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Support for Private Gun Sale Regulations

Evidence supports policies requiring permits-to-purchase for private gun sales.

The country has been mourning victims of another mass shooting. This time in Charleston, South Carolina. Though this particular act stands out for its racist and terrorist overtones, it should be noted that the suspect allegedly obtained his gun through a private transaction.

Source: Adriano Agulló (Flickr/CC)

Source: Adriano Agulló (Flickr/CC)

Currently, federal law requires federally licensed gun dealers to run background checks on individuals purchasing firearms. However, background checks are not required for private sales though unlicensed sellers. South Carolina is one of forty states that do not require background checks for private gun transactions.

In contrast, some states have passed stronger gun laws which require individuals to obtain a permit or license to purchase a handgun from federally licensed or private dealers. The granting of these permits-to-purchase (PTP) may be dependent on the individual passing a background check and/or completing a gun safety training course.

There is evidence that PTP laws are effective at preventing gun violence: Researchers affiliated with Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health found that Connecticut’s 1995 PTP handgun law reduced firearm-related homicides by 40% in the ten years following passage. This is consistent with a previous study that reported an increase in firearm homicides after Missouri repealed its PTP law.

The Supreme Court has ruled that Americans have the right to own firearms through the Second Amendment. This right is protected at the federal, state, and local levels. Still, the government can regulate this right. Extending federal background checks to private transactions helps keep weapons away from high-risk individuals. Doing so is far from politically dubious: after the Sandy Hook shooting, the vast majority of Americans supported background checks for all gun purchases.

Unfortunately, there are no federal laws requiring that firearm owners undergo any training or demonstrate any knowledge about how to handle guns safely. States already require licenses for people to drive cars, style hair, or practice medicine. Requiring PTP, background checks, and gun safety training are evidence-based policies for responsible gun ownership.

Passing these reasonable measures helps to keep dangerous guns out of the hands of dangerous people.

commentary by Bich-May Nguyen


Objectives. We sought to estimate the effect of Connecticut’s implementation of a handgun permit-to-purchase law in October 1995 on subsequent homicides. Methods. Using the synthetic control method, we compared Connecticut’s homicide rates after the law’s implementation to rates we would have expected had the law not been implemented. To estimate the counterfactual, we used longitudinal data from a weighted combination of comparison states identified based on the ability of their prelaw homicide trends and covariates to predict prelaw homicide trends in Connecticut. Results. We estimated that the law was associated with a 40% reduction in Connecticut’s firearm homicide rates during the first 10 years that the law was in place. By contrast, there was no evidence for a reduction in nonfirearm homicides. Conclusions. Consistent with prior research, this study demonstrated that Connecticut’s handgun permit-to-purchase law was associated with a subsequent reduction in homicide rates. As would be expected if the law drove the reduction, the policy’s effects were only evident for homicides committed with firearms. PMID: 24604521 Rudolph KE et al. Am J Public Health. 2015; e1-e6 (Epub).

Bich-May Nguyen, MD, MPH
About Bich-May Nguyen, MD, MPH

Dr. Nguyen Bich-May Nguyen, MD, MPH cares for patients at a patient-centered medical home and teaches medical students and residents in the clinic and hospital setting. She received an MD in the Underserved Track from Baylor College of Medicine and an MPH with a concentration in health policy from Harvard School of Public Health. She completed her residency training in Family Medicine at Boston University. Dr. Nguyen is involved with the National Physicians Alliance and serves on the Executive Committee of the New Leaders Council Houston. You can follow her at @bicmay. She began contributing to Policy Prescriptions™ in 2013. Contact: Website | Facebook | Twitter | Google+ | More Posts

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