The Corner

U.S.

New Report on Where Criminals Get Their Guns

From the Department of Justice. It’s nothing earthshattering, but it’s a good update to old surveys of prison inmates.

Among prisoners serving time for a crime during which they possessed a gun, about half got their weapons either on the underground market (43 percent) or through theft (6 percent). Meanwhile, 10 percent bought guns from a retail source, including 0.8 percent who bought them at gun shows.

Another 11 percent of the time, someone else bought the gun for them, either as a gift or as a straw purchase (situations I wish the survey separated). Roughly 15 percent got guns from family and friends (buying, renting, trading, borrowing). And 12 percent of the time, the guns were either brought to the crime by someone else or found at the scene.

An obvious policy implication is that it would be very difficult to regulate most of these transactions — the underground market is by definition unregulated; people in criminal social networks are not going to follow gun laws; theft is already illegal; licensed dealers already conduct background checks. A fair counterargument, though, is that most guns begin life with a legal sale from a dealer, so there may be ways to stop guns from entering the illegal market to begin with.

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