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Armed and Considered Dangerous: A Survey of Felons and Their Firearms

NCJ Number
James D. Wright; Peter H. Rossi
Date Published
275 pages
This survey of men who are serving sentences for felony offenses in 11 State prisons throughout the country examines why criminals acquire, carry, and use firearms.
Self-administered questionnaires were completed by 1,874 felons in State prisons in Michigan, Missouri, Oklahoma, Minnesota, Nevada, Arizona, Florida, Georgia, Maryland, and Massachusetts. The felons in the sample showed wide variability in their prior criminal weapons behavior. Approximately 40 percent of the sample claimed never to have committed any crime armed with any kind of weapon; these are the unarmed criminals who are used for comparison purposes throughout the analysis. Another one-tenth had committed armed crime, some of them often, but never with a gun. The remaining half of the sample had committed at least one gun crime. Issues discussed based on survey findings are firearms ownership and use, familiarity with guns early in life, reasons why criminals carry guns, the impact on criminals of the likelihood that a potential victim may be carrying a gun, what felons look for in firearms, the market for criminals' guns, and gun control and criminal gun use. Five potentially important policy implications are suggested by the survey findings. First, because criminals acquire and use guns as much for self-protection, viable social policies should address the issue of reducing the violence and routine carrying of guns that appear to be endemic to many impoverished urban neighborhoods. Second, a major source of supply to the illicit firearms market is through theft from persons who own and use firearms legally; cutting down on the theft of firearms ought to be a second goal of social policy. Third, gun-control measures that attempt to interdict the retail sale of weapons to criminals through legitimate channels miss as many as five-sixths of the criminal firearms transactions. Fourth, sentence-enhancement policies that would punish more heavily crime in which guns are used are largely irrelevant to the more predatory guns users. Fifth, some of the more often discussed gun-control measures, such as a ban on cheap handguns, may prove to have counter- productive consequences, as some criminals switch to more lethal weapons. Extensive tabular data, a 66-item bibliography, and a subject index