Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health gun policy expert and researcher Cassandra Crifasi, PhD, MPH, is available to comment on handgun purchaser licensing, a policy shown to reduce gun homicides, suicides, diversions of guns to criminals and shootings of law enforcement officers.

Crifasi, deputy director of the Johns Hopkins Center for Gun Policy and Research at the Bloomberg School, is the author of several studies examining handgun licensing, which is also called permit to purchase.

Nine states now require a permit or license to purchase a handgun from any seller, including private sellers and licensed dealers. The provisions of permitting systems vary from state to state, but they generally require handgun purchasers first to submit an application to state or local law enforcement and allow law enforcement more time to conduct thorough background checks. The laws also typically require something in addition to the standard background check, such as fingerprinting or a photograph of the applicant. Some states also require completion of a safety training course. 

Crifasi is featured in a podcast about handgun purchasing released today from the Bloomberg American Health Initiative. Other podcast participants include Daniel Webster, ScD, MPH, director of the Johns Hopkins Center for Gun Policy and Research; Sen. Chris Van Hollen (D-MD); Josh Horwitz, Executive Director, Coalition to Stop Gun Violence; and William Evans, Executive Director of Public Safety and Chief of Police, Boston College, and former Boston Police Commissioner. Sen. Van Hollen has repeatedly sponsored a bill that would provide federal incentives to encourage more states to adopt a permit-to-purchase system.

Crifasi is available to discuss how licensing differs from comprehensive background check policies without licensing, as well as why we frequently hear calls for closing the background check loophole but not as much about permitting, despite evidence of the policy’s effectiveness.

“I think for a long time, advocates, and even gun policy researchers, have thought that licensing was sort of a nonstarter,” says Crifasi. “That requiring people to get a permit to purchase a gun was something that was politically infeasible, and so let’s focus on something that may be less effective but perhaps easier to pass. But I think that the reason that it was seen as maybe untenable or unachievable was because people hadn’t done the same due diligence to educate people on what a licensing system is and what it accomplishes.”

In states with comprehensive background checks but without any sort of permitting provision, a person wishing to buy a handgun from a licensed firearm dealer is subject to the national background check requirement. Research conducted by Crifasi and colleagues found that comprehensive background checks without any type of permitting or licensing system do not reduce homicide rates.

Crifasi is a leading expert on firearm policy and the prevention of gun violence. She is also a gun owner and brings this perspective to her work. Crifasi is quoted regularly in leading U.S. media outlets, including The New York Times, NPR, The Washington Post, Newsweek and The Los Angeles Times, among others.