Stricter gun laws and crime

Hopkins study: Tougher access limits locally sold firearms for criminals, but does it reduce crime?

September 09, 2001

STATE handgun registration and licensing laws make it harder for criminals to get guns. That's the thrust of a federally funded study by the Center for Gun Policy and Research at Johns Hopkins University.

But does the combination of these restrictive laws -- in force in only seven states -- actually reduce gun crime or criminal activity? That is the fundamental question unanswered by the two-year study, released as California legislators are poised to add licensing to the state's registration law.

Looking at 25 cities in 23 states, including Baltimore and Maryland, the Hopkins researchers tried to examine how state laws can influence gun trafficking.

In states with both owner licensing and gun registration, the study found that nearly 34 percent of firearms used in crimes were purchased in-state.

In states with either law, but not both, about 73 percent of crime guns were bought in-state. In states with neither law, the percentage was 84 percent.

Only the combination of tough gun acquisition laws made a significant difference, according to the study.

The Hopkins researchers say the expense, time and trouble of getting guns from interstate suppliers could cut the rate of gun crimes in states with the tougher laws. But that was not demonstrated by the study itself.

Crime statistics are notoriously difficult to predict and explain. With widely varying laws, firearms are easily transported across state lines. Guns used in crimes may never be recovered, so their origin is unknown. And as critics note, gun-control laws can inhibit law-abiding citizens from protecting themselves from crimes.

Maryland registers purchases of firearms, which can help trace weapons used in crimes. And every new handgun sold here is to have its unique ballistics "fingerprint" recorded with state police.

Gun-owner licensing may be the next state legislative battle. This study will add to evidence cited by advocates. But it does not prove the case that dual gun-control laws directly reduce crime.

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