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Armed and prohibited: characteristics of unlawful owners of legally purchased firearms
  1. Veronica A Pear1,
  2. Christopher D McCort1,
  3. Yueju Li2,
  4. Laurel Beckett2,
  5. Daniel Tancredi3,
  6. David M Studdert4,5,
  7. Philip H Kass2,
  8. Glenn L Pierce6,
  9. Anthony A Braga6,
  10. Mona A Wright1,
  11. Hannah S Laqueur1,
  12. Nicole Kravitz-Wirtz1,
  13. Garen J Wintemute1
  1. 1 Violence Prevention Research Program, Department of Emergency Medicine, University of California Davis School of Medicine, Sacramento, California, USA
  2. 2 Department of Public Health Sciences, University of California Davis School of Medicine, Davis, California, USA
  3. 3 Department of Pediatrics, University of California Davis School of Medicine, Sacramento, California, USA
  4. 4 Center for Health Policy, Center for Primary Care and Outcomes Research, Stanford Medicine, Stanford, California, USA
  5. 5 Stanford Law School, Stanford University, Stanford, California, USA
  6. 6 School of Criminology and Criminal Justice, Northeastern University, Boston, Massachusetts, USA
  1. Correspondence to Ms Veronica A Pear, Violence Prevention Research Program, Deptartment of Emergency Medicine, University of California Davis School of Medicine, Sacramento, CA 95817, USA; vapear{at}


Background A substantial proportion of individuals who lawfully purchase firearms later become unlawful owners ('prohibited firearm owners'), usually following events associated with an increased risk for future violence. This high-risk population has not previously been described. We aimed to characterise all individuals in California's Armed and Prohibited Persons System (APPS), a statewide programme for recovering firearms from individuals who legally purchased them and later became prohibited from ownership.

Methods We used univariate and bivariate statistics to describe and compare prohibited firearm owners in APPS with a random sample of non-prohibited firearm owners in relation to age, sex, race/ethnicity and type of firearms owned as of 1 February 2015. We also characterised the geographical distribution of prohibited firearm owners and described their prohibitions.

Results Of the 18 976 prohibited firearm owners, most were men (93%), half were white (53%) and the mean age was 47 years. Prohibited firearm owners were more likely to be male and to be black or Hispanic people than non-prohibited owners. Both prohibited and non-prohibited firearm owners had an average of 2.6 firearms, mostly handguns. Nearly half (48%) of prohibited firearm owners had a felony conviction. Extrapolating from our findings, we estimated that there are approximately 100 000 persons in the USA who unlawfully maintained ownership of their firearms following a felony conviction.

Conclusions Retention of firearms among persons who become lawfully prohibited from possessing them is common in California. Given the nationwide dearth of a programme to recover such weapons, this is likely true in other states as well.

  • firearm
  • violence
  • public health

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  • Funding This study was funded by grant number 2014-R2-CX-0012, awarded by the National Institute of Justice, Office of Justice Programs, US Department of Justice; and award number 14-6100 from the California Department of Justice.

  • Map disclaimer The depiction of boundaries on the map(s) in this article do not imply the expression of any opinion whatsoever on the part of BMJ (or any member of its group) concerning the legal status of any country, territory, jurisdiction or area or of its authorities. The map(s) are provided without any warranty of any kind, either express or implied.

  • Competing interests None declared.

  • Patient consent for publication Not required.

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

  • Data availability statement No data are available. Data are from the California Department of Justice and are not publicly available.