A survey released in January by the U.S. Department of Justice revealed some very interesting information about how criminals get their guns. And it doesn’t bode well for those who would curtail our constitutional freedom under the guise of reducing violent crime.
For years, those of us on the pro-freedom side of the heated national debate over private firearm ownership have argued that the plethora of gun laws being forced upon us by gun-ban billionaires, cynical anti-gun politicians and the national media don’t affect criminals at all. After all, that’s why they are called “criminals”—they don’t obey the law.
Researchers conducted face-to-face interviews with a national sample of state and federal prisoners between January and October 2016 as part of the 2016 Survey of Prison Inmates (SPI).
It’s simple to understand. Consider a guy who takes his handgun into a bank, beats a teller and kills the bank president when he doesn’t get the money bagged quickly enough. Robbery is against the law. Assault is against the law. Same for murder, of course. Yet gun-ban proponents seem to think this same guy is going to study the thousands of gun control laws on the book, just to make sure he doesn’t accidentally run afoul of one of them!
A good example is so-called “universal” background checks. While politicians from sea to shining sea scramble to pass background check legislation under the false promise that it will reduce crime, a look at where criminals actually get their guns is all that is needed to prove otherwise. Digging into this topic proves what we have been saying for years—“universal” background checks are only universal for law-abiding citizens, and largely ignore violent criminals.
The same is true for most other gun control laws, too. And the recently released study shows why. Researchers conducted face-to-face interviews with a national sample of state and federal prisoners between January and October 2016 as part of the 2016 Survey of Prison Inmates (SPI). The survey collects information from prisoners on a variety of topics, including firearm possession during the crime for which a prisoner was serving time and how the firearm was used during the crime. It also collects information on the method, source and process that prisoners used to obtain the firearm.
“Among prisoners who possessed a firearm during the offense for which they were imprisoned, 7 percent of state and 10 percent of federal prisoners serving a sentence in 2016 bought or traded for the firearm from a gun shop or gun store,” the analysis stated. “About 1 percent (.08 percent) bought or traded for the firearm at a gun show.”
What the researchers found isn’t good news for those pushing background check legislation and other gun control measures. In fact, it proves what we have contended all along—most criminals get their guns by means that don’t even consider gun control laws on the books.
According to the survey, about 21 percent of state and 20 percent of federal prisoners said they possessed a gun during their offense, and about 29 percent of state and 36 percent of federal prisoners serving time for a violent offense possessed a gun during the offense. Among prisoners who possessed a firearm when they committed the offense for which they were imprisoned and who reported the source from which they obtained it, the most common source (43 percent) was off the street or the underground market. Another 7 percent of state and 5 percent of federal prisoners stole the firearm, and 7 percent of state and 8 percent of federal prisoners reported that they obtained the firearm at the location of the crime. About a quarter (26 percent) of state prisoners and about a fifth (21 percent) of federal prisoners obtained their firearm from an individual in another non-retail setting, such as a friend or family member.
However, “Among prisoners who possessed a firearm during the offense for which they were imprisoned, 7 percent of state and 10 percent of federal prisoners serving a sentence in 2016 bought or traded for the firearm from a gun shop or gun store,” the analysis stated. “About 1 percent (.08 percent) bought or traded for the firearm at a gun show.”
It’s interesting to note here that about 90 percent of the armed criminals obtained their guns in a manner other than going through a retail outlet. Yet those who did apparently passed their background checks. Otherwise they wouldn’t have been cleared for the purchase.
As for those gun control advocates who push to close the so-called “gun show loophole,” the SPI proves that emphasis to be nothing more than anti-gun political pandering by those who wish to infringe further on Second Amendment rights. Since only 1 percent of these criminals interviewed purchased their firearm at a gun show, closing the nonexistent “gun show loophole” would obviously focus on law-abiding gun owners the vast majority of the time.
And what about so-called “assault weapon” bans, which are also being considered in Congress, as well as several states? The SPI proves how ineffective these bans would be if passed. Less than 1 percent of the inmates in the survey used a rifle in their crime (0.8 percent), which is even lower than those using a shotgun (1.2 percent). The vast majority used handguns.
In truth, the recent survey information wasn’t much different from results of a similar survey released back in 2004. Results then showed about 77 percent of criminals surveyed had acquired their firearms on the street, through illegal sources or from a friend or family member. And again, rifles were used by less than 1 percent of the criminals when committing their crimes.
Since we have known about this information for years—and the new survey reinforces it—why haven’t gun-ban billionaires and anti-gun politicians caught on? In truth, they have access to the same surveys we do and are well aware of how criminals get their guns. Yet they still are cynical enough to think their constituents are ignorant of the facts, and that they can perpetuate this “big lie” of gun control reducing crime into votes for background check legislation and other ineffective measures that only impact the law-abiding.
Just take a look at some of the current proposals being debated, some in the states and some at the federal level. What about high taxes on firearms aimed at lowering crime? Seattle’s $25 tax on firearms sold within the city limits obviously doesn’t affect criminals since, as we’ve described above, the majority of criminals don’t purchase their guns from licensed dealers. The only thing it was effective at was running gun stores out of the city limits to do their business, creating less revenue for the city.
Such gun tax schemes are nothing new. In testimony before the Senate Finance Committee in 1993, virulently anti-gun Hillary Clinton gave her strong personal endorsement to a 25 percent national sales tax on guns. “I am speaking personally, but I feel very strongly about that,” Clinton said at the end of her endorsement.
The 50 percent ammunition tax recently proposed in Connecticut by Democrat state Sen. Jillian Gilchrest would be equally ineffective at reducing violent crime. Gilchrest’s flippant assertion, “I’m hearing pushback about the need to protect one’s home ... but how much ammunition does someone really need to do that?” would be more accurate if she had asked how much ammo criminals really need. That measure will have far more devastating effects on target shooters, competition shooters and those who train for self-defense—all groups who use large amounts of ammo, legally and safely—than on criminals, who likely don’t spend much time at the range.
How about gun storage legislation currently being considered in states including Connecticut and New York, and also at the federal level? Such measures typically require gun owners to secure their firearms in a way that would prevent unauthorized users from accessing the guns. Yet the way they are written sometimes makes it nearly impossible to keep a firearm ready for self-defense in the home. Will gang members, armed robbers and mass murderers follow such laws? It’s likely they’ll never even hear of them. Yet law-abiding gun owners could find themselves unable to protect themselves and their families by following such requirements.
Consider so-called “assault rifle” bans, as we discussed briefly earlier. We already know from the SPI that criminals use rifles of all kinds—much less just AR-15 type rifles—in a tiny fraction of the crimes they commit. Yet anti-gunners are dead set on banning ownership of these rifles by all Americans, both criminal and law-abiding. It’s not hard to see who would still have such rifles if these bans are approved. If they want one, criminals could still purchase a banned AR-15 through illegal means. Remember, they don’t obey the law. Why would they obey that one?
Since only 1 percent of these criminals interviewed purchased their firearm at a gun show, closing the nonexistent “gun show loophole” would obviously focus on law-abiding gun owners the vast majority of the time.
And look at the recent measure introduced in Illinois that would give police access to the social media accounts of prospective gun buyers, and would make checking these accounts a mandatory part of the purchasing process. It’s easy to see that this measure constitutes an invasion of privacy and opens the door to denying Illinois residents their Second Amendment rights based upon political beliefs and other concerns unrelated to the ability to safely own a firearm. It’s equally easy to see that it won’t affect criminals at all, since they get their guns through other means.
Or consider a recent proposal in the Washington state Senate that would expand so-called “gun-free” zones in that state. The measure would outlaw all guns at childcare facilities, libraries, public parks and recreational facilities. Yet we all know that such “gun-free” zone restrictions simply render law-abiding citizens unable to defend themselves and their loved ones against criminals, who simply ignore such arbitrary boundaries. Just look at the very high percentage of mass shootings that have occurred in these “gun-free” zones.
Proposals that would raise the legal age to purchase and possess long guns are similarly ineffective because of how criminals get their guns. Do gun-ban advocates really think that such a law would deter violent drug gang members who are 18, 19 and 20 years old from purchasing a gun? For one thing, we’ve already established the fact that rifles are used in an extremely low percentage of violent crimes. And the fact that possessing a handgun below the age of 21 is already illegal certainly hasn’t stopped young Chicago gang-bangers from wreaking havoc in some South Side neighborhoods.
The same goes for a New York proposal to extend NICS waiting periods for 30 days. Since most criminals don’t buy their guns through a background check, who are New York politicians really targeting with this measure? We all know the answer to that—and it’s not violent criminals.
In the end, where criminals get their firearms is an extremely important factor in the gun control debate currently raging throughout our country. The fact that those on the anti-gun, anti-freedom side choose to ignore the truth says a lot about their motives.
Never forget this: Gun control has always been less about guns, and more about control.
Mark Chesnut has been the editor of America’s 1st Freedom magazine for nearly 19 years and is an avid hunter, shooter and political observer.