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Program Profile: Targeted Gun Law Messaging

Evidence Rating: Promising - One study Promising - One study

Date: This profile was posted on June 14, 2011

Program Summary

This mail campaign aimed to deter illegal firearm transactions in Los Angeles, Calif., using a letter outlining the regulations and laws surrounding firearm ownership. The program is rated Promising. Those who received a letter were more than twice as likely to report their firearms stolen than those who did not receive the letter. However, there was no statistically significant impact on whether the firearm was later used in a crime.

This program’s rating is based on evidence that includes at least one high-quality randomized controlled trial.

Program Description

Program Goals
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.

Program Theory
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.

Evaluation Outcomes

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Study 1
Reporting a Stolen Firearm
Ridgeway and colleagues (2010) found a statistically significant rate ratio of 2.6 between the treatment and control groups, indicating that those who received a letter were more than twice as likely to report their firearms stolen than those who did not.

Use of Firearm in a Crime
There were no statistically significant differences in the rates at which firearms became crime guns between the treatment and control groups.
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Evaluation Methodology

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Study 1
Ridgeway and colleagues (2010) used a randomized design to evaluate the impact of the Targeted Gun Law Messaging campaign on illegal firearms transactions in Los Angeles, Calif. Two police districts in Los Angeles were selected, Devonshire and 77th Street, where a large number of the guns purchased by residents were later recovered as crime guns in the possession of others. Crime guns are those firearms that are illegally obtained and used in the commission of a crime.

All residents of these districts who purchased a firearm on an odd-numbered day between August 2007 and June 2009 (n=878) received a letter reminding them of State and Federal firearms laws. These residents comprised the treatment group; residents who bought a firearm on an even-numbered day (n=1,242) comprised the control group. The follow-up period lasted anywhere from 6 to 23 months, depending on whether or not the purchaser reported a transaction or theft of their firearm and when they reported it.

Data was obtained from the Automated Firearms System (AFS), California’s database of recorded firearms sales. The rate ratio was calculated to estimate whether purchasers who received a letter reported the sale/transfer, theft, or loss of their firearm more than those who did not receive a letter. A rate ratio less than 1 means the treatment group was less likely to report the sale/transfer, theft, or loss of their firearm, while a rate ratio greater than 1 means the treatment group was more likely to report the sale/transfer, theft, or loss of their firearm. The rate ratio was also calculated to determine if guns that were purchased by an individual who received the letter were more or less likely to become “crime guns” (i.e., a gun recovered by law enforcement that was in possession of a prohibited possessor, or a gun recovered in connection with a crime) compared to guns purchased by individuals who did not receive the letter.
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There is no cost information available for this program.
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Implementation Information

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Cooperation between law enforcement agencies and an organized effort to notify firearm purchasers of their legal obligations was needed for proper implementation (Ridgeway et al. 2010).
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Other Information (Including Subgroup Findings)

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The letter that was mailed to firearm purchasers is included in the appendix of Ridgeway and colleagues (2010).
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Evidence-Base (Studies Reviewed)

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These sources were used in the development of the program profile:

Study 1
Ridgeway, Greg, Anthony A. Braga, George Tita, and Glenn L. Pierce. 2010. “Intervening in Gun Markets: An Experiment to Assess the Impact of Targeted Gun-Law Messaging.” Journal of Experimental Criminology (online first, Aug. 26, 2010).
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Related Practices

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Following are practices that are related to this program:

Reducing Gun Violence
Reducing gun violence is a persistent public policy concern for communities, policymakers and leaders. To reduce gun violence, several strategies have been deployed including public health approaches (e.g., training and safe gun storage); gun buy-back programs; gun laws; and law enforcement strategies. The practice is rated Promising for reducing violent gun offenses.

Evidence Ratings for Outcomes:
Promising - One Meta-Analysis Crime & Delinquency - Violent offenses
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Program Snapshot

Gender: Both

Geography: Suburban, Urban

Setting (Delivery): Home

Program Type: Community Awareness/Mobilization, Situational Crime Prevention, Reminders/Notifications, General deterrence

Current Program Status: Not Active

Greg Ridgeway
Safety and Justice Program, ISE, RAND Corporation
1776 Main Street
Santa Monica CA 90407–2138
Phone: 310.393.0411

George Tita
Associate Professor
Criminology, Law & Society and Planning, Policy & Design, University of California, Irvine
2307 Social Ecology II
Irvine CA 92697-7080
Phone: 949.824.4927

Anthony Braga
Senior Research Fellow
Harvard University, John F. Kennedy School of Government
79 John F. Kennedy Street
Cambridge MA 02138
Phone: 617.495.5188