This study examined the influence of "crime gun" prevalence on the risk of selected types of homicide in Pittsburgh, PA.
Largely because of data limitations, previous research on firearms and violence relied primarily on indicators of the general prevalence of guns. These measures, however, included a substantial number of guns that were never involved in criminal incidents; this can distort the relationship of the prevalence of guns to crime. The current study focused on the impact of "crime guns" on homicide rates. A "crime gun" is defined as "any firearm that is readily available for criminal use." In this study, the prevalence of "crime guns" was measured by stolen-gun reports and reports of "shots-fired" incidents. Gun-trace data were obtained from several different sources, including the National Tracing Center of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms and the Pittsburgh Police Department. The gun trace data originating from the Pittsburgh police provided a detailed view of "crime guns" recovered by police during a recent 2-year period from June 1995 through June 1997. Other data from the local county crime lab provided a longer time series, 1993 to 1998. The 911 calls of "shots-fired" incidents provided vital information on both the location and timing of these incidents. These data not only captured varying levels of access to crime guns, but also variations in willingness to use "crime guns" in a criminal manner. The study relied exclusively on homicides as the measure of violence, with attention to the types of homicide most likely to be perpetrated by "crime guns." The study found strong neighborhood variations in both the prevalence of "crime guns" and the levels of homicide, with higher homicide rates in the same areas as higher levels of "crime gun" incidents. This cross-sectional relationship, however, may have reflected general neighborhood differences in the propensity to violence. Going beyond a simple cross-sectional relationship, the study relied on a hazard model to estimate changes in the homicide risks in different neighborhoods as levels of "crime gun" prevalence changed. The study found evidence of a link between the prevalence of "crime guns" in a neighborhood and selected types of homicides, specifically homicides by gun, those involving youth (ages 12 to 24), and gang-motivated homicides. No similar effect was found for other types of homicides. 8 tables, 4 figures, and a 27-item bibliography
Date Published: January 1, 1999