Where do criminals get their guns?

This is a question which has regularly shown up for many years in the gun control debate. It’s also a question that Democrats and their enablers in the media really hate to discuss. Where do most criminals obtain the firearms they use when committing gun crimes? The reason the question is taboo in some circles is that the answers force us to consider what is to be accomplished by placing more constraints on the law-abiding when they seek to legally purchase new firearms.

A new study has been published which provides at least some of the answers to these questions and Robert Verbruggen at National Review examines it this week. The common talking point from the crowd pushing for more background checks and closing the “gun show loophole” is that criminals have an easy time of it. The facts found in this report beg to differ.

From the Department of Justice. It’s nothing earthshattering, but it’s a good update to old surveys of prison inmates.

Among prisoners serving time for a crime during which they possessed a gun, about half got their weapons either on the underground market (43 percent) or through theft (6 percent). Meanwhile, 10 percent bought guns from a retail source, including 0.8 percent who bought them at gun shows.

Another 11 percent of the time, someone else bought the gun for them, either as a gift or as a straw purchase (situations I wish the survey separated). Roughly 15 percent got guns from family and friends (buying, renting, trading, borrowing). And 12 percent of the time, the guns were either brought to the crime by someone else or found at the scene.

That’s a shift from the previous study done by the Justice Department in the 90s which showed that nearly one-quarter of criminals claimed to have stolen their gun and only six to eight percent bought them legally. Of course, these studies are based entirely on criminals who are interviewed in prison, so there’s an open question as to how well the figures represent the criminal population as a whole.

Still, the trends mostly remain the same. Nearly half of the guns used in crimes were bought on the black market where no background checks ever take place. Between ten and fifteen percent obtained them on the “gray market” via illegal straw purchases or sales from friends who similarly violated the law. At the bottom of the list, there are less than one percent purchased at gun shows and perhaps ten percent who purchased them legally.

The ten percent figure was a bit higher than the old study, but there’s an important aspect of that figure to keep in mind. In virtually all of those cases, the person hadn’t been convicted of a crime before the one they were arrested for. We know this because they were able to purchase the gun from a licensed source and thus would have had to pass a background check anyway. There is nothing in our legal system which allows us to predict criminal activity before it takes place and block the sale of the weapon except in the rare cases of those who have been legally adjudicated as being unstable.

I don’t object to changes in the background check system as much as some other Second Amendment advocates, provided the changes actually produce positive results and aren’t introducing even more intrusive processes for law-abiding gun owners. If we need to fine tune the process for gun shows in some cases we could certainly consider it. But everyone repeating the myth that criminals are easily able to purchase guns from legal outlets should read this study and rethink their position.