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Gun control activists are quick to demand that the “gun show loophole” be closed in order to reduce the number of firearms related fatalities and guns in the hands of criminals. Their thought process is fairly logical, but very closed minded: criminals have to get their guns somewhere, and since private party sales aren’t subject to a background check then obviously that must be the point of entry for illegal guns! If only we could force everyone to get a background check to buy a gun the problem would be solved! There’s just one issue with that line of thinking: it bears no resemblance whatsoever to the reality “on the street.” Criminals aren’t buying their guns from gun shows or legal sources, at least according to a study released a couple days ago.

The study, titled “Sources of guns to dangerous people: What we learn by asking them” and released in the Journal of Preventative Medicine, is a survey of criminals to determine where they got the guns they used in crimes. Unlike those “news” sources that have an axe to grind in the gun control activism arena, I’m going to outline the limitations of this recent study right off the bat. This latest study was an (admittedly preliminary) survey of 99 criminals between the ages of 18 and 40 detained within the Cook County jail. Not only is that an extremely small sample size, but that’s also an extremely specific location. In order for this study to be applicable to the entire nation we would need samples from multiple locations and a much larger pool, and hopefully that’s what we will get in the future. But for now, we’ll work with what we’ve got.

In the study, the researchers asked their participants about the source of their firearms. The following table illustrates their results.


What is incredibly important to understand is that only 1.5% of the respondents purchased a firearm from a gun store or FFL. The vast and overwhelming majority either obtained their firearm from a person they knew (either a family member or gang member) or from a friend of a friend. These transactions are impossible to stop, even with a “universal background check” system, simply for the fact that there’s no way they would follow that law given their relationship with the seller and the already illegal nature of the transaction.

There’s something that really stuck out to me from the selected quotes and reinforces the idea that universal background checks won’t stop this activity. A good number of these individuals reported that there were people within the community who were buying the guns elsewhere and knowingly providing guns to criminals.

People with an FOID card supply others. R17 opined that “All they need is one person who got a gun card in the ‘hood’ and everybody got one.” R58 noted that people with gun cards buy guns, report them stolen, and then resell them. “That’s how we get them person-ally ourselves.”

Local people buy guns out of state, sometimes on behalf of gangs. R32: “Six out of 10 times, people go out of state and brings them back. ” R69: “The gang leaders, they’ll choose and pick who to goout and get the guns and bring ’em back.” There is also somemention of outsiders who bring guns into the neighborhood, either from other neighborhoods in Chicago, or from out of state. R8: “Iknow the person, they purchase a lotta guns, it’s called a crate” (which are then distributed within “the organization”). R85: “Some people getting on a train and bring them back, can be up to 5 or 6 guns depending on how much risk they want to take.”

What is important to note is that the behavior outlined by these statements is already illegal. Selling handguns across state lines without a license is a federal felony, making false statements to the police (“I lost it!”) is a crime, and the state of Illinois makes it illegal to sell a gun to someone without at least verifying their FOID card. In short, Illinois already has a universal background check law in place, but the criminals are already completely ignoring it and continuing to get their guns.

The takeaway of this study, in my mind, is that even when a “universal background check” system is in place the criminals will continue to ignore it. Illinois has closed their “gun show loophole” and yet the illegal guns keep flowing into the streets thanks to people who are *gasp* willfully breaking the law in exchange for money. New laws won’t change this behavior, and they definitely won’t stop the bloodshed in Chicago. And yet, politicians continue to believe that this is something that “must be done.” That this is “common sense.”

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  1. Which, of course, all leads to the logical conclusion for the anti-gunners that ALL guns will need to be banned and removed.

      • Registration won’t work, either. When they aren’t just smuggling the guns in via containerships and bribed port officials, they’re using “rent a gun” systems or guns that were stolen, 10, 15, 20 years ago. In my city they cops just busted a guy who legally owned registered handguns. He would loan them out for hits, then take them back when done. He didn’t even bother with the “I’ve been robbed” ruse.

  2. How is it that, “How did you come by your gun?” is not a inquiry item in the uniform crime report surveys?

  3. For many years, I lived in Massachusetts. Private firearms transfers had to be recorded on a little blue card, which was then mailed in to the Department of Public Safety. Up until the system got computerized, these cards were stored in shoe boxes in great teetering piles until they were of a certain age, and then destroyed. Transfers between friends, family and fellow gun club members were usually not recorded on said cards. Oh, well. Good luck with that “Universal Gun Registration.”

  4. Have we heard, yet, how the mental defective who murdered the Houston cop, after being involuntarily committed to an asylum for 6 months in the past, got the murder gun? I REALLY don’t want to hear that he passed a NICS check.

    • ” don’t want to hear that he passed a NICS check.” Could be, reality is people can lie on the form. It’s against the law. Murder also against the law too, didn’t stop him.

    • We already have plenty of examples of criminals and nutjobs passing a background check. Clearly NICS doesn’t work, so what difference does it make whether that particular creep passed a NICS check or not?

  5. That extremely low percentage of purchases through a regulated source, an FFL, matches up very closely to pretty much every other survey and study I have seen on the subject, from the FBI on down.

    The Antis never let facts get in the way of a perfectly good fairy tale, though.

  6. As noted, this study has multiple problems:
    1. Insufficient survey sample, sample confined to one location;
    2. respondents not known for their veracity, and more, are less likely to rat out friends, fellow gang members, as reflected in the source “unclear” category, covering 32% of purchases;
    3. The categories are not mutually exclusive and overlap. For example, “prior relationship” and “no prior relationship” should cover 100% of the group.
    4. there is no determination as the method of acquisition of out of state guns;
    5. there is no mention of guns how purchases, and indeed, one can assume from the comment that “if one guy has an FOID, everyone has one” that forged FOID cards are being used to complete private purchases.

    • All of this. We are vigorous in our evisceration of anti-gun studies on less shaky foundations. We cannot ignore our own house.

      • I would tend to agree with you however he did point out in the article that there are some problems with the study. If anti-gun people would point out the problems in the studies they use you might have a point.

  7. Politicians feel they must say something when anti-groups bug them enough. They have access to the same data expressed here. These people can comprehend good and bad studies and well know what bias is. I hate to go here, but as of late Trump has commented on how politicians end up in the pockets of others, most of us understand this. And then there are the complete nut cases and folks who do not understand what a RIGHT is, or at least they pretend not to understand. Lots of liars.

  8. That’s what I have been hammering on the entire time here in Spokane over the universal background checks. Crooks don’t pay retail or even close to retail for guns! Guns have high resale. It doesn’t matter if it’s private party, if it’s a legit transaction, you are going to pay what the firearm is worth.

    On 9/28/15, I bought a new Uberti Taylors Smoke Wagon DE or tuned Deluxe. It’s a $700 dollar gun. If I sold it, it’s still a $650-700 dollar gun. If someone was able to steal it (good luck) on the street, it’s $50.00, or a 1/4 ounce of kick ass weed.

    I don’t really have a problem with background checks, but don’t spoon feed garbage to the public trying to get them to believe that it will help keep guns from the prohibited. It will do very little to nothing and is a prerequisite to gun registration.

    The biggest deterrent to easy access to guns is gun safes and secure storage.

  9. And I learned NOTHING. Heck I’ve witnessed straw purchases at Cabelas in Hammond,Indiana. Of course a huge percentage are straw guns-and when I informed the counter guys I got a “we’ll look into it”(or was it MEH). I guess it’s easier to blame the NRA…or white folks.

  10. Let’s see here, criminals by definition do not obey laws, yet the anti-gun folks expect the bad guys to obey laws regulating firearms purchases. Sure.

  11. You misspelled Crook County.

    A site worthy of this blog (the name belies it’s content)…..

    They have a map of the most dangerous neighborhoods that is……something to behold.

    • By the way, the other post earlier today (forgot which) had a link to a clip from the movie “Death Wish”…which I started watching for the first time ever.

      There is a scene at the local gun club in Tucson AZ, the discussion turns to gun control folks… who think us guys shooting guns are really using guns as an extension of our peckers. Gave me a good laugh! In my life experience so far, the only guys (women aside) who have been totally against guns were total wuss bags.

      Oh and spoiler alert. He gets a gun illegally in the movie…according to NYC law (gift from his gun club friend in Tucson) which he flew back with in checked luggage!

      Thanks TTAG for pointing me (indirectly) to this classic movie that I have missed thus far in 36 years!

    • Ah Chicago- I avoid the southside,westside ,the eastside and the northside-hmmm…that only leaves the NW side and the nearnorth(except during “wilding” season”). I lived in the city for years and it sure was safer THEN-not nearly as many 14 year spraying and praying. It sucks how the northside has gone to hell…

  12. Illinois now requires checks via the Illinois State Police for FOID card verification. All crap because if they have a statist registration card that’s not expired they have passed a background check so why do I have to check again.

  13. Do you really think everyone in Illinois is obeying that stupid crap? I avoid the 25 buck Cook co. slush fund tax on each gun by not buying in Cook Co…come after me I dare ya’…now you know why gun registration is evil. None of the collar counties and Indiana enforce crook co. BS.

  14. can someone please explain how “prior relationship”, “gang”, “family”, “other connections”, “no prior relationship”, “mutual acquaintance”, and “black market or “street”” do not fall under the category of private party transfers?

  15. Just exactly what loophole are you talking about? I am unaware of any laws that are less stringent at a gun show. It is bad enough to hear this from the antigun people.

  16. How can criminals use something that does not exist. There is no such thing as a “gun show loophole”. There are only FFL transfers, and private transfers – regardless of where the transfer takes place.

    FFL transfers are subject to background checks, whether in a brick-and-mortar store, private home, gun show, or street corner. Private transfers are not subject to background checks, whether in a private home, gun show, street corner, or anywhere else.

    There is nothing special about gun shows, and in fact, the vast majority of exhibitors at gun shows are FFLs. Even the Brady Campaign (nee Handgun Control Inc.) could only come up with 20-25% of gun show exhibitors being unlicensed – and that was back in 2000, and included exhibitors who sell things other than firearms (books, knives, holsters, etc. – which makes up a non-trivial percentage of exhibitor space, in my experience). (TTAG, Cato, NSSF [pdf])

    Do not let the Antis define the playing field. There is no “gun show loophole.”

    • Good points all, Chip.

      In addition, in my area, I know many private sellers want to see some indication that you are not a scumbag, if they are selling a type of gun that a scumbag might want to buy/use for nefarious purposes. In my group of gunshow friends/acquaintances, we buy/sell/trade all the time without doing new checks (none are required), but we also all have state-issued carry permits, so we’ve all previously had background checks which are required to get the permit.

      So all the transfers that take place in my circle of gunshow friends/acquaintances would be considered to be “OMG no check was done!” transfers by the anti-gun folks, when in fact, every single one of them is a person who has a clean background, and has been certified as such by the state.

      I’m not in any way advocating for this as a requirement, just showing how far off-base the anti-gun folks are when they talk about gunshow problems. As indicated above, they generally don’t know what they are talking about (or more probably, don’t care about being accurate, and accuracy doesn’t advance their agenda).

  17. Criminals get their guns through straw purchases, illegal FFL sales, or on the street (where the guns are gotten the same way then made available to criminal purchase.

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