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California and the West

Gun Control Law Helped Cut Crime, Study Says

Research: UC Davis looked at criminal records of gun offenders who tried to purchase firearms.

February 28, 2001|SHARON BERNSTEIN | TIMES HEALTH WRITER

California's gun control law appears to have had a moderate impact on reducing additional violent crimes by people convicted of gun-related offenses, public health researchers at UC Davis reported in a new study.

The researchers examined the criminal records of 1,654 people who had been convicted of gun-related misdemeanors and subsequently tried to buy handguns in California between 1989 and 1993. That time period allowed a comparison of criminal activity before and after a 1992 law that forbade firearm sales to those convicted of gun-related crimes.

Those who purchased guns before the law took effect were 29% more likely to commit violent or gun-related crimes than those who came along a few years later and were denied such purchases.

The findings, to be published today in the Journal of the American Medical Assn., do not show that gun violence was eliminated or even dramatically reduced by the handgun law, said the study's chief author, Garen J. Wintemute. But they do indicate that the law has had an effect, said Wintemute, an emergency room doctor and public health researcher who heads the university's Violence Prevention Research Program.

The next step, he said, would be to combine the handgun law with other social programs aimed at reducing violence.

"It's going to take more than any one single program to prevent all violent crime," Wintemute said.

Thomas B. Cole, a physician who writes about public health issues for the medical journal, compared gun violence with other injury-related public health problems, such as motor vehicle crashes. No single program has been responsible for the enormous decline in traffic fatalities in the last few decades, but, taken together, vehicle safety standards, seat belts, speed enforcement and drunk driving laws have had a significant effect.

The study comes as several states consider expanding their handgun laws. At the same time, some gun control advocates fear that President Bush, who as governor of Texas supported and signed a law expanding the right to carry concealed weapons there, will attempt to discourage gun control legislation.

"We have on hand the evidence we need to broaden the prohibition on gun purchases [by violent criminals]," Wintemute said.

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