A roundup of illegal guns in Washington, D.C. proves telling

Over the years, one of the bright spots at the Washington Post has been the work of Colbert I. King. While we obviously don’t agree on everything, he usually covers the D.C. metro beat and his reporting is generally fair and critical of the district’s government where deserved. He’s done a lot of work on the outrageous but often unreported crime rate and the problems residents have been facing on that score. This week he looks at a collection of weapons confiscated from criminals and highlights some important information. Shockingly for the WaPo, it doesn’t point to an immediate demand for stricter gun control laws. In fact, a closer look indicates almost precisely the opposite.

After yesterday’s broad-daylight shooting death of Vivian Marrow, a beloved wheelchair-bound grandmother caught in the middle of reckless gunfire, Mayor Muriel E. Bowser (D) demanded: “This violence must stop,” and she called for the people responsible for Marrow’s killing to be brought to justice…

The mayor also deplored guns on our streets.

That part of the story — the presence of lethal weapons all over our city — never makes it into the press.

So here, straight from the Metropolitan Police Department’s blotter, is a graphic description of the problem: a list of the weapons D.C. detectives and officers recovered in the District in just over a five-day period (Thursday, Jan. 12, 2017, through this morning — Tuesday, Jan. 17). The linked document includes photographs of recovered guns.

That .pdf file contains a real eye opening collection of weapons collected by the police in just five days. First of all, well done to the district police. This is actual gun control in action. If you want to control gun violence, the best place to start is by taking illegal guns out of the hands of those using them to commit crimes. And they’re packing some serious hardware. Their list includes a .40 caliber Smith and Wesson, containing hollow point bullets, a 9mm Ruger handgun, a .40 caliber Glock and a Glock 17. There are many, many more which follow.

And while King can’t nail down the precise source of all this hardware, he does correctly categorize them as illegal guns. Sadly, law enforcement too often fails to even recover the weapons used in various crimes and when they do, tracing them back to their source can prove impossible. But one thing we do know is that the vast, vast majority of firearms used in crimes were not bought at the local gun shop by someone who passed a background check.

Back in 2015 we had a similar discussion after Joe Scarborough did an interview where he pointed out that only a tiny fraction of guns used in crimes were purchased legally. Politifact went after that, likely desperate to prove him wrong, but even they were forced to admit the truth. There have been some studies that peg the number at around three percent, which is the one Scarborough quoted. Others have put it as high as 11% but that seems to be an outlier. It’s a difficult problem to put an exact figure on, but the general consensus is that somewhere between three and eight percent of gun crimes are committed with legally purchased and owned firearms.

I could have helped them out with that discussion if they’d gone back to read my article, The truth about gun deaths: numbers and actual solutions. I covered the same studies they touched on at Politifact and a few more from the Department of Justice which they missed. The three to eight percent number is generally agreed on and – an important point to remember – of those legally owned firearms used in crimes, a big chunk of them turn out to be domestic violence incidents which take place in the home. Your average gang member or aspiring career criminal out on the streets quickly builds up a rap sheet and they simply don’t qualify to purchase guns legally. The one survey of prisoners referenced in that article shows that almost all of the participants convicted of gun crimes either stole the weapons themselves or purchased them on the black market or through illegal straw purchasers.

With all that in mind, think about the work the district police are doing. They are finding a relatively huge number of guns considering that D.C. has some of the most restrictive gun laws in the nation. And pretty much all of those guns were obtained illegally. Keep that in mind next time you talk to someone pushing for more background checks and tougher restrictions on legal firearms purchases.