Crime Gun Shift

The seminal study on where criminals are getting their guns, one can make an interesting observation. In 1991, the survey notes that 20.8% of inmates reported getting their guns through legal sources, like licensed gun shops. Criminals reported in 1991 getting 33.8% from friends and family, and 40.8% from a street source. When the study was repeated in 1997, after the enactment of the Brady Act, the number of criminals reporting getting their guns from an legal source was down to 13.9%, however, the number reporting getting guns from friends and family increased to 39.6%, and street sources dropped to 39.2%. So the drop in crime guns from legal sources dropped 6.9%, while friends and family increased by 5.8%.

What this could very well say is that most criminals who obtained firearms through “lie and buy” prior to the enactment of the Brady Act, after the Brady Act merely shifted to the tactic of obtaining firearms from friends and family.

The breakdown appearing in Table 8 is also of interest. Actual purchases from friends and family went down, but what went way up is the practice of borrowing or renting guns from friends and family. That went up by 8.4%. Breaking down street and illegal sources, theft of firearms dropped somewhat from 91 to 97, as did buying from drugs dealers or other criminals. Black market sources rose.

I think it’s reasonable to conclude from the data that ending private sales would have nearly no effect on criminal access to firearms. Renting or borrowing from associates is not an activity the law can reach easily. This practice is already unlawful in the case of lending or renting to individuals who are prohibited, or who intend to use the firearm to commit a crime. My conclusion is the great burden it would put on lawful gun owners, versus the negligible effect it would have on criminal access, speaks against ending private sales, and probably against having background checks at all. A conclusion that can easily be drawn from this data is that the Brady Act only had the effect of shifting how criminals obtain firearms, rather than seriously impacting the illegal gun market.

10 thoughts on “Crime Gun Shift”

  1. “When the study was repeated in 1997, after the enactment of the Brady Act, the number of criminals reporting getting their guns from an illegal source was down to 13.9%”

    Don’t you mean legal source?

  2. You are right about the effectiveness of banning private sales. In Commiefornia we have had to endure such a law for (I think) 20 years with long guns, and even longer with handguns.

    However, since the anti-gunners are so damn eager for such a law, how about a reasonable compromise? We give the anti-gunners the ban on private sales in exchange for a nationwide concealed carry handgun law. Anyone who passes the already common Brady background check when purchasing a handgun would get a card that allows that person to carry that handgun concealed on his person anywhere in the nation.

    1. Well, no. The whole point of banning private sales is to create de facto gun registration. And the only thing gun registration is good for is eventual confiscation.

  3. That study was commissioned by Willie Clinton’s AG, Janet Reno, the Eric Holder of the Clinton Presidency. It was released in 2001.

    Reno hoped to prove crime guns were purchased through normal channels of trade, and the percentage of guns this study attributed to purchase OTC was known to be far too high at that time of release. While it is sadly outdated – and its biases must be taken into account, it makes a useful reference. As Reagan famously said, “Trust, but verify.”


  4. One thing that has piqued my curiosity. What %’age of firearms now change hands thanks to the Intarweb (Gunbroker, Armslist, local board, etc…). We used to have newspaper classifieds here in MN papers that would have whole sections of Private Party firearms for sale. With the demise of print, these have shifted to the online versions no doubt — I’m just curious how much?
    Anecdotally, the physical gun shops (FFL) have indicated that used sales from walk-in’s has diminished…and personal experience has taught me there’s a thriving online trade in most states.
    Just curious if its simply a shift from newspaper to internet, or if more people have gone to selling private party vs. FFL. Obviously in states without private transfer of course…

    1. Pat,

      I don’t think that Gunbroker and Armslist are going to make any impact, because, while you’re buying the firearm through the internet the firearm is actually transferred by an FFL.

      The fact that these sales originate through the internet is a red herring; it intimates that internet ‘sales’ are anonymous and the source of choice for all things criminal.

      1. That not entirely true. If the seller is local to me here in MN, more often than not, we do a FTF transaction – the kind thats vilified by the “antis”.
        Now, more often than not, the seller will require seeing my Permit to Carry to make sure I’m not a “prohibited person” as a CYA on their part.

  5. If you look at the data, you could make a case that the background checks have driven a rise in gun-motivated burglaries, too.

  6. Good post.

    Even though the data is kind of old, there isn’t any newer data available.

    If you don’t mind, I created a couple of charts to help visualize the Sources of Guns Used in Crime data here.

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