State Firearm Laws and Interstate Transfer of Guns in the USA, 2006-2016

J Urban Health. 2018 Jun;95(3):322-336. doi: 10.1007/s11524-018-0251-9.


In a cross-sectional, panel study, we examined the relationship between state firearm laws and the extent of interstate transfer of guns, as measured by the percentage of crime guns recovered in a state and traced to an in-state source (as opposed to guns recovered in a state and traced to an out-of-state source). We used 2006-2016 data on state firearm laws obtained from a search of selected state statutes and 2006-2016 crime gun trace data from the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives. We examined the relationship between state firearm laws and interstate transfer of guns using annual data from all 50 states during the period 2006-2016 and employing a two-way fixed effects model. The primary outcome variable was the percentage of crime guns recovered in a state that could be traced to an original point of purchase within that state as opposed to another state. The main exposure variables were eight specific state firearm laws pertaining to dealer licensing, sales restrictions, background checks, registration, prohibitors for firearm purchase, and straw purchase of guns. Four laws were independently associated with a significantly lower percentage of in-state guns: a waiting period for handgun purchase, permits required for firearm purchase, prohibition of firearm possession by people convicted of a violent misdemeanor, and a requirement for relinquishment of firearms when a person becomes disqualified from owning them. States with a higher number of gun laws had a lower percentage of traced guns to in-state dealers, with each increase of one in the total number of laws associated with a decrease of 1.6 percentage points in the proportion of recovered guns that were traced to an in-state as opposed to an out-of-state source. Based on an examination of the movement patterns of guns across states, the overall observed pattern of gun flow was out of states with weak gun laws and into states with strong gun laws. These findings indicate that certain state firearm laws are associated with a lower percentage of recovered crime guns being traced to an in-state source, suggesting reduced access to guns in states with those laws.

Keywords: Firearms; Gun trafficking; Laws; Violence.

Publication types

  • Comparative Study
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Commerce / legislation & jurisprudence*
  • Commerce / statistics & numerical data*
  • Commerce / trends
  • Cross-Sectional Studies
  • Federal Government
  • Firearms / legislation & jurisprudence*
  • Firearms / statistics & numerical data*
  • Forecasting
  • Humans
  • Licensure / legislation & jurisprudence*
  • Licensure / statistics & numerical data*
  • Licensure / trends
  • Ownership / legislation & jurisprudence*
  • Ownership / statistics & numerical data
  • Ownership / trends
  • State Government
  • United States