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Member Research and Reports

Member Research and Reports

BU Finds Guns Used in Cross-Border Crimes Originate from States with More Lax Laws

Opponents of gun control have frequently pointed to high rates of gun violence in cities such as Chicago to argue that state laws for strong gun control are not effective.

But guns used in states with stricter gun laws typically flow from states with weaker laws, according to a new study by Boston University School of Public Health (BUSPH) researchers.

The study, published in the Journal of Urban Health, found the majority of crime guns used in Illinois, Massachusetts, and New Jersey come from other states, while several other states see nearly all of their crime guns purchased in-state. The researchers also found that wait periods, permit requirements, bans on guns for people with histories of a violent misdemeanor, and relinquishment of guns by people convicted of a violent misdemeanor could together decrease a state’s in-state crime guns by 13.7 percent.

“This study shows that strong firearm laws are effective in reducing access to guns for potential use in crimes in a state,” says study co-author Dr. Michael Siegel, professor of community health sciences at BUSPH. “It may be that higher rates of gun violence in some states with strong firearm laws may be not because they have strong laws, but because their neighboring states have weak laws.”

Using 2006–2016 data from the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives, which traces the origin of a sample of guns recovered after use in a crime in the U.S., the researchers were able to identify what proportion of crime guns came from and were used in each of the 50 states.

Adding controls for state-level gun ownership and production and density of gun dealers, as well as crime rates, degree of urbanization, and other factors, the researchers found a clear association between stronger gun control laws and fewer crime guns originating in a state.

As states enacted gun laws during the study period, the researchers saw a decrease in crime guns originating in those states. They also saw an increase in crime guns originating in states that repealed or did not add gun laws during the study period.

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