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Felonious or Violent Criminal Activity That Prohibits Gun Ownership Among Prior Purchasers of Handguns: Incidence and Risk Factors

Wright, Mona A. MPH; Wintemute, Garen J. MD, MPH

The Journal of Trauma: Injury, Infection, and Critical Care: October 2010 - Volume 69 - Issue 4 - p 948-955
doi: 10.1097/TA.0b013e3181cb441b
Original Article

Background: Federal law prohibits firearm possession by felons and certain others. Little is known about criminal activity resulting in new ineligibility to possess firearms among persons who have previously purchased them.

Methods: Cohort study of handgun purchasers ages 21 to 49 in California in 1991, 2,761 with a non-prohibiting criminal history at the time of purchase and 4,495 with no prior criminal record, followed for up to 5 years. The primary outcome measures were the incidence and relative risk of conviction for a felony or violent misdemeanor resulting in ineligibility to possess firearms under (a) California law or (b) federal law. Secondary measures were the incidence and relative risk of conviction for murder, forcible rape, robbery, or aggravated assault; and of arrest for any crime.

Results: A new conviction for a felony or violent misdemeanor leading to ineligibility to possess firearms under federal law was identified for 0.9% of subjects with no prior criminal history and 4.5% of those with 1 or more prior convictions (hazard ratio, 5.1; 95% confidence interval, 3.3–7.7). Risk was related inversely to age and directly to the extent of the prior criminal history; incidence rates varied by a factor of 200 or more among subgroups based on these characteristics.

Conclusions: Among legal purchasers of handguns, the incidence of new felonious and violent criminal activity resulting in ineligibility to possess firearms is low for those with no prior criminal history but is substantially higher for those with a prior criminal record and is affected by demographic characteristics.


From the Violence Prevention Research Program, Department of Emergency Medicine, School of Medicine, University of California Davis, Sacramento, CA.

Submitted for publication May 15, 2009.

Accepted for publication November 17, 2009.

Data collection for this study was supported in part by Grant Number R49/CCR908815, a research project program grant from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The study was also supported by grants from the California Wellness Foundation, the David and Lucile Packard Foundation, the Joyce Foundation, and the Eli and Edythe L. Broad Foundation.

An early version of this study was presented at the 2003 annual meetings of the American Public Health Association and the American Society of Criminology.

Both the authors had full access to all the data in the study and take responsibility for the integrity of the data and the accuracy of the data analysis. Both participated in the conceptualization and design of the study, the acquisition of data, the analysis and interpretation of data, and the drafting and revision of the manuscript. Dr. Wintemute obtained the funding and provided study supervision.

Supplemental digital content is available for this article. Direct URL citations appear in the printed text, and links to the digital files are provided in the HTML text of this article on the journal's Web site (

Address for reprints: Mona A. Wright, 2315 Stockton Blvd., Sacramento, CA 95817; email:

© 2010 Lippincott Williams & Wilkins, Inc.