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Rising Gun Sales in the Wake of Mass Shootings and Gun Legislation


Although gun control laws are intended to reduce exposure to gun violence in communities across the country, the passage of gun control laws is often linked to a substantial rise in the number of guns sold in the U.S. National polls indicate that most individuals purchase firearms for protection, but some cite the fear of gun-buying restrictions as the main reason for purchasing a gun. It is unclear what impact gun legislation has on patterns of gun sales, as mass shootings continue to bring the U.S. gun debate to the forefront. Using statewide data on gun transactions in Massachusetts from 2006 to 2016, we examined patterns in gun sales following the passage of gun legislation and high profile mass shootings. Specifically, we used three events to test and refine the argument during this time period: (1) the Newtown shooting, (2) the San Bernardino shooting, and (3) the passage of the 2014 Massachusetts Gun Violence Reduction Act. Results from these time-series analyses indicated different patterns in handgun sales, with significantly larger increases occurring among first-time handgun buyers. Our findings complement prior work explaining the impact of mass shootings and gun control laws on the exposure to guns in communities.

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Fig. 1
Fig. 2


  1. 1.

    Around 2.4 percent of records could not be linked to an individual and therefore, these records were not included in the analyses on first-time buyers.

  2. 2.

    According to Massachusetts gun law, licensed private citizens are allowed to transfer firearms between themselves, provided the state is notified of the sale within 7 days and that the individuals can legally possess the firearm(s) being transferred with the license in their possession (McDevitt & Iwama, 2017). Because licensed citizens must enter the information on the gun transfer in the Massachusetts Gun Transaction Portal within 7 days, we selected this timing in order to include handguns sold and recorded within this 7 day period.

  3. 3.

    In the supplementary tables, we included subsequent models up to 10 weeks after each event to capture long-term impacts (see tables S1 and S2).


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The authors thank the staff at the Massachusetts Firearms Records Bureau for providing the study data.


The data for the study was obtained from the Firearms Records Bureau (FRB) under a research grant from the Massachusetts Executive Office of Public Safety and Security (EOPSS) pursuant to funds appropriated in Chapter 119 of the Acts of 2015 (MA Legislation-8000-1002). The contents of the study are solely the responsibility of the authors and do not necessarily represent the official views of the funding agency. The funding agency had no role in the study design; in the analysis and interpretation of data; writing of the manuscript; and in the decision to submit the manuscript for publication.

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Correspondence to Janice Iwama.

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The dataset was stripped of all identifying information and could not be linked back to subjects from who the information was originally collected from. The de-identified data was exempt from Northeastern University Institutional Review Board approval.

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Iwama, J., McDevitt, J. Rising Gun Sales in the Wake of Mass Shootings and Gun Legislation. J Primary Prevent 42, 27–42 (2021).

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  • Guns
  • Gun policy
  • Gun control
  • State regulations
  • Mass shootings