Misdemeanor Convictions Predict Gun Violence


Elliot Fineman

CEO – Founder
National Gun Victims Action Council 


As an emergency room doctor and director of the Violence Prevention Research Program at the University of California (UC), Davis, Garen Wintemute knows gun violence from both the practical and theoretical sides.




To enhance his research, Wintemute joined the NRA and the rifle and pistol club in Davis. He attended 79 gun shows where he was shocked to see guns sold purely as murder weapons. (One licensed retailer at a gun show displayed a Mossberg Model 500 shotgun with a pistol grip next to a poster that read “Great for Urban Hunting,” recalls Wintemute. Another sign, beside a Savage rifle, read: “Great for Getto [sic] Cruisers.)


Among Wintemute’s most compelling conclusions from his research is that prior misdemeanor convictions are a clear and consistent predictor of future criminal activity, including violent and firearm-related crimes.

Misdemeanor laws vary by jurisdiction and carry punishments from fines to incarceration or both. They range from minor offenses like disorderly conduct, criminal mischief or traffic violations to simple assault. Unlike felony assault which includes striking, or threatening to strike a person with a weapon or object, brandishing a gun or shooting a person and rape or robbery, simple assault can be considered a misdemeanor. It would include pushing or slapping another person in a heated argument, or engaging in threatening or intimidating behavior, such as raising a fist.


Felons are denied the right to own or purchase guns (the NRA is fighting this) but a misdemeanor does not make someone a prohibited purchaser. Often, those with domestic violence convictions try to bargain them down from felonies to misdemeanors so they can own guns. They are often successful.


Misdemeanors definitively predict violence contends Wintemute. “Handgun purchasers with at least 1 prior misdemeanor conviction were more than 7 times as likely as those with no prior criminal history to be charged with a new offense after handgun purchase,” he and his co-authors wrote in a research paper in the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA).


Those with 2 or more prior convictions for misdemeanor violence were at greatest risk for violent offenses like murder or non-negligent manslaughter, forcible rape, robbery or aggravated assault, said Wintemute and his co-authors.


But “even handgun purchasers with only 1 prior misdemeanor conviction and no convictions for offenses involving firearms or violence were nearly 5 times as likely as those with no prior criminal history to be charged with new offenses involving firearms or violence,” said the JAMA article.


As many states allow gun purchases by those who have been convicted of misdemeanors, such as assault, Wintemute’s research was seen as a threat to gun sales and the supposed gun “rights” of convicted criminals.
To stop Wintemute’s research, which had been funded by the CDC, the NRA persuaded the Republican Congressman from Arkansas Jay Dickey to insert language in an appropriations bill prohibiting the CDC from promoting “gun control.” The ban has been renewed every year since 1996.
Moreover, in 2012, the CDC research restrictions were extended to encompass the Department of Health and Human Services which is its parent organization.


It is shocking that the gun lobby and pro-gun politicians would ignore and suppress research that could clearly minimize the gun violence epidemic in favor of letting those convicted of misdemeanors buy guns.


The NRA says criminals and “bad guys” should not have guns. Yet they block any law that would make those convicted of misdemeanors prohibited purchasers. The NRA is actually a “bad guy’s” best friend. In fact, the NRA and its supporters work for the “gun rights” of those convicted of domestic violence misdemeanors.