The Corner

Law & the Courts

Study: the Vast Majority of Gun Crime Isn’t Committed by Lawful Gun Owners

Here’s news that should shock exactly no one – the vast majority of gun crimes are committed by people who did not lawfully purchase their firearms. That’s the finding of a study of gun crimes in Pittsburgh in 2008:

In the study, led by epidemiologist Anthony Fabio of Pittsburgh’s Graduate School of Public Health, researchers partnered with the Pittsburgh Bureau of Police to trace the origins of all 893 firearms that police recovered from crime scenes in the year 2008.

They found that in approximately 8 out of 10 cases, the perpetrator was not a lawful gun owner but rather in illegal possession of a weapon that belonged to someone else. The researchers were primarily interested in how these guns made their way from a legal purchase — at a firearm dealer or via a private sale — to the scene of the crime.

Criminals obtained weapons through theft (illegal), straw purchases (illegal), and some had been simply lost. Though I must confess that I’m dubious of one offered explanation — that some gun owners “aren’t keeping track” of lost guns because “they have a lot of them and don’t use them that often.” I know quite a few people with extensive gun collections, and not one of them has trouble keeping up with their own firearms. More than a few “lost” weapons are knowingly given away or sold to new, unlawful owners.

This Pittsburgh study reflects the findings of a similar Chicago study that showed criminals use their “social connections” to obtain guns illegally:

Of the 70 who admitted to having acces to a gun, the survey found that only two (3 percent) were purchased directly from a gun store. Most had gotten their guns illegally: “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.” The study emphasized the “social connections” that were used to obtain guns; 40 of the 48 guns for which there was detailed information were obtained through “family, gang members, or other social connections.”

In other words, criminals break the law not just when using the gun to commit the crime but also when obtaining the gun in the first place. Speaking of the Pittsburgh study, the Washington Post writer acknowledged the implications:

The top-line finding of the study — that the overwhelming majority of gun crimes aren’t committed by lawful gun owners — reinforces a common refrain among gun rights advocacy groups. They argue that since criminals don’t follow laws, new regulations on gun ownership would only serve to burden lawful owners while doing little to combat crime.

It’s not just an “argument.” It’s the truth. Criminals in general aren’t deterred by the existence of criminal law, and it’s simply magical thinking to believe that any given new regulation will have any material impact on criminal behavior. After all 

David French is a senior writer for National Review, a senior fellow at the National Review Institute, and a veteran of Operation Iraqi Freedom.

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