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Buying a handgun for someone else: firearm dealer willingness to sell
  1. S B Sorenson,
  2. K A Vittes
  1. UCLA School of Public Health, Los Angeles, California
  1. Correspondence to:
 Professor Susan B Sorenson, UCLA School of Public Health, 650 C E Young Drive South, Los Angeles, CA 90095–1772, USA;


Objective: To examine firearm dealer willingness to sell when a handgun is being purchased for another person. US law requires a background check of the purchaser but not the end user of a firearm.

Subjects and methods: A total of 120 handgun dealers (six from each of the 20 largest US cities with 10 or more dealers) participated in telephone interviews. Dealers within each city were randomly assigned to a male or female interviewer and then randomly assigned to one of three purchase conditions—when the consumer said that the handgun was for him/herself, a gift for a girl/boyfriend, or for a girl/boyfriend “because s/he needs it”.

Results: Most dealers were willing to sell a handgun regardless of the end user (self: 87.5%; gift: 70.8%; “need”: 52.5%). Multivariate analyses indicate that dealers in the Midwest, South, and West were more willing to sell than those in the Northeast (adjusted odds ratio (AOR) = 21.30, 18.74, and 8.93, respectively) and that willingness to sell is lower when the sale would be illegal, that is, under the “need” condition (AOR = 0.20).

Conclusions and implications: Dealers are in a position to exercise judgment when a customer is explicit about buying a firearm for someone else. Some appeared willing to ignore or sidestep relevant information even when told that the end user was prohibited from purchasing a firearm him/herself. In the absence of federal handgun registration, which would track ownership changes, resources with which to conduct compliance checks (for example, as are conducted to identify retailers who sell tobacco or alcohol to under-age persons) seem warranted.

  • firearms
  • assault
  • homicide
  • violence

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    We would like to thank Jeff Sinek of the Los Angeles office of Thelen, Reid and Priest LLP and Eric Gorovitz of the Coalition to Stop Gun Violence for their legal research, Eugene Volokh and Mark Chekal for their comments on previous drafts, and Anthony DiStefano for his help with data collection.

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