One of the timeless debates in this country is over gun-control laws and their efficacy. Gun-control advocates often cite the ease with which a person can purchase a firearm from retail outlets and worry that such outlets are arming criminals in huge numbers. Lawsuits have been filed against many wholesalers and retailers alleging their marketing practices make it easy for criminals to get guns.
These advocates continually push for more restrictions on firearm purchases in vain attempts to keep guns from criminals and others who shouldn’t have access to them.
The problem with such laws is that criminals routinely ignore them (after all, they are criminals). Law-abiding citizens who have every right to purchase and own firearms are the ones who pay the price for these laws.
In the wake of the 1999 Columbine shootings, Colorado voters passed a law requiring background checks for all firearm sales at gun shows. The argument in favor of the law was that criminals were taking advantage of the fact that such checks had been required only if a licensed firearms dealer was selling a gun. But if a recent report from the Justice Department is any indicator, this law and others like it are likely not very effective.
The study noted that the number of criminals who obtained guns from retail outlets was dwarfed by the number of those who picked up their arms through means other than legal purchases. The report was the result of interviews with more than 18,000 state and federal inmates conducted nationwide. It found that nearly 80 percent of those interviewed got their guns from friends or family members, or on the street through illegal purchases. Less than 9 percent were bought at retail outlets and only seven-tenths of 1 percent came from gun shows. So much for the much-ballyhooed closing of the “gun-show loophole.”
The Justice Department’s interviews also gave lie to the notion that so-called assault weapons in private hands decrease the safety of police officers and citizens. Only about 8 percent of the inmates used one of the models covered in the now-expired assault weapons ban, passed under Bill Clinton in 1994. If the supposed increased firepower of these firearms truly made them attractive to lawbreakers the percentage would have been much higher. And so another gun-control myth ends up on the ash heap of history.