Strong gun laws are not enough: the need for improved enforcement of secondhand gun transfer laws in Massachusetts

Prev Med. 2015 Oct;79:37-42. doi: 10.1016/j.ypmed.2015.05.018. Epub 2015 May 27.


Objective: Research suggests that an overwhelming majority of crime guns were transferred by private sellers before recovery by law enforcement. Unfortunately, most states do not regulate these transactions. This study examines whether analyses of state-level private transfer data could be used to develop interventions to reduce the supply of handguns to violent criminals.

Methods: Traced Boston crime handguns first sold at Massachusetts license dealers were matched to state secondhand gun transfer data. Logistic regression and descriptive statistics were used to analyze the characteristics of recovered crime guns and in-state primary and secondary market transaction patterns.

Results: For crime handguns with records of secondary market transactions in Massachusetts, many rapidly move from private transfer to recovery by the police. Unfortunately, important transaction data on the in-state sources of nearly 63% of recovered handguns were not readily available to law enforcement agencies.

Conclusions: Data on private transfers of guns could be used to prevent violent injuries by reducing criminal access. However, the passage of strong private transfer gun laws needs to be accompanied by investments in the vigorous enforcement of reporting requirements.

Keywords: Firearm injury; Gun laws; Gun trafficking; Secondary market.

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Commerce / legislation & jurisprudence*
  • Crime / legislation & jurisprudence*
  • Firearms / legislation & jurisprudence*
  • Government Regulation
  • Humans
  • Law Enforcement
  • Massachusetts