Not an ‘iron pipeline’, but many capillaries: regulating passive transactions in Los Angeles' secondary, illegal gun market

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Abstract

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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