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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 and Acute Care Surgery: January 1998 - Volume 44 - Issue 1 - p 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.