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Opening Salvo: How Criminals Get Guns

Opening Salvo: How Criminals Get Guns

As I’m wedged in the back of an NYPD Strategic Response vehicle, the officers rip through the clogged Manhattan streets on a frostbitten Sunday afternoon. The destination is not the usual crime-plagued pockets of the Bronx or Brooklyn, but the lower east side of the island borough dotted with designer stores and trendy cafes frequented by the fashion elite and the high-rolling banker set. 

The word is that a man is holed up in a high-rise apartment with a firearm, possibly holding a woman hostage. For hours, curious and concerned locals and tourists poke around the barricade. Everyone tunes into the infamous Citizen app for updates and videos of the crime scene. The police response rapidly thickens with canines and high-level armed personnel blocking the Bleecker Street doors. 

Armed and armored, officers make their way up the spiral stairs. But, as daylight gave way to darkness, it was suddenly all over. Streetlights flicked on, the yellow tape was pulled down, and the Big Apple went on as normal.

“It turns out he had already fled the scene,” an NYPD officer, who was not authorized to speak on the record, said to me as he ripped off his bullet proof vest and put away his rifle. “It’s now on the detectives to track him down.”

While it was unclear whether the man at the center of the ordeal possessed a firearm legally—obtaining permits in New York City is next to impossible in the heavily restricted metropolis—with the murder rate beginning to rise in places like New York City, it raises the chilling question of how criminals obtain guns. The blunt truth is that it’s the law-abiding citizens who want to utilize their Second Amendment rights who are harmed by wrongheaded gun-control policies.

What rarely gets noticed across the ever-churning news cycle are the many individual acts of violence—almost 500,000 violent crimes are committed annually, according to the National Institute of Justice—perpetrated by criminals who have obtained their guns illegally. 

“Pencils don’t misspell words, nor do guns kill people,” said Richard Schoeberl, program chair at the School of Social Sciences, Criminal Justice and Homeland Security at The Justice Center in Tennessee. “People kill people and your average everyday criminal is not purchasing his or her gun from a reputable establishment. These weapons are stolen or purchased illegally.”

Statistics back up Schoeberl’s claim. A 2016 Survey of Prison Inmates conducted by the Department of Justice found that more than half (56%) had either stolen the gun they used in a crime (6%), found it at the scene of the crime (7%) or obtained it off the street or from some underground market (43%). Most of the remainder (25%) had obtained it from a family member or friend. Less than one percent said they bought a gun they used in a crime from a gun show—so much for the “gun-show loophole” theory. A further 11% had someone else buy a gun for them (this is known as a “straw purchase”). 

And a recent national survey published by Preventative Medicine of prison inmates, aged 18 to 40, found that only one in ten convicted criminals used a gun that was purchased legally. The remaining 90% used a gun they obtained from the black market. 

In addition, Schoeberl said, “There is also a rise across the country with the theft of guns, and those guns are thus used in crimes.” 

Multiple state and federal law-enforcement professionals noted that, generally speaking, the cost of a black market firearm on the street is just a few hundred dollars more than the guns sell legally—indicating it is a flooded buyer’s market.

Chicago is often cited as a crime-ridden city that is saturated with illegal firearms. The Chicago Police Department seizes more than 7,000 illegally possessed firearms each year; nevertheless, focusing on guns, via some of the nation’s most-restrictive gun-control policies, clearly hasn’t made Chicago safer.

On another police ride along, this time on a frozen winter’s night in Minnesota, in the district represented by anti-gun Rep. Ilhan Omar (D), I also witnessed the challenges law-enforcement faces. On one occasion, we were summoned to a local hospital after a young man was shot in the hip amid an apparent gang confrontation. As the police pressed for answers, the man simply stated he did not know who shot him and rolled over, pretending to sleep.

With a familiar groan of frustration, I was informed that such behavior is normal. No snitching, and, thus, those bad guys would remain at-large. 

Several active NYPD officers, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, also pointed out that most of the guns being used in crimes are stolen. 

The officers all agreed that the rising violent crime in New York City is generally perpetuated by a small number of violent individuals. Clearly, instead of pursuing the unconstitutional and failed policies that infringe on the Second Amendment rights of law-abiding citizens, the focus needs to be on finding and prosecuting the few violent individuals who commit, or push others to commit, violent crimes. 

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