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Illegal Firearms: Access and Use by Arrestees, Research in Brief

NCJ Number
Date Published
January 1997
6 pages
Publication Series
This paper reports on a study of arrestees' access to firearms, their availability, and the reasons they are owned and used.
Data from the Drug Use Forecasting (DUF) program were used to explore the extent of firearm ownership and possession among arrestees and the ease with which they can be acquired illegally. More than 7,000 arrestees in 11 major urban areas that participate in the DUF program were interviewed for the study. The findings show that a higher percentage of arrestees than people in the general population have ever owned a firearm. They acquire firearms readily, and a substantial number have used them to commit crime. Arrestees say guns are easy to obtain, and the ease with which this is done suggests the illegal market is the most likely source. In fact, more than half the arrestees say it is easy to obtain guns illegally. The study confirms the link between guns and gang membership, as well as guns and drug markets. Among the arrestees, the groups that have the easiest access to firearms are drug sellers and gang members. Juvenile males are also more likely than arrestees overall to engage in gun-related behavior. By contrast, drug use does not make arrestees more prone to own and use guns. The examination of attitudes among arrestees reveals a culture in which gun use is tolerated and even condoned. A substantial proportion reported that owning a gun confers respect from one's peers; a substantial proportion also agree that there are certain situations in which using a gun is acceptable. At the same time, a large proportion of arrestees are also victimized by guns, with drug sellers and gang members being at particularly high risk. The study suggests that some of the current approaches to reducing gun violence, particularly legal sanctions related to ownership and use, are not as effective as they might be. An approach that focuses on several intervention points by multiple agents is worth exploring. 5 notes

Date Published: January 1, 1997