Context: Some states prohibit the purchase of handguns by persons convicted of selected misdemeanor crimes, but most do not. California has denied handgun purchases by violent misdemeanants since 1991; the effectiveness of these policies is unknown.
Objective: To determine the risk factors for new criminal activity among violent misdemeanants who seek to purchase handguns and whether denial of handgun purchase by violent misdemeanants affects their risk of arrest for new crimes, particularly gun and/or violent crimes.
Design: Retrospective, population-based cohort study.
Setting and subjects: Persons aged 21 to 34 years who sought to purchase a handgun through a licensed dealer in California during 1989-1991 and who had at least 1 violent misdemeanor conviction in the preceding 10 years. The study cohorts consisted of 986 persons whose purchase applications were made in 1991 and were denied (denied persons) and 787 persons whose purchase applications were made in 1989-1990 and were approved (purchasers).
Main outcome measures: Incidence and relative risk of first arrest in California for new gun and/or violent crimes and for nongun, nonviolent crimes during a 3-year follow-up after actual or attempted handgun purchase.
Results: During the 3-year follow-up, 546 (33.0%) of 1654 subjects with follow-up information were arrested for a new crime, including 296 (31.9%) of 927 denied persons and 250 (34.4%) of 727 purchasers. After adjusting for differences in age, sex, and prior criminal history, purchasers were more likely than denied persons to be arrested for new gun and/or violent crimes (relative hazard [RH], 1.29; 95% confidence interval [CI], 1.04-1.60), but not for nongun, nonviolent crimes (RH, 0.96; 95% CI, 0.78-1.19). In both groups, risk of arrest was strongly related to age and number of convictions accrued prior to actual or attempted handgun purchase.
Conclusion: Our results indicate that denial of handgun purchase to violent misdemeanants is associated with a specific decrease in risk of arrest for new gun and/or violent crimes.