illustration of lines depicting the flow of guns between states with shadows of guns in the background

Pathways for Gun Crimes

Firearms flow from states with weak gun laws to states with strong ones.

Words and Graphic by Katie Peek

Curbing gun violence is a complex challenge. While federal law requires licensed dealers to perform background checks for firearm sales, individuals may sell handguns without them. Laws requiring a license for all handgun purchases are one promising solution.

Licensing usually involves fingerprinting and more robust background checks. The 10 states that require licensing see fewer firearm deaths—from mass shootings, homicides, and suicides alike. “These are the laws that matter,” says Daniel Webster, ScD ’91, MPH, director of the Johns Hopkins Center for Gun Violence Prevention and Policy. “The benefits would be even greater were it not for weak gun laws in other states.”

That’s because states with licensing laws see crimes committed with guns purchased elsewhere, as the data reveal here. Expanding licensing laws nationwide, Webster says, would have a huge impact on gun trafficking and violence.