Regulation of firearm dealers in the United States: An analysis of state law and opportunities for improvement

Jon S. Vernick, Daniel W. Webster, Maria T. Bulzacchelli, Julie Samia Mair

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle


Firearms were associated with 30,136 deaths in the United States in 2003. Most guns are initially sold to the public through a network of retail dealers. Licensed firearm dealers are an important source of guns for criminals and gun traffickers. Just one percent of licensed dealers were responsible for more than half of all guns traced to crime. Federal law makes it difficult for ATF to inspect and revoke the licenses of problem gun dealers. State licensing systems, however, are a greatly under-explored opportunity for firearm dealer oversight. We identify and categorize these state systems to identify opportunities for interventions to prevent problem dealers from supplying guns to criminals, juveniles, or gun traffickers. Just seventeen states license gun dealers. Twenty-three states permit routine inspections of dealers but only two mandate that those inspections occur on a regular basis. Twenty-six states impose record-keeping requirements for gun sales. Only thirteen states require some form of store security measures to minimize firearm theft. We conclude with recommendations for a comprehensive system of state licensing and oversight of gun dealers. Our findings can be useful for the coalition of more than fifty U.S. mayors that recently announced it would work together to combat illegal gun trafficking.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)765-775
Number of pages11
JournalJournal of Law, Medicine and Ethics
Issue number4
StatePublished - Dec 1 2006

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Issues, ethics and legal aspects
  • Health Policy

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