One Gun a Month Woes

If this ATF data is to be believed, then Virginia is still a major source of traced firearms.   Maryland is too.   It’s useful to note that Maryland has some rather restrictive handgun laws, and that Virginia has one-gun-a-month.  One gun a month, folks who support gun control tell us, is critical to stopping illegal gun trafficing.

Forgive me if I call bullshit.  This is more evidence that particularly law is particularly useless.

Hat tip to Jeff Soyer

11 thoughts on “One Gun a Month Woes”

  1. I’m not sure if the data show that… VA traced 7500 guns (that turned up in VA), of those, most 4k of 5k identified by state of origin were from VA. MD was about the same… 7k guns traced. And 2300 of 4k identified were from MD. 450 were from VA. Also, about 9% (one in 11 from the article) of NY-traced guns came from VA. Given all the stories, I’d have assumed the number was a lot higher than that.

    So, VA, with 7.6 million people, has about the same number of traced guns as MD with 5.6 million. I might be missing something, but I don’t see much that shows “Virginia [standing] out” as per the headline.

  2. MD is one-gun-a-month too. More accurately, it is one “regulated” firearm per month whether it be a handgun or “assault weapon”. So if you wanted to get a handgun and an AR-15, it will take you two months to do those two purchases.

    And the handgun you buy has to be legal for sale in Maryland. The Handgun Roster Board maintains the list. If the gun isn’t on the list, you can’t buy it. And assault pistols are banned if they weren’t registered prior to the ban in 1994. If you have an AR lower transferred as a “pistol” receiver, you can never bring it into the state of Maryland. Ever.

    The only way to evade the MD one-regulated-gun-a-month restriction is to be a licensed collector. It is easy to get but now the State Police know you own guns and where they are. And in VA, the only way to evade the one-gun-a-month law is to be a concealed carry permit holder.

    Somehow, I don’t see licensed collectors and CHP holders being the source of crime guns, do you?

    That leaves theft and in-state resident straw purchases. Which is exactly where the bulk of crime guns come from despite the one-gun-a-month anti-trafficking laws.

    As you say, more evidence they don’t work. The people crying for these laws and the politicians who pass them have no clue how gun purchasing and ownership works in the real world.

  3. I’ll freely count myself among those who don’t know how gun purchasing and ownership works in the real world, but I really would like to know a little bit more about it. I don’t think the linked article gives us enough information to explain why it is that Virginia and Maryland are such prolific sources for guns that get traced (often because they were used in crimes). Could it be that there are just more guns total, so more of them get sold, stolen, given away, etc.? I’m curious what people’s thoughts are on that. As for the one-gun-a-month laws, as I said I don’t know much about buying or owning guns, but do those of you who do consider such laws a significant trammeling of the 2nd amendment? Do any of you make multiple gun purchases within the same month?

  4. Andrew,

    Generally, the guns used in crime within a state tend to originate in that state. Theft is one dominant source of crime guns. Bear in mind that a gun is a durable good. It lasts years. Say someone has a gun stolen during a robbery in their home in 1998. That gun is then resold on the street to a criminal. That gun could spend years being used in a variety of crimes in that state or traded away in another state for drugs or cash.

    After maybe years, the gun might be dropped at a crime scene or found in the hands of a criminal many times removed from the original theft. Only then will it be traced. More often than not, it didn’t leave the state it was purchased in. Understand that all the trace will reveal is the last legal owner of the gun, when and where it was purchased and when it was (should have been) reported stolen. All a trace does is tell where the gun came from.

    If the gun was stolen and then reused in a crime and was properly reported as stolen, do you consider the state it was originally purchased in a source of that crime gun?

    Another source of crime guns is the straw purchase. This is where someone who can legally buy a gun buys it and then gives it to someone who can’t (the criminal). If you do this with the knowledge you’ll be giving it to someone who isn’t permitted to have a gun, you’ve just committed a felony with a 10 year prison sentence. Realize that only residents of a state can purchase handguns in that state so logically, only that state can be the source of guns used by criminals obtained via this method. If you live in VA, you can’t travel to MD to buy a handgun or vice-versa. You would have to have the gun shipped to a dealer in your home state in order to transfer it.

    Virginia and Maryland are prolific sources of guns for gun crimes committed in their own states. That only makes sense. Criminals are likely to stay within their own borders. But consider what I wrote above with regard to two sources for crime guns.

    One-gun-a-month laws help deal with in-resident straw purchases but do nothing to curb guns obtained through theft or other sources.

    Yes, many of us do purchase multiple guns in a month. Some collect, others simply find a good deal they can’t let go. Such laws simply hinder lawful activities. What does it matter if I buy 1 or 10 guns in a month if I go through the background check each time I do it? I’ve followed the law in each case. Criminals don’t.

    Andrew, I’m happy to answer any questions you might have with regard to buying and owning guns. The process is straightforward but can be onerous in order to follow the law. You have purchase restrictions (must be squeaky clean basically), Federal and State transport rules, some states have storage rules, owner licensing rules and so on. Taken together, these laws (especially in highly restrictive states) can have a very chilling effect on someone simply wanting to get a gun to protect themselves from home invasion or an abusive ex.

    Feel free to contact me at mp_sk8r at

  5. It’s hard to say Andrew. The ATF specifically says on the data not to draw conclusions from it. The trace data doesn’t really tell us much. I’m processing through the trace data now, and trying to figure out some things. I’ll present this all later. One thing it definitely tells us is that most guns traced in a state originate in that state, regardless of the gun laws.

  6. I agree that the trace data don’t really tell us much, though there does seem to be an odd relationship between VA and NY in there. PA’s data are odd as well. Why would GA and VA be the 2nd and 3rd biggest sources of traced guns whereas NJ which is right next door (and more populous than VA) is the 8th biggest source? I don’t think the trace data are dispositive on the question of the utility of one-gun-a-month laws. (or ten-gun-a-month laws, for that matter). I really would like to see data that could help us answer that question, do you think the necessary info is out there? What would we have to know in order to be able to say one way or the other that purchase restriction do or don’t work?

    And thanks for your offer, Matt, I may take you up on it as I have time.

  7. It probably doesn’t exist out there. The big problem with getting good data would be you’d have to be able to do a random sampling of criminal firearms, and be able to trace where they came from. In the trace data, there’s an awful lot of guns that doesn’t trace to a specific state, which means the gun has no paperwork trail. These could be firearms which were smuggled into the country, were on the black market prior to 1968, or were sold prior to 1968 and stolen. Anything sold after 1968 will trace to its last legal owner, and thus a state.

    The odd thing is that New Jersey and Delaware are roughly comparable in terms of the number of guns that trace to them from Pennsylvania. Delaware’s gun laws are less strict than PAs in some ways, at least in terms of sale, and definitely less strict than New Jersey’s.

  8. BTW, I have my summary of the trace data from PA and the surrounding states. As best I can tell we’re not a major source of trace guns for any state except New Jersey. New York has registration, so that’s going to skew their trace numbers, as they can trace a gun with their state registration system without having to go to the federal system, unless it doesn’t show up. New Jersey does not have registration, but has sales records, so they would also have their own state system as well.

    Of course, California has registration of handguns, and gun laws similar to New Jersey and New York, but most traces of guns in California trace back to them, rather than other states. California kind of throws a wrench in any theory that strict gun laws are the variable as to whether guns are coming from out of state.

  9. Yeah, California is odd in the data. I wonder if it’s a simple matter of geography…the sheer distance of its cities from cities in other states. I guess you’d have to look at the geography factor with other states as well for the California-as-exception argument to make any sense.

  10. I wouldn’t doubt it. Two of New Jersey’s high crime cities are right across from Pennsylvania. Presumably criminals from Camden get guns in Philadelphia. It could be surmised that gun laws play a role in that, but criminals aren’t buying their guns legally. They are either buying from existing black market supply, stealing them, or straw purchasing them. I wouldn’t be surprised if it comes down to the fact that Philly is just a bigger city, and has a better black market for guns than, say, Trenton, Wilmington, or any of the other smaller east coast cities.

    That could also explain why Maryland is a larger source for DC crime guns, since Baltimore is closer to DC than Richmond.

    New York is the real odd case, because it’s tracing guns to just about everywhere. Most of their traces are initiated by things that probably wouldn’t be criminal offenses in other states. My guess is New York is basically tracing any unregistered weapon they find, most of which are going to originate from out of state.

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