Restricting Access

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Firearms are bought and sold in markets, both formal and informal.

To some observers this suggests that one method for reducing the burden

of firearm injuries is to intervene in these markets so as to make it more

expensive, inconvenient, or legally risky to obtain firearms for criminal

use or suicide. Market-based interventions intended to reduce access to

guns by criminals and other unqualified persons include taxes on weapons

and ammunition, tough regulation of federal firearm licensees, limits

on the number of firearms that can be purchased in a given time period,

gun bans, gun buy-backs, and enforcement of laws against illegal gun

buyers or sellers.

Because of the pervasiveness of guns and the variety of legal and illegal

means of acquiring them, it is difficult to keep firearms from people barred

by law from possessing them. The key question is substitution. In the

absence of the pathways currently used for gun acquisition, could individuals

have obtained alternative weapons with which they could have wrought

equivalent harm? Substitution can occur in many dimensions: offenders can

obtain different guns, they can get them from different places, and they can

get them at different times.

Arguments for and against a market-based approach are now largely

based on speculation, not on evidence from research. It is simply not known

whether it is actually possible to shut down illegal pipelines of guns to

criminals nor the costs of doing so. Answering these questions is essential to

knowing whether access restrictions are a possible public policy. The committee

has not attempted to identify specific interventions, research strategies,

or data that might be suited to studying market interventions, substituEXECUTIVE

tion, and firearms violence. Rather, the committee recommends that work

be started to think carefully about possible research and data designs to

address these issues.