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Changes in the legal environment and enforcement of firearm transfer laws in Pennsylvania and Maryland
  1. Cassandra K Crifasi1,
  2. Molly Merrill-Francis1,
  3. Daniel W Webster1,
  4. Garen J Wintemute2,
  5. Jon S Vernick1
  1. 1 Center for Gun Policy and Research, Department of Health Policy and Management, Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, Baltimore, Maryland, USA
  2. 2 Violence Prevention Research Program, Department of Emergency Medicine, University of California Davis, Sacramento, California, USA
  1. Correspondence to Dr Cassandra K Crifasi, Hampton House, 624 N Broadway, Baltimore 21205 MD, USA; ckerche1{at}


The effectiveness of laws depends on circumstances affecting their enforcement. To assess such circumstances for comprehensive background check (CBC) and straw purchase laws for firearm sales, we examined prosecutions for CBC and straw purchase violations in Pennsylvania and CBC violations in Maryland. We generated pre-post variables and conducted t-tests to assess differences in the mean number of prosecutions filed following changes to the legal environments. The annual number of prosecutions for straw purchase violations increased significantly in Pennsylvania following the passage of a law that strengthened penalties for these violations (difference in means = +1310.86, P=0.003). The annual number of prosecutions for CBC violations decreased significantly in Maryland following a court decision that narrowed the definition of a firearm transfer making enforcement more difficult (difference in means = −20.52, P=0.026). Our findings suggest enforcement is likely influenced by the penalties associated with violating these laws and the interpretation of the language of the laws.

  • policy
  • enforcement
  • firearm

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  • Contributors This study was designed by DWW, JSV, and GJW. Data collection and analysis was done, or supervised, by MMF, CKC and JSV. Data interpretation and manuscript preparation were done by CKC, MMF and JSV. All authors made significant contributions to drafting and critical revision of the manuscript and approved the final version.

  • Funding This study was funded by the Joyce Foundation.

  • Competing interests None declared.

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

  • Correction notice This article has been corrected since it was published Online First. The second affiliation has been corrected.