U.S. flag

An official website of the United States government, Department of Justice.

Armed Criminal in America

NCJ Number
Date Published
5 pages
This report summarizes findings and policy implications of a study that surveyed over 1,800 adult male felons incarcerated in 10 States to determine how and why they obtain, carry, and use firearms and how they would respond to various types of gun regulation.
Three-quarters of the sample had owned one or more firearms at some time. Thirty-nine percent had never used a weapon in a crime, and 11 percent had committed armed crimes but never with a firearm. Of the remainder of the sample, some had committed only one or a few crimes with a gun. Of those who had committed many gun crimes, some used handguns and others used shotguns. Those who had committed many gun crimes were overwhelmingly the most active criminals in the sample. Handguns were usually obtained through informal transactions and theft, usually from residences. Most claimed to carry handguns for self-protection and were rarely without them. The Smith and Wesson .38 with a 4-inch barrel was the most common recently owned handgun. Those who committed frequent gun crimes had the highest quality weapons. Various gun control measures would prompt the gun criminals to carry less convenient but equally lethal substitutes. Findings suggest the ineffectiveness of attempting to reduce gun crimes through the regulation of retail gun sales and the banning of cheap handguns. For less predatory felons, however, more severe sentences for gun crimes does have a deterrent effect. Gun theft might be reduced through public education about gun security. 1 table and 2 figures.

Date Published: January 1, 1986