Washington Post Investigation: Guns in America

Today’s Washington Post has a lengthy article about crime and firearms in the District of Columbia and in neighboring Prince George’s County, Maryland.

Here is the most important sentence from the article:  “In the national gun-control debate, a salient fact often has been overlooked: Legislative efforts aimed at curtailing the availability of the most lethal weapons merely play at the margins of this huge gun population.”  It hasn’t been overlooked here, but, yes, overlooked by Obama, Biden, Bloomberg, and others pushing gun control proposals that will not really address homicides.

Here are a few other points from the Post analysis:

  • Only a small fraction of the firearms seized by the police might fall within a definition for so-called ‘assault weapons.’: “Far more typical for local police is the matter-of-fact recovery of a handgun, which passes with little or no public notice. Handguns account for about eight of every 10 firearms confiscated in the analysis period.  Nearly 70 percent of the handguns seized were semiautomatic pistols, most often 9mm models, with magazines of varying capacity.
  • “Homicides by gun in the city and the county are down by about 70 percent over the past six years.”  Recall that city officials were alarmed when the Supreme Court ruled the city’s strict gun control laws unconstitutional five years ago.  Then-Mayor Fenty said he was “outraged” that the courts ruled that his constituents would be able to keep a handgun in the home for self-defense.  Fenty said crime would be going up.
  •  “The vast majority of the millions of guns in circulation nationwide will never become crime guns.”
  • According to the ATF, the firearms that do become crime guns have been on the streets over a dozen years. “Recovered guns have often changed hands multiple times.”  These black market transactions are going to take place—even if there are new regulations concerning background checks.  The Post article relates an incident where the police were executing a warrant at a residence and a man “sprinted from the yard, tossing guns from his pants: a Cobray M11, a 9mm semiautomatic machine pistol, a .45-caliber minimax Llama handgun, and a Glock 19. Police arrested the man, a felon on probation, and found a rusted handgun and rifle at his home.”  The legal code said he wasn’t supposed to have those guns, but he did.

Bottom line: Gun control proposals have no significant impact. They generally restrict the actions of persons who care about staying within the rules. After controls are enacted, some politicians are surprised by the fact that criminals are able to obtain guns and use them to commit crimes. Jerome Earles, a felon quoted in the story, said he carries a gun around even though he knows it is illegal to do so. “It ain’t right, but I carry my gun” he said.

Cato will be hosting an event on the Supreme Court’s landmark decision in the Heller case on June 4.  For additional Cato scholarship about firearms and crime, go here.