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143 Baltimore’s underground gun market: availability of and access to guns
  1. Cassandra Crifasi1,
  2. Shani Buggs2,
  3. Marisa Booty1,
  4. Daniel Webster1,
  5. Rebecca McAdams3
  1. 1Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, Center for Gun Policy and Research
  2. 2UC Davis, Violence Prevention Research Program
  3. 3Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, Health, Behavior, and Society


Statement of Purpose Underground gun markets create opportunities for individuals who are prohibited from gun ownership to gain access to them. Understanding how these individuals obtain guns, as well as their unsuccessful attempts to get guns, is key to developing interventions that effectively restrict the supply of guns in an underground market.

Methods/Approach We recruited 195 men outside of parole and probation centers in Baltimore City. We conducted surveys with these criminal justice system-involved men about their experiences in the underground gun market. The survey data was gathered using an audio-assisted computer survey instrument. The survey was composed of questions about ability to acquire firearms, why they were desired, and selling/trading behaviors.

Results 30% of respondents (n=58) reported having experience in the underground gun market. More than half of these individuals were unsuccessful in their most recent attempt to obtain a firearm due to cost- or source-related barriers. Over 80% of individuals who did not already have access to a gun but wanted one (31/38) reported wanting to acquire one for safety or protection. Most respondents who had access to firearms had handguns (90%). Individuals reported selling or trading a gun (n=35) for money (69%), drugs (46%), or other guns (23%), or accepting guns as payment for drugs.

Conclusions Although an underground market can facilitate access to firearms, barriers exist that can prevent acquisition by high risk individuals.

Significance and Contributions to Injury and Violence Prevention Science This is the first study to understand the availability of and access to guns in Baltimore’ underground gun market. Efforts should focus on strategies that increase accountability and restrict the supply of guns in an underground market or those that provide alternatives to gun carrying to feel safe.

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