Where Do Criminals Get Their Guns?

We Got Curious

After listening to both sides of the gun control debate for a while, we grew curious. We wanted to know – where DO criminals get their guns?

It’s dangerously easy to depend on our Facebook news feed, daily evening news, and a few favorite websites as our sole sources of information – in short, there’s so much information that crosses our paths naturally every day that it takes some serious effort to actually go looking for MORE…and if you do decide to look, there are heaps of worthless junk to sift through before you find something of value. This blog, suspecting that we didn’t know the whole story about guns used in crimes, did just that, and what we found out was at once surprising and illuminating.

SONY DSCThere’s this great book called Fahrenheit 451…if you haven’t read it, that’s okay. It’s the book about book burning, but the message isn’t about books – it’s about ignorance. One character has a great monologue in which he mentions how filling your head with useless information makes you feel smart and informed, even though you don’t actually know anything. It’s for that reason we mention the book at all.

The Information Age or The Age of Ignorance?

Here in the information age, it’s an easy trap to fall into, to accumulate so much useless or inaccurate data that it gives the illusion of being educated and knowledgeable. Being wary of making that mistake, and being doubly wary of contributing to the seas of political commentary with no legitimate basis, we took the time to do some actual research on the criminal use of firearms.

laptopEven searching in academic sources, it’s difficult to find accurate and credible information when it comes to crime statistics. Especially when it comes to gun crime statistics, most of the “studies” and articles are recycled and outdated information, were conducted with questionable means, or don’t actually give any data, instead favoring fear-based assumptions and speculation.

Faced with these challenges, researching where criminals actually get their guns wasn’t an easy task. We found out quickly that most of the assumptions we’ve accepted as facts were shockingly wrong.

Here’s What We Found Out

As it turns out, there has never been a serious effort by law enforcement or any reputable agency to determine where these guns are obtained. This blew our minds! With so many efforts being made on all sides of the gun control debate to try to keep firearms out of criminal hands, how is it that nobody has actually sought to figure out how they are getting the guns to begin with? Even the ATF cited statistics such as “only 10%-15% of all guns used in crimes were stolen,” but how did they know since there’s never been a study?

6-22 043More digging turned up the original source of these numbers: in 1997, the Department of Justice surveyed inmates at state and federal prisons who had used guns in crimes. Somewhere over 18,000 inmates were polled, and it’s those results that have become the only “credible” statistics showing where criminals get guns.

Other than being almost 20 years ago, and other than the lack of data about the actual procedure used to obtain this information, it’s not terrible information. Heck, it’s the best we’ve got.

It’s also worth mention that this data only includes guns that were actually used in crimes, and we can’t assume it’s anywhere near an accurate representation of all guns that are obtained illegally. We factored in the ATF’s current estimates for firearm theft, and also their findings about legal firearm dealers who sell guns illegally as part of the black market. With that in mind, here are the results:

Presented here in a simply, shareable format
Presented here in a simple, shareable format

What Does It All Mean?

Straw Buyers: This is the most common way that convicts reported they obtained a firearm illegally. Straw purchases happen any time a person buys a gun for someone else in order to prevent the actual purchaser of said firearm from having a background check. Note: it’s not illegal to buy a gun as a gift for a person who can legally own that gun. Imagine those underage college kids who get an upperclassman to buy liquor for them (which is also illegal, by the way) – it’s exactly like that. Straw buyers are, of course, completely against the law, and all licensed dealers are required to take training to help them recognize the signs that someone might be a straw buyer. The same thing happens in other industries, such as real estate, and it’s unlawful in those cases, too.

The Black Market: Illegal dealers, sometimes called ‘street dealers,’ are reputed to be easy for criminals to find, and they obtain their firearms through a variety of sources that are also against the law, including theft, straw buyers, and licensed dealers that willingly participate in illegal activity. The ATF estimates that less than 8% of all Federal Firearm Licenses (gun dealers) participate in unlawful activity, and it’s openly admitted that nobody in law enforcement actually knows where these street dealers get their guns. According to the data we were able to locate and verify, the powers-that-be are fairly certain that only a small number of these guns are stolen, and it seems that most come from “family and friends” which doesn’t mean much of anything, since we don’t know where those family and friends got them. The truth is that there’s just not enough data to figure out what’s really going on here, and with almost 40% of the guns used in crimes coming from the American black market, you’d think there’d be a greater effort to get to the bottom of things and solve the problem.

Theft: According to the ATF estimates, 10% to 15% of guns used in crime are stolen. When we work that figure in with the data from the prison survey in 1997, 13% seems pretty likely, fits current ATF estimates, and adds in to these numbers nicely. From what we’re led to believe in the media (and in most of the articles that come up when you start looking for information), you’d think that most of the guns used in crimes came from gun shows, dealers who didn’t do background checks, or were stolen. The facts don’t bear that out. Meanwhile, what sources are the legislation targeting? It doesn’t make sense.

Retail Outlets: This deserves a little bit of a breakdown on its own. According to the data we were able to find, here’s how this category plays out:

3.8% of guns used in crimes were purchased in pawn shops
2.8% of guns used in crimes were purchased at some other legal retail outlet
1% of guns used in crimes were purchased at flea markets
0.7% of guns used in crimes came from gun shows

So much for that “Gun Show Loophole” theory. In fact, we found out that even most gun theft didn’t occur at gun shows! The numbers indicate that gun shows are the least likely place a criminal is going to get a gun, but you wouldn’t know that unless you did some serious digging.

Why Doesn’t Anyone Know This?

Based on the data, it’s estimated that about 93% of the guns used in crimes were obtained illegally. Meanwhile, any efforts to assuage the use of firearms in crime are focused on areas that it will have the least possible effect. People cry out every day for someone to do something, but why aren’t law enforcement officials cracking down on straw buyers and trying to get to the bottom of the black market? If a whopping 80% of all firearms used in crimes come from these avenues, wouldn’t it make sense to focus on that?

Perhaps the truth is inconvenient. We’ve said it over and over, and we’ll say it again: gun control isn’t about guns. It’s about control.

We fully admit that these numbers probably aren’t entirely accurate, but they’re the most accurate numbers out there. It’s a shame that so many politicians are willing to prey on our fears in order to exert more control, but that’s what’s going on. Yes, it’s time to do something, but that something isn’t passing even more legislation to cripple legal gun owners. To start, it might be time to get some real data – right now our country is acting like a doctor trying to treat a disease without first diagnosing it, and the consequences could be just as deadly.

One thought on “Where Do Criminals Get Their Guns?

What do you think?

%d bloggers like this: