A recent study, funded by the National Institute of Justice and conducted by anti-gun researcher Phillip Cook, takes an interesting approach to the question of how long criminals possess a firearm before they are arrested and charged with a firearm-related crime.
It is well known, and acknowledged even in this study, that for firearms recovered by law enforcement many years typically pass between the first retail purchase of the misused firearm and its illegal use or possession. The average “time-to-crime” in the U.S. is over 9 years according to the latest ATF data.
This study doesn’t examine the near-decade between the legal retail sale of a traced firearm and its association with illegal activity. It does use a survey of Chicago inmates to examine the “last link” or “the elapsed time from the transaction that actually provided the offender with the gun in question.”
It is rare to see a study published that echoes our message: enforce existing gun laws. Prosecute criminals. But that is just what this study concludes. More precisely, the study concludes that “more effective enforcement of the laws governing gun transactions may have a quick and pervasive effect on gun use in crime.”
That’s because the authors found that the duration of the last link is about two months. Inmates surveyed reported that most of the firearms possessed at their arrest were obtained by buying or trading from a friend or acquaintance. Few obtained their firearms from a gun store, where they would have had to pass a background check, and “none of the respondents mentioned a gun show or the Internet as a source.” This aligns with prior federal surveys of inmate populations. Criminals break the law to illegally acquire firearms.
Wait, There’s More
Other findings include state laws that require law-abiding gun owners to register their firearms were of no help, as naturally the criminals who obtained the firearm years after the legal purchase, did not register their typically-illegal possession. Also, unsurprisingly, “most or all of the transactions that provided [inmates] with guns were illegal, in that they violated state or federal regulations…The bottom line is all or almost all of the respondents were disqualified from acquiring or possessing a gun in Illinois at the time of their current arrest. Yet, most of them had extensive involvement with guns at that time.”
Let’s give a slow clap for a gun control advocate finally admitting that criminals do not abide by the laws. More enforcement of the existing laws is needed. The firearms and ammunition industry knows this and supports several campaigns to help law enforcement do their jobs and to help our retailers, ranges, and manufacturers on the front lines in preventing criminals from obtaining firearms. We do not support adding more laws onto citizens who already follow the existing laws. These criminals will not be stopped by gun or ammunition registrations, universal background checks, or any irrational bans that the gun control crowd demands as knee-jerk reactions to the real problems in our country with unauthorized access to firearms.
Elizabeth McGuigan is the Director of Legislative & Policy Research for the National Shooting Sports Foundation.