The Sources of Boston Crime Guns

August 28, 2015
Anthony A. Braga (Rutgers University) and David M. Hureau (Harvard Kennedy School)

Gun control advocates suggest that gun deaths and injuries could be reduced by the universal adoption of federal and state laws requiring criminal background checks and transaction record keeping for both primary and secondary firearm sales. Massachusetts has been praised by these advocates for being one of a relatively small number of states that currently extend firearm transaction record keeping requirements to sales by private, unlicensed sellers. In partnership with Boston City Hall and the Boston Police Department (BPD), the prospects of reducing the flow of secondhand guns to criminals by analyzing Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives (ATF) firearm trace data and Massachusetts gun ownership transfer data for successfully-traced Boston crime handguns are examined. The conclusion to be drawn from this analysis is that the passage of strong private transfer gun laws needs to be accompanied by investments in the vigorous enforcement of reporting requirements in order to have an impact on the reduction of firearm related crime. This Policy Brief draws directly from the forthcoming article, Anthony A. Braga and David M. Hureau. 2015. “Strong Gun Laws Are Not Enough: The Need for Improved Enforcement of Secondhand Gun Transfer Laws in Massachusetts.” Preventive Medicine, available online at