“Ghost gun stores” and the concentration of shootings: An investigation of the causal effect of gun store locations on gun violence

Recent political attention to gun violence in the United States has stimulated commonsensical policy adoption, yet these policies have been developed largely in the absence of empirical data. One of the major foci of President’s Biden’s comprehensive strategy to address gun violence via executive order and the Bipartisan Safer Communities Act relate to the activities and regulation of firearms dealers, in particular. While existing scholarly work has attended to secondary gun markets, gun trafficking, and the production and use of ghost guns, which hinder ownership information and tracing, recent research shows that the risk of gun violence is elevated by licit gun dealers and in the vicinity of licensed firearm dealers, particularly in disadvantaged neighborhoods. One central concern of all studies on the attractive or repellent effects of physical features of place on violence relates to causality. That is, violence is not evenly distributed in space and thus any relationship between the presence of certain kinds of physical features (e.g., bars, liquor stores, ATMs, laundromats, bus stops, gun stores, etc.) and the clustering of violence may be correlational and spurious, rather than causal. Consider bus stops and laundromats, which tend to be more heavily concentrated in communities with few socioeconomic resources; in this case, any identified relationship between the presence of these establishments and violence may be a function of relative disadvantage.
To estimate the causal effects of gun stores on the locations of gun violence, this study takes a novel approach. Rather than comparing gun violence pre- and post the opening of a gun store, or using propensity matching to compare how a physical feature of place affects the distribution of violence in otherwise similar neighborhoods, this project investigates the effects of the “footprints” of former federally-licensed gun stores (or what I call “ghost gun stores”) vis-à-vis existing gun stores on the incidence and locations of firearm violence.

Project Status
In progress

Principal Investigator (PI): Elizabeth Griffiths, PhD, Associate Professor, School of Criminal Justice, Rutgers Newark