Study objective: We describe the life cycle of crime guns recovered from young people-the movement of those guns from manufacture to criminal use-and identify associations between the characteristics of those guns and their possessors, purchasers, sellers, and places of origin.
Methods: This is a cross-sectional study of data from gun ownership tracing records compiled by the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives for 2,121 crime guns recovered in California from persons younger than 25 years and traced in 1999. Purchaser and seller data for handguns were updated when possible by linking to California handgun sales records.
Results: The 2,121 traced guns were recovered from 1,717 young people. Guns recovered from persons aged 21 to 24 years were most frequently also purchased by persons aged 21 to 24 years; those recovered from persons younger than 18 years were most often purchased by persons aged 45 years or older. Small-caliber handguns made up 41.0% of handguns recovered from persons younger than 18 years but 25.2% of handguns recovered from persons aged 21 to 24 years. The median time from sale to recovery (commonly called time to crime) for all guns was 6.4 years (interquartile range 2.7 to 12.4 years). A time to crime of less than 3 years, suggesting deliberate gun trafficking, was observed for 17.3% of guns recovered from persons younger than 18 years but 34.6% of guns recovered from persons aged 21 to 24 years. Ten retailers who sold 10 or more traced guns accounted for 13.1% of all guns traced to a retailer. Handguns whose purchaser and possessor were the same person were more likely than others to be large-caliber semiautomatic pistols (29.3% and 11.7%, respectively); their median time to crime was 0.2 years (69 days).
Conclusion: Analysis of crime-gun ownership traces reveals patterns that may help refine gun violence prevention efforts and render them more effective.