Criminal Purchase of Firearm Ammunition
Public efforts to restrict firepower among those most prone to violence generally focus only on guns, not ammunition. For
example, firearms dealers run the names of would-be gun buyers through an instant background check system to verify whether
the person is legally allowed to own a gun. But although the same restrictions technically apply, ammunition purchasers are
not subject to the same background check. This means that people who shouldn't be able to buy ammunition might be doing just
Research on illegal gun markets in the streets of Chicago shows that criminals already have a more difficult time buying ammunition
than buying guns. If retail sales of ammunition were more tightly controlled to keep ammunition from falling into the wrong hands, would this
squeeze the illegal market even further, and, perhaps, reduce gun violence?
About the Research
To answer questions about ammunition markets, NIJ-funded researchers worked with the Southern California Regional Crime Gun
Center, operated by the U.S. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives. They studied the handwritten logs of two
months' worth of ammunition sales in 2004 from federally licensed dealers in the city. (A local ordinance requires these dealers
to record ammunition buyers' names, addresses, thumbprints, state-issued ID numbers and other personal data. Police periodically
collect the logs, but until 2004, they did not reference them unless they were investigating a specific crime.)
The researchers found that 2.8 percent of the 2,540 ammunition purchases during this period were by people who were not legally
allowed to own ammunition. All told, these illegal buyers bought more than 10,000 rounds of ammunition (2.3 percent of the
total). Most of the buyers were local. A few, however, lived in the high-crime neighborhoods in the south of the city. The
researchers suspected that buyers in these neighborhoods went just over the border to stores in L.A. County.
These data demonstrate that the data-logging requirement is not deterring many restricted people from buying ammunition. The
researchers argue that consistent requirements across jurisdictions and a greater use of the log books by investigators could
help locate people who own guns illegally and stem the flow of deadly firepower into the hands of people most likely to use
it for violence.
- Report from the study: Tita, George E., Anthony Braga, Greg Ridgeway, and Glenn L. Pierce, "The Criminal Purchase of Firearm
Ammunition," Injury Prevention 12 (August 2006): 308-311.
Date Modified: April 16, 2013