The question of whether the illegal firearms market serving criminals and juveniles can be disrupted has been vigorously debated in policy circles and in the literature on firearms and violence. To the extent that prohibited persons, in particular, are supplied with guns through systematic gun trafficking, focused regulatory and investigative resources may be useful in disrupting the illegal supply of firearms to criminals. In Boston, a gun market disruption strategy was implemented that focused on shutting down illegal diversions of new handguns from retail sources. Multivariate regression analyses were used to estimate the effects of the intervention on new handguns recovered in crime. Our results suggest that focused enforcement efforts, guided by strategic analyses of ATF firearms trace data, can have significant impacts on the illegal supply of new handguns to criminals.
The problem-oriented policing approach provides an appropriate framework to uncover the complex mechanisms at play in illicit firearms markets and to develop tailor-made interventions to disrupt the illegal gun trade. Strategic enforcement programs focused on the illegal diversion of new firearms from primary markets can reduce the availability of new guns to criminals. However, the extent to which criminals substitute older guns for new guns and move from primary markets to secondary markets in response to an enforcement strategy focused on retail outlets remains unclear. Our evaluation also does not provide policy makers with any firm evidence on whether supply-side enforcement strategies have any measurable impacts on gun violence. Jurisdictions suffering from gun violence problems should implement demand-side violence prevention programs to complement their supply-side efforts.