Weapons of choice: previous criminal history, later criminal activity, and firearm preference among legally authorized young adult purchasers of handguns

J Trauma. 1998 Jan;44(1):155-60. doi: 10.1097/00005373-199801000-00021.


Objective: To determine whether there is an association between criminal activity and preference for a particular class of handgun among young adults who purchase handguns legally.

Design: Historical cohort study.

Materials and methods: Subjects were 5,360 authorized purchasers of handguns in California in 1988 who were 21 to 25 years of age, divided into two groups: all eligible purchasers with a previous criminal history (n = 2,765), and a random sample of purchasers with no such history (n = 2,595). Handguns were classified as small and inexpensive or larger and expensive. Associations were assessed by relative risks adjusted for gender and race or ethnicity.

Measurements and main results: Handgun purchasers with a previous criminal history were more likely than those without such a history to purchase a small, inexpensive handgun (relative risk (RR) = 1.28; 95% confidence interval (CI), 1.16-1.42). Among handgun purchasers with no previous criminal history, those who purchased a small, inexpensive handgun were more likely than purchasers of other handguns to be charged with new crimes after handgun purchase (RR = 1.73; 95% CI, 1.34-2.24) and were nearly twice as likely to charged with new crimes involving firearms or violence (RR = 1.93; 95% CI, 1.38-2.69).

Conclusion: In this population, criminal activity both before and after handgun purchase was associated with a preference for small, inexpensive handguns.

Publication types

  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • California
  • Choice Behavior*
  • Cohort Studies
  • Crime / psychology*
  • Crime / statistics & numerical data
  • Criminal Psychology
  • Ethnicity
  • Firearms* / classification
  • Firearms* / economics
  • Firearms* / legislation & jurisprudence
  • Humans
  • Racial Groups
  • Registries
  • Risk
  • Sex Distribution