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Journal Issue: Children, Youth, and Gun Violence Volume 12 Number 2 Summer/Fall 2002

Where the Guns Come From: The Gun Industry and Gun Commerce
Garen J. Wintemute

Summary

Under federal law, it is illegal for youth under age 18 to purchase rifles or shotguns, and for those under age 21 to purchase handguns. However, fatality and injury statistics clearly show that guns are finding their way into young people's hands. Many of these youth obtain guns through illegal gun markets.

This article focuses on how guns in the United States are manufactured, marketed, and sold. The article shows how the legal and illegal gun markets are intimately connected and make guns easily accessible to youth.

  • Although the domestic gun manufacturing industry is relatively small and has experienced declining sales in recent years, it has significant political clout and a large market for its products, and has engaged in aggressive marketing to youth.

  • Lax oversight of licensed firearms dealers, combined with little or no regulation of private sales between gun owners, mean that guns can quickly move from the legal gun market into the illegal market, where they can be acquired by young people.

  • Certain guns, especially inexpensive, poorly made small handguns, are particularly attractive to criminals and youth.

The author observes that several policy innovations—including increased regulation of licensed firearms dealers, intensified screening of prospective buyers, regulation of private sales, gun licensing and registration, and bans on some types of weapons—hold promise for decreasing the flow of guns into the hands of youth.