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Not an ‘iron pipeline’, but many capillaries: regulating passive transactions in Los Angeles' secondary, illegal gun market
  1. Kelsie Y Chesnut,
  2. Melissa Barragan,
  3. Jason Gravel,
  4. Natalie A Pifer,
  5. Keramet Reiter,
  6. Nicole Sherman,
  7. George E Tita
  1. Department of Criminology, Law and Society, University of California, Irvine, California, USA
  1. Correspondence to Kelsie Y Chesnut, Department of Criminology, Law and Society, University of California, Irvine, 3366 Social Ecology II, Irvine, CA 92697, USA; kchesnut{at}


Objectives California has strict firearm-related laws and is exceptional in its regulation of firearms retailers. Though evidence suggests that these laws can reduce illegal access to guns, high levels of gun violence persist in Los Angeles (LA), California. This research seeks to describe the sources of guns accessed by active offenders in LA, California and reports offenders' motivations for obtaining guns.

Setting Los Angeles County Jail (LACJ) system (four facilities).

Methods Random sampling from a screened pool of eligible participants was used to conduct qualitative semistructured interviews with 140 incarcerated gun offenders in one of four (LACJ) facilities. Researchers collected data on firearm acquisition, experiences related to gun violence, and other topics, using a validated survey instrument. Grounded theory guided the collection and analysis of data.

Results Respondents reported possession of 77 specific guns (79.2% handguns) collectively. Social networks facilitate access to illegal guns; the majority of interviewees acquired their illegal guns through a social connection (85.7%) versus an outside broker/unregulated retailer (8.5%). Most guns were obtained through illegal purchase (n=51) or gift (n=15). A quarter of gun purchasers report engaging in a passive transaction, or one initiated by another party. Passive gun buyers were motivated by concerns for personal safety and/or economic opportunity.

Conclusions In LA's illegal gun market, where existing social relationships facilitate access to guns across a diffuse network, individuals, influenced by both fear and economic opportunity, have frequent opportunities to illegally possess firearms through passive transactions. Gun policies should better target and minimise these transactions.

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  • Contributors GET and KYR conceived of the research study and secured funding. GET, KR and NAP initiated the study and data collection. KYC, MB, NAP and NS collected data equally. JG provided support in research design and implementation, in order to maintain confidentiality and anonymity of human subjects. KYC, NAP and JG drafted the initial article. All authors contributed to refinement of the study protocol, critical revisions of the article and approved the final manuscript.

  • Funding California Wellness Foundation (2013-054) and (FP054392).

  • Competing interests None declared.

  • Ethics approval Institutional Review Board at the University of California, Irvine.

  • Provenance and peer review Not commissioned; externally peer reviewed.