Why More Gun Control Laws Won’t Help

Via InstaPundit, an interesting study published in Preventive Medicine that confirms something I have written repeatedly: criminals do not acquire their guns legally.

This is important because, in response to high-profile shootings, gun control advocates always recur to a few longstanding proposals–none of which have anything to do with actually reducing the rate of gun violence. A favorite liberal chestnut is “universal background checks.” Background checks already must be run by all licensed firearms dealers; making them universal means requiring individuals who sell a firearm to a friend or relative, etc., to run a background check first. The problem is that criminals get guns from fellow gang members and other non-law abiding friends and acquaintances. These people are not going to run background checks, no matter what federal law provides.

This study involved interviews of 99 incarcerated criminals in Cook County:

As documented below, survey evidence provides strong evidence that the gun market is sharply differentiated by the characteristics of the individual who is seeking a gun. Adults who are entitled to
possess a gun are more likely than not to buy from an FFL [licensed dealer]. On the other hand, those who are disqualified by age or criminal history are most likely to obtain their guns in off-the-books transactions,
often from social connections such as family and acquaintances, or from “street” sources such as illicit brokers or drug dealers. While some of these illicit transactions are purchases, they also take a variety of other forms. …

In discussing the underground gun market in their neighborhoods, most respondents emphasized the importance of connections — prior relationships that could create sufcient trust to reassure the seller that the transaction would not create an unacceptable legal risk. This theme is further illustrated, with some variation, by the respondents’ reports of guns that they had personally possessed in the recent past. In the CCJ survey, a majority of the primary guns (40 of the 48 for which we have detailed information on the source) were obtained from family, fellow gang members, or other social connections; the fraction is still higher for secondary guns (Table 2).

Here are the data in tabular form:

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Note that the large majority of these transactions are already illegal: it is a crime under federal law to knowingly transfer a gun to someone who is disqualified from owning it because of a criminal record or other circumstances. “Requiring” these informal sellers to run background checks on their friends, relatives and fellow gang members is a risible concept. As Glenn Reynolds writes, “It’s as if all the ‘anti crime’ gun-control proposals we hear were mostly meant to make it harder for ordinary, law-abiding people to buy guns.”

If “universal background checks” won’t do anything to prevent criminals from getting easy access to firearms, what can we do? The obvious answer is to more vigorously prosecute gun violations–acts involving firearms which are already criminal. That wouldn’t prevent all criminals from acquiring guns, of course, but it would help. But the Obama administration has been lax about prosecuting gun violations, law enforcement in general not being a high priority for our president.