Criminologist Gary Kleck examines one of the popular myths of the anti-gun crowd: That large scale gun trafficking operations exist to arm America’s criminals. Like the “90% Myth” about drug cartel guns in Mexico, this myth simply isn’t true. Criminals get their guns in onesie-twosies and this volume is more than sufficient to supply their customers…
The best available study, by researchers at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst, indicates that criminals obtain guns from a wide variety of largely interchangeable low-volume sources. Criminals usually get their guns in one of three ways: as a byproduct of thefts, primarily residential burglaries; by buying guns one at a time from friends and relatives who neither regularly sell guns nor act as “straw purchasers” (legally qualified buyers who purchase guns for those prohibited from doing so); or, if they have no criminal convictions, by lawfully buying guns from licensed dealers.
As my colleague Kevin Wang and I found by examining federal crime data, the overall volume of gun theft alone is huge—at least 400,000 to 600,000 guns are stolen each year in the U.S. This is easily enough to resupply the entire criminal population with guns even if they were completely disarmed at the start of each year.
Dr. Kleck goes on to look at the quality of the data cited by gun prohibitionists when they invoke this myth: The results of ATF gun traces. The data cited most often are from traces of newer guns, ones that law enforcement officers submitting the trace requests believe a priori to be the result of the mythical trafficking operations. This is mirrored by the data believers in the “90% Myth” use in support of their claims. Mexican authorities only submit trace requests to the Americans when they believe that a particular gun originated in the US. They dont’ submit requests for all guns they recover. Thus the data cited by the true believers of both myths is from a subset of all crime guns and only that particular subset that supports their faith.