Targeted Gun Law Messaging was a mail campaign focused on raising awareness about gun laws and regulations and increasing public safety in Los Angeles, Calif. Many firearms used in crimes are illegally obtained, and the illegal transaction of firearms is strictly prohibited by law. The mail campaign sought to reduce these sales by making the consequences widely known to those who purchase firearms.
Target Population/Program Activities
Residents living in certain neighborhoods in Los Angeles, Calif., and who had purchased a firearm were selected for the mail campaign. In California, firearm purchasers must wait 10 days between the time they pay for the gun and when they can return to the store to pick it up. As part of the mail campaign, which started in August 2007, gun buyers who had made transactions on odd-numbered days received a letter from law enforcement officials during the waiting period. The letter reminded them of the laws and consequences concerned with illegal secondary transfers of firearms; it stated that their gun purchase was on record, and emphasized that all future transactions related to the gun must be reported in accordance with laws. The letter reminded the buyer that a Dealer Record of Sale (DROS) form must be filled out if the gun is transferred to another owner and that failure to do so is a crime. A DROS records the gun’s make, model, manufacturer, serial number, and caliber; the purchaser’s contact information; and date of the transaction. The letter further stated that if the gun was used in a crime, Los Angeles City would prosecute the gun’s previous owner if they did not fill out a DROS form. The letter was signed by the Chief of the Los Angeles Police Department as well as the city and States attorneys’ offices.
The mail campaign used the principles of deterrence theory as a method to prevent illegal firearms transactions. These transactions are known as “straw purchases,” and occur when an individual legally purchases a firearm in their name and sells the gun to a person who is disqualified from purchasing one because of a criminal record. Engaging in a straw purchase or knowingly transferring a firearm to anyone prohibited from possessing a firearm is a Federal crime. The idea behind the targeted mail campaign was that buyers could be deterred from illegally transferring firearms if they were reminded of potential legal consequences.
Ridgeway and colleagues (2010) found a rate ratio of 2.6 between the treatment and control group. This indicated that those who received a letter were more than twice as likely to report their firearms stolen than those who did not; this result was statistically significant. This effect can be attributed to an increased awareness of firearm laws and regulations.
The analysis indicated that firearms were reported stolen an average of 6 months after purchase.
The rates at which firearms became crime guns were statistically indistinguishable between the treatment and control groups. Therefore, the mail campaign did not appear to have an impact on whether the firearm became a crime gun or not; it only increased the likelihood that the purchaser would report the gun stolen.