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, for example, guns recovered in the buy-back were not the same guns as those most often used in homicides and suicides (Kuhn et al., 2002).
Research on the impact of issuing sentences with additional penalties for using a firearm in the commission of a crime has revealed mixed results (McDowall et al., 1992). Most studies found that enhanced sentencing did not affect crime rates (Marvell and Moody, 1995). Other studies found decreases in some types of crimes (Abrams, 2012; NRC, 2005). In Boston, where both mandatory sentences for illegal carrying and enhanced sentenc-
32 A “straw purchase” occurs when the buyer of a firearm would not pass required background checks or does not want his or her name associated with the purchase of the firearm and therefore uses someone else to make the actual purchase.