Gun control laws vary across the U.S., and five states and the District of Columbia currently impose a waiting period on prospective gun buyers. Waiting periods mandate that a specific amount of time must elapse between when a gun is purchased and when the buyer can possess it. Depending on the state, waiting periods range from three days to two weeks.
Designed to reduce the likelihood of an impulsive act of violence, waiting periods have been shown, in some studies, to reduce rates of firearm suicide by 7% to 11%, and gun-related homicides by about 17%. (Here is a look at the states where gun related crimes are surging.)
Though waiting periods may reduce gun violence to a degree, in reality, most firearms that wind up at crime scenes were purchased years prior. Among all known firearms linked to a crime in 2021, an average of 6.2 years has elapsed between the retail sale of the firearm and when it was recovered by law enforcement, according to the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives. This measure, known as "time-to-crime," can vary substantially from state to state, and these variations have meaningful implications. For any given firearm, the ATF considers a time-to-crime of less than three years a potential red flag for gun trafficking.
The average time-to-crime for a firearm recovered by law enforcement in California is 8.9 years, the fifth longest among states.
Of the 31,429 guns recovered in California in 2021, 13,075, or 41.6%, were sold by a retailer within the last three years, and 7,493, or 23.8% were sold within one year.
All time-to-crime measures in this story are for firearms the ATF traced in 2021.
|State||Average Time-to-Crime (years)||Total guns traced by ATF||Guns recovered within 1-yr. of retail sale (%)||Guns recovered within 3-yrs. of retail sale (%)|