Private-Party Gun Sales, Regulation, and Public Safety

Publication Date: June 2010

Publisher: The New England Journal of Medicine

Author(s): Garen J. Wintemute; Anthony A. Braga, PhD; David M. Kennedy

Research Area: Government; Social conditions

Keywords: background checks; guns; gun access

Type: Report

Coverage: United States


Guns are frequently used to commit crimes in the United States, partly because they are so easy to get. This ease of access is partially attributable to the fact that there are two systems of retail gun commerce in this country, one involving licensed gun retailers and the other based on private-party gun sellers, and only the former of these systems is regulated. Some 85% of all guns used in crimes and then recovered by law-enforcement agencies have been sold at least once by private parties.
This essay makes the case that the most effective approach to regulating private party sales would be to require that all sales, regardless of venue, be subject to a background check and record-keeping requirements. It makes the argument that while a broader proposal to require checks on all gun sales would face "tough sledding" in Congress, it should be moved forward because gun owners support the broader measure.