Anti-gun researcher does some straight shooting

Philip Cook (see also here), is no friend of gun owners. But in this article he comes across as in touch with reality:

While criminals typically do not buy their guns at a store, all but a tiny fraction of those in circulation in the United States are first sold at retail by a gun dealer – including the guns that eventually end up in the hands of criminals.

That first retail sale was most likely legal, in that the clerk followed federal and state requirements for documentation, a background check and record-keeping. While there are scofflaw dealers who sometimes make under-the-counter deals, that is by no means the norm.

If a gun ends up in criminal use, it is usually after several more transactions. The average age of guns taken from Chicago gangs is over 11 years.

The gun at that point has been diverted from legal commerce. In this respect, the supply chain for guns is similar to that for other products that have a large legal market but are subject to diversion.

In the case of guns, diversion from licit possession and exchange can occur in a variety of ways: theft, purchase at a gun show by an interstate trafficker, private sales where no questions are asked, straw purchases by girlfriends and so forth.

What appears to be true is that there are few big operators in this domain. The typical trafficker or underground broker is not making a living that way but rather just making a few dollars on the side. The supply chain for guns used in crime bears little relationship to the supply chain for heroin or cocaine and is much more akin to that for cigarettes and beer that are diverted to underage teenagers.

In essence the criminal market for guns is crowd sourced. Which means it is far more challenging for law enforcement to “close the loopholes” than if were were organized criminal organizations. The allocation of scarce resources to investigate, prosecute, and incarcerate people who sold a single “crime gun” is far better spent on going after violent criminals instead of those involved in victimless crimes of straw man purchases.

There are about 500,000 violent crimes committed with a gun each year. If the average number of times that an offender commits a robbery or assault with a particular gun is twice, then (assuming patterns of criminal gun use remain constant) the total number of transactions of concern is 250,000 per year.

Actually, no one knows the average number of times a specific gun is used by an offender who uses it at least once. If it is more than twice, then there are even fewer relevant transactions.

That compares with total sales volume by licensed dealers, which is upwards of 20 million per year.

And this doesn’t include private transaction in the used gun market. But it does tell us that nearly 99%, if not far more, of each year’s gun transfers between owners don’t involve violent criminal activity.

Why spend resources on investigation of activities where 99+% of the actions are harmless, and there are no motivated witnesses to the “crime”, when you could spend those same resources investigating known activities which have a 99+% chance of there being a true victim and people motived to cooperate with law enforcement?

Update: See also this post about other aspects of background checks.


12 thoughts on “Anti-gun researcher does some straight shooting

  1. This rings of truth. At the very least the numbers are reasonably sourced and add up.

  2. While criminals typically do not buy their guns at a store, all but a tiny fraction of those in circulation in the United States are first sold at retail by a gun dealer

    I suppose next they’ll tell us that all but a tiny fraction of cars involved in drunk driving accidents were originally sold at a dealership.

  3. From later in the article, “Effective policing of the underground gun market could help to separate guns from everyday violent crime. Currently it is rare for those who provide guns to offenders to face any legal consequences, …”

    I worried about any proposals. The desire to enforce laws on the books is lacking. Prohibited persons identified by background checks and the straw purchasers are rarely prosecuted so why bother with these laws at all?

    How about we give an automatic life sentence to anyone who uses a firearm in the commission of a violent crime (e.g. rape, strong arm robbery, murder)? That is the most effective law I can offer. The rest (e.g. magazine limits, waiting periods) are crap and should be rescinded.

    • Right, because the guy who used a knife to murder my sister, and a shoestring to strangle my niece, was less of a criminal for using a knife instead of a gun.

      You, sir, are parroting leftist idiocy. You’re saying, essentially, “Oh, thank God he didn’t use a gun; that would have been just terrible!”

      Go back to the idea-drawing board. Maybe go back and read the last 20 years or so of posts on this blog and get yourself up to speed; we dispatched THAT leftist ruse of an argument back in the previous century.

  4. The author makes a compelling case against the attempt to control the “iron highway”. A better metaphor is an “iron sieve” where effectiveness requires substantially plugging ALL the holes through which legal guns find their way into the hands of criminals. Home-made guns are now a reality; making “sieve-control” futile.

    Are we on a quest for laws that allow the courts to lock-up taxpayers for innocent violations? Or, is the objective to reduce crime facilitated with guns?

    If the latter, we should concentrate on enforcing “felon-in-possession”. Criminals are routinely found with guns; carrying on their persons, in cars or in homes. Far too often, the gun charge is pled away or the penalty is no more than a slap on the wrist. What should we make of this?

    Evidently, our society has determined that crime facilitated by guns is NOT a high priority. Is that our socially-determined conclusion? Shall we stick with it? If so, it does NOT follow that we should pass more laws and put more people – especially peaceful taxpayers – in prison. This policy perpetuates the vain hope that we might partially plug a couple of holes in the “iron sieve”.

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  6. There is an error in the methodology. By her math we have to worry about 250,000 transactions a year if criminals on average commit two crimes with a gun. However, that fails to take into account that a criminal may use a gun for multiple years. Thus the very small number gets even smaller.

    • Don’t get too distracted by the numbers ruse. The only point here was that Joe found one leftist drone who isn’t quite as insane as the average leftist drone.

      • The post also points out this researcher has arrived at numbers which support the allocation of scarce law enforcement resources to pursuing the perpetrators of violent crimes rather than participants in victimless “crimes”. This is consistent with the principle of repealing stupid laws where there are no victims. Just like we have been saying for decades.

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