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Weapons of Choice: Previous Criminal History, Later Criminal Activity, and Firearm Preference among Legally Authorized Young Adult Purchasers of Handguns

Wintemute, Garen J. MD, MPH; Parham, Carrie A. MS; Wright, Mona A. MPH; Beaumont, James J. PhD; Drake, Christiana M. PhD

Journal of Trauma-Injury Infection & Critical Care: January 1998 - Volume 44 - Issue 1 - pp 155-160

Objective: To determine whether there is an association between criminal activity and preference for a particular class of handgun among young adults who purchase handguns legally.

Design: Historical cohort study.

Materials and Methods: Subjects were 5,360 authorized purchasers of handguns in California in 1988 who were 21 to 25 years of age, divided into two groups: all eligible purchasers with a previous criminal history (n = 2,765), and a random sample of purchasers with no such history (n = 2,595). Handguns were classified as small and inexpensive or larger and expensive. Associations were assessed by relative risks adjusted for gender and race or ethnicity.

Measurements and Main Results: Handgun purchasers with a previous criminal history were more likely than those without such a history to purchase a small, inexpensive handgun (relative risk (RR) = 1.28; 95% confidence interval (CI), 1.16-1.42). Among handgun purchasers with no previous criminal history, those who purchased a small, inexpensive handgun were more likely than purchasers of other handguns to be charged with new crimes after handgun purchase (RR = 1.73; 95% CI, 1.34-2.24) and were nearly twice as likely to charged with new crimes involving firearms or violence (RR = 1.93; 95% CI, 1.38-2.69).

Conclusion: In this population, criminal activity both before and after handgun purchase was associated with a preference for small, inexpensive handguns.

From the Violence Prevention Research Program, University of California, Davis, California.

This work was supported by a grant from the National Center for Injury Prevention and Control of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (R49/CCR90815).

The contents of this paper are solely the responsibility of the authors and do not necessarily represent the official views of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

A preliminary version of this paper was presented at the Annual Meeting of the American Public Health Association, November 1996, Washington, DC.

Address for reprints: Garen Wintemute, MD, MPH, Violence Prevention Research Program, UC Davis Medical Center, 2315 Stockton Boulevard, Sacramento, CA 95817.

© Williams & Wilkins 1998. All Rights Reserved.