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Member Research & Reports

Member Research & Reports

Johns Hopkins: Handgun Licensing More Effective at Reducing Gun Deaths Than Background Checks Alone

A new white paper from the Johns Hopkins Center for Gun Policy and Research at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health concludes that of the approaches used by states to screen out prohibited individuals from owning firearms, only purchaser licensing has been shown to reduce gun homicides and suicides. Purchaser licensing is currently used by nine states and Washington, DC.

The white paper, “The Impact of Handgun Purchaser Licensing Laws on Gun Violence,” and an accompanying infographic explain that states generally use three approaches to screen out prohibited individuals from purchasing firearms: 1. Mandatory background checks for sales from a licensed dealer — the minimum that federal law requires; 2. Comprehensive background check requirements that also cover private-party transfers of firearms; and 3. A background check for all firearm transfers as a complement to a licensing or permit system. Some states with comprehensive background checks or firearm purchaser licensing limit these requirements to transfers of handguns.

In general, states with licensing require prospective gun buyers to apply for a license with a state or local law enforcement agency, pass a background check, often submit fingerprints, and, in some cases, show evidence of gun safety training. States with licensing typically have more thorough processes for checking backgrounds and allow law enforcement more time to conduct those checks or have mandatory waiting periods.

In contrast, the mandatory federal background law requires that a prospective buyer undergo a background check if they purchase a firearm, but only if they purchase it from a licensed dealer.

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