A new study from researchers at Duke and the University of Chicago suggests that stricter enforcement of current gun laws would have an “immediate and substantial impact on gun crime” because most criminals obtain their firearms illegally and within six months of committing a crime.
The study, recently published in the Journal of Urban Health, used data from a survey of 221 inmates in Chicago to investigate how and when criminals obtain firearms. While current research has proven that firearms take many years to move from the legal to illegal markets, Harold A. Pollack and his colleagues wanted to know how much time elapses within the “last link”—the time between a person obtaining a firearm and committing a crime with it.
Based on responses obtained in the Chicago Inmate Survey, the researches concluded that 68 percent had obtained their “primary gun” (the gun they had in their possession at the time of their arrest) less than six months prior. In addition, of the 150 respondents who were armed at the time of their arrest, 42 percent had not been armed at all six months earlier.
Furthermore, relatively few active criminals bought their firearms from gun stores but rather obtained guns from their social connections or off-the-books transactions that constitute the underground gun market
“Only 1% of all the guns were acquired at a store, and none of the respondents mentioned a gun show or the Internet as a source,” the study notes.
Researchers thus concluded that policymakers and law enforcement should focus on enforcing current gun laws that already prohibit these transactions from taking place. If, hypothetically speaking, all of these transactions had been intercepted within the last six months, the effect on gun-related crime would have been massive.
“The current findings suggest that more effective enforcement of existing regulations could have an immediate and substantial effect on gun crime,” researchers conclude.
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The study also notes in its final paragraph how these findings cut against the contention that more guns in civilian hands leads to a higher availability of firearms to criminals and, in turn, more crime.
“It is not the stock but the flow of guns that arms criminals, since criminal use tends to follow transactions within a few weeks or months,” researchers say. “It is true that the current stock of guns in private hands is the source for a large percentage of transactions in the underground gun market (the main exception being straw purchases of new guns from dealers), but those transactions, because they are illegal, often have high transactions costs.”
Researchers admit that their study is limited to one jurisdiction (Chicago) and utilizes a sample that, while consisting of gun-involved offenders, is not necessarily representative of the adult population of Chicago offenders who commit gun assault, murder, and robbery.
But they nonetheless offer their findings as a real solution to the problem of gun-related violence in the United States. If, as law-abiding gun owners have been suggesting for decades, politicians would focus on enforcing existing gun laws rather than imposing greater restrictions on Second Amendment rights, a larger percentage of criminals would not be able to obtain the firearms with which they commit crimes. While these individuals might nonetheless commit violent actions, at least anti-gun politicians would not be able to use criminal activity as a smokescreen for disarming American citizens.
“If the task is finding every gun, that feels hopeless,” Pollack told UChicago News. “But if you focus on hindering or interfering with the transaction of guns, that doesn’t seem quite as hopeless.”