DOJ Speaks On Gun Crime
So recently the DOJ has released some data showing the state of gun crime over the last 20 or so years, and it isn’t good news for gun control advocates. The reports are fairly tedious so I’ll put up the link at the bottom but summarize it for ease of reading.
The first thing that caught my eye, even as a supporter of background checks, is that only a very small percentage of criminals report obtaining a crime gun at a gun show, it’s around 1%. There really isn’t any way to determine why that is, but I have a guess.
Contrary to popular belief you do need to go through a background check to get a gun online. You are free to buy the thing without one, but they can only be shipped to a federal firearms licensee (FFL), who must then run a background check and enforce any waiting periods imposed by state government before charging a fee and making the transfer. That explains why online sales are a non-issue, but why don’t criminals use gun shows to flout the system?
My suspicion, and I think I’m probably right, is that in private sales the seller is very likely to be able to identify the buyer later on, making it somewhat more likely police will be able to gain a conviction. On the other hand, criminal sources of firearms hove no interest in cooperating with police and gun dealers sell too many guns to be able to reliably make identifications. That explanation seems a little too tidy to me, but I’m probably on the right track.
The second, more damning, thing to be found in the new data, is that gun crime is dropping faster than a strippers clothes and has been doing so since the 90’s. It’s pretty had to make a diagnosis here also, because there are lots of reasons that are certainly involved, some of which I’ve numbered below:
- Policing has improved for many reasons that aren’t just new tactics and better training, forensics has made enormous strides in the past 20 years, making it ever harder to get away with any crime, violent or not.
- Some gun control laws have been relaxed and others strengthened. It’s indisputable that armed civilians serve as a deterrent, the only question is how much of one are they, but there is no good data to suggest that gun ownership levels have a major causal relationship to crime rates, either positive or negative. The same is true of concealed weapons. In the places where concealed carry is permitted, crime rates do seem to drop after their enactment, but as they are often passed as parts of larger crime reduction bills, it’s hard to say what is causing what. Further, the penalties for breaking the law while armed have shot up as much as gun laws have been relaxed.
- The economic situation has improved since the late 70’s. The biggest problem with measuring the effect of crime reduction policies is that you can’t “unrotten” an egg. No? Okay, I’ll make it clearer. Criminals commit crimes not law abiding people. I realize that sounds like defining round as being like a circle and a circle as being round and other ‘divide by zero’ scenarios, but it’s not. Criminality is not evenly distributed over the population, rather, a small number of people commit the majority of crimes. There is a lot of evidence to suggest that people end up with their propensity for criminal behavior more or less fixed based on their childhood conditions, so crime reduction initiatives and stiffer penalties being imposed deter few people who already live a life of crime, while changing the circumstances for the better for those not already living the same.
- Civilian armament probably does serve as a deterrent. As I said in number two there isn’t really good evidence of causation here, but surveys of prison inmates and crime trends indicate exactly what common sense suggests. Criminals, like lightening, tend to take the path of least resistance. Inmate surveys tell us that muggers, burglars, and many others profile people and tend avoid those who they think likely to fight back. We can see this if we take a look at property crime, robbery for example: robbery is down, but burglary is up. With robbery, the victim has to be present and and things must be taken forcibly or under the treat of force. Burglary on the other hand, means only that one enters a structure with the intent of committing a crime. With that in mind, it seems logical that if criminals avoid victimizing those who might fight back, than property crimes involving violence should drop and property crimes without violence should increase, with some relationship to the defensive tools in common use by victims.
Any claim that gun violence is a growing problem is just patently false, the data show the opposite trend, suggesting that stronger gun laws, at least those put forward for consideration, don’t do anything. Particularly useless seems to be the idea of private sale background checks, 40% of inmates got guns from illegal sources, about another 37% got them from friends, family, or other relatives, 11% got them somewhere like a retail store or gun shop, and only about 1% got them from gun shows or private sales. It just isn’t very difficult to obtain guns from illegal sources. We don’t have a thriving black market for guns because it’s too easy to get them.
I’m in favor of background checks, but it seems clear that expanding checks will do nothing but cause inconvenience if the system isn’t improved at the same time. You have some 1 in 14 criminals beating the checks we have in place now, more then 7 times the number that get guns without a check. If you actually want to reduce violence with guns, you need to focus on fixing the system, you just don’t repair a leaky faucet in the kitchen by ignoring it and installing more of them, and you don’t address problems with the background check system by ignoring the major issues and making them more widespread, at least not by doing so exclusively.
Gun control advocates are going to have to come to grips with reality, gun free zones and other controls on the carrying of weapons are contingent on people obeying them and the only ones who are going to do so are those who you don’t need to worry about in the first place. Locks are for honest people and so are gun free zones and concealed carry bans. If you haven’t prevented someone from getting a gun, you can’t prevent them taking it wherever they want to.