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Illegal Ammo Sales Studied

October 06, 2006|Greg Krikorian | Times Staff Writer

Convicted felons and other people with criminal records have bought thousands of rounds of ammunition from gun stores in Los Angeles, even though such sales are illegal, according to a study released Thursday.

The Rand Corp. report analyzed sales at 10 of the 13 businesses that sell to the public and found that 52 people convicted of crimes ranging from felony drug possession to stalking bought a total of more than 10,000 rounds of bullets and shotgun shells in April and May 2004.

Although the number of buyers totaled less than 3% of all ammunition customers at the stores, researchers said other studies have found guns or bullets purchased by ex-convicts are much more likely to be used in crimes than those bought by people with no criminal histories.

"The significance here is that if we can prevent access to ammunition for people who have already shown a propensity to commit crime, we can have an impact on gun violence," said George Tita, a criminologist at UC Irvine and lead author of the study. "Without bullets, guns are just clubs."

The study, funded by the National Institute of Justice, examined ammunition purchases at seven sporting goods stores, two firing ranges and one war surplus business in the city. The three other businesses in Los Angeles allowed to sell ammunition were not part of the study because there were not enough police officers available to collect data, researchers said.

By law, people who buy ammunition in the city are required to show a driver's license or other photo identification and leave a fingerprint with the store, which must keep records about the sale, researchers said. Last year, they noted, state legislators considered but did not pass a bill that would have required ammunition dealers in California to log all their purchases and customers in a state database.

The study found that 6.5% of the purchasers had criminal records, although most of them were for misdemeanors or other offenses that did not prohibit them from buying ammunition. But 2.6% of those buying ammunition were convicted of drug-related felonies, grand theft, burglary, weapon offenses or other crimes, the study found.

Because seven of the businesses surveyed are in the San Fernando Valley, more than 90% of the transactions studied took place there. None of the businesses were in the high-crime areas south of downtown where, officials believe, people probably buy ammunition outside the city limits, researchers said.

An LAPD spokesman said Thursday that the department had just received the report and was reviewing its findings.

"I think people assume that government is taking care of this issue [because] they hear about 10-day waiting periods to get guns and background checks" for buyers, said Greg Ridgeway, coauthor of the study and associate director of Rand's safety and justice program. "But the fact is that while there are laws on the books prohibiting these people from having ammunition, it is not being enforced."

greg.krikorian@latimes.com

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