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Gun sales in Utah, U.S. fell in 2000

SHARE Gun sales in Utah, U.S. fell in 2000

WASHINGTON — Fewer people tried to buy guns from licensed firearms dealers last year than in 1999, and most of those who were refused a purchase had felony convictions or indictments, new government figures show.

Altogether, background checks conducted under the authority of the Brady handgun law stopped 153,000 of the nearly 7.7 million prospective gun sales in 2000, the Justice Department's statistical agency reported Sunday.

In Utah, 2,053 people were denied gun permits of the 64,917 who applied for one, according to Nannette Rolfe, director of the Bureau of Criminal Identification of the Department of Public Safety.

Rolfe said Utah had seen a significant decrease in gun sales in the year 2000 but that it was hard to attribute the drop to any single factor.

"We usually see an increase in sales when there's gun legislation in the news or when there's a shooting like the one at the Triad Center," Rolfe said. "Things have been pretty stable lately, and gun sales are down."

Rolfe did note that gun sales in the second quarter of 2001 were higher than the same quarter in 2000, although sales in the first half of 2001 are still lower than 2000.

Significantly fewer Americans tried to buy firearms last year, the government report said. Analysts attributed that mostly to the general decline in overall crime rates during the 1990s, saying that may have caused people to feel less need for self-protection weapons.

"These are the long-term positive repercussions of a lower crime rate," said James Alan Fox, criminal justice professor at Northeastern University in Boston. "People see that streets are safer and they are not as compelled to go out and purchase a gun."

Government researchers cautioned, however, that the overall decline in applications for guns does not necessarily mean fewer weapons were sold. In some states, they noted, people can buy more than one gun with a single application.

"It's not a measure of whether gun sales are up or down," said Lawrence Greenfeld, acting director of the Justice Department's Bureau of Justice Statistics.

Between 1999 and 2000, there was an 11 percent drop in the number of Americans who tried to purchase guns from federally licensed firearm dealers — from 8.6 million to 7.7 million.

Nearly all the 19 states listed in the report as providing complete statewide data for applications and rejections in 2000 had declines last year; the largest were in Indiana (25.8 percent) and California (24.8 percent).

Nearly 58 percent of applicants rejected by state and local authorities had felony convictions or indictments, down from 73 percent in 1999, the report said.

The second most common reason for rejection was a domestic violence misdemeanor conviction or a restraining order. Those accounted for about 11,000 applications, or 12 percent of rejections.

Background checks to see if prospective gun buyers have criminal records have been required since February 1994 under the Brady Handgun Violence Prevention Act.

Through 2000, the report said, the FBI or state and local police had rejected 689,000 of nearly 30 million applications, or 2.3 percent, since the effective date of the law on March 1, 1994. That is compared with the 2 percent rate of rejection in 2000 and a 2.4 percent rate in 1999. The checks are done electronically.

Last year, the FBI processed 4.3 million applications, and state and local agencies processed 3.5 million, the report said.

State and local agencies did not approve 86,000, or 2.5 percent of applicants; the FBI rejected 67,000, or 1.6 percent of those who applied in 2000.

Greenfeld, the Justice Department official, attributed the difference to state agencies' access to more detailed criminal history records than the FBI's. "They may have other databases they check that the FBI couldn't check," he said.

Attorney General John Ashcroft said the report shows that the Brady law is working, but more needs to be done to prosecute people who try to purchase guns illegally.

"While the Brady law has helped us stop convicted felons and other dangerous individuals from buying guns easily, violations of the law are not being prosecuted adequately," he said.

The 19 states presenting complete 2000 data, followed by the percentage change in applications from 1999 to 2000 where available:

Arizona, minus 13.0; California, minus 24.8; Colorado, 1999 data incomplete; Connecticut, minus 20.9; Florida, minus 3.4; Georgia, minus 15.7; Illinois, minus 10.6; Indiana, minus 25.8; Maryland, plus 3.9; Nevada, minus 19.5; New Hampshire, minus 5.0; New Jersey, plus 1.1; Oregon, minus 7.9; Pennsylvania, minus 15.9; Tennessee, minus 13.5; Utah, minus 12.0; Vermont, minus 6.8; Virginia, minus 9.6; Wisconsin, minus 12.3.