Urban Gun Homicides Drop With Police Background Checks: Study

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Urban states and counties where handgun purchasers are required to submit to background checks by law enforcement before obtaining a license or permit are associated with a 14 percent reduction in firearm homicides, according to a study from the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Health.

The study, which looked at firearm homicide data in 136 large urban counties between 1984-2015, represents the first attempt to compare the impact of “permit to purchase” systems administered by state or local law enforcement, and “comprehensive background checks (CBC),” which only require the gun dealer to file the purchaser’s name with a federal database.

Urban areas where only the CBC system is used saw a 16 percent increase in gun homicides during that period, the study said.

“Background checks are intended to screen out prohibited indviduals, and serve as the foundation upon which other gun laws are built, but they may not be sufficient on their own to decrease gun homicides,” Cassandra Crifasi, an assistant professor with the Johns Hopkins Center for Gun Policy and Research, and lead author of the study, said in a statement accompanying the report.

“This study extends what we know about the beneficial effects of a licensing system on gun homicides to large, urban counties across the United States.”

The National Instant Criminal Background Checks System (NICS), the main database used for the CBC system, has been shown to have problems ranging from incomplete records to long response delays. In contrast, permit-to-purchase laws allow law enforcement a longer period to conduct checks, with access to more records—and some states require fingerprint checks.

The authors of the study said more thorough checking by law enforcement increases the likelihood that anyone with a questionable background can be screened.

The study also noted that the permit-to-purchase system has received consistent support in surveys that include gun owners.

The other co-authors of the study were Molly Merrill-Francis, Alex McCourt, Jon S. Vernick, Garen J. Wintemute and Daniel W. Webster. Wintemute is affiliated with the Violence Prevention Research Program of the Department of Emergency Medicine at the University of California, Davis. All the other authors are with the Johns Hopkins Center for Gun Police at the University of California, Davis.

Editor’s Note: The Crime Report and City Limits magazine are co-hosting a special forum on gun policy today at John Jay College, with speakers including Cy Vance, Manhattan DA; Richard Aborn of the NY Citizens Crime Commission, and Liz Glazer, director of the NYC Mayor’s Office of Criminal Justice. The event will be livestreamed here, starting at 4 pm EST

A full copy of the study can be downloaded here.

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