The objective of this study was to assess whether targeting new gun buyers with a public safety message aimed at improving gun law awareness can modify gun purchasers' behaviors. Between May 2007 and September 2008, 2,120 guns were purchased in two target neighborhoods of the City of Los Angeles. Starting in August 2007, gun buyers initiating transactions on odd-numbered days received a letter signed by prominent law enforcement officials, indicating that law enforcement had a record of their gun purchase and that the gun buyer should properly record future transfers of the gun. The letters arrived during buyers' 10-day waiting periods, before they could legally return to the store to collect their new gun. Subsequent gun records were extracted to assess the letter's effect on legal secondary sales, reports of stolen guns, and recovery of the gun in a crime. An intent-to-treat analysis was also conducted as a sensitivity check to remedy a lapse in the letter program between May and August 2007. The letter appears to have no effect on the legal transfer rate or on the short-term rate of guns subsequently turning up in a crime. However, we found that the rate at which guns are reported stolen for those who received the letter is more than twice the rate for those who did not receive the letter (p value=0.01). Those receiving the letter reported their gun stolen at a rate of 18 guns per 1,000 gun-years and those not receiving the letter reported their gun stolen at a rate of 7 guns per 1,000 gun-years. Of those receiving the letter, 1.9% reported their gun stolen during the study period compared to 1.0% for those who did not receive the letter. The percentage of guns reported stolen in these neighborhoods is high, indicating a high rate of true gun theft, a regular practice of using stolen-gun reports to separate the gun buyer from future misuse of the gun, or some blend of both. Simple, targeted gun law awareness campaigns can modify new gun buyers' behaviors. Additional follow-up or modifications to this initiative might be needed to impact the rate at which guns enter the illegal gun market and ultimately are recovered in crimes.
Posted here with permission from Journal of Experimental Criminology, Vol. 7, No. 1, March 2011, pages 103-109. Springer Press.