By Dean Weingarten
Prominently displayed are suggested restrictions on gun ownership, gun sales, and increased record keeping requirements.
While reading the document, I was looking to find how many guns were *not* traced. It is an important number. If the percentage of guns not traced is high, it undercuts any supposed utility of tracing guns.
Not only does the document lack any numbers for guns that were not traced, it conflates the numbers of traced guns with those of all confiscated guns.
From page 4 of the report:
Seven of the top ten source dealers are within Illinois, and six of those seven fall within the Cook County suburbs that border Chicago. The remaining FFL source dealers within the top ten are located in northwest Indiana. Collectively, these ten source dealers make up almost a quarter of the crime guns recovered in Chicago, despite the existence of many other federally licensed dealers in Chicago’s vicinity.
For the better part of a decade, Chuck’s Gun Shop and Midwest Sporting Goods have consistently remained the top two FFL source dealers for crime guns recovered by police in Chicago. Chuck’s Gun Shop and Midwest Sporting Goods continue to provide a strikingly large portion of the total number of traceable crime guns that includes more than 5,000 separate FFL dealers from all 50 states. These two dealers are the retail source of more than one in ten crime guns recovered in Chicago.
Notice the conflation of “traceable crime guns” with “crime guns”.
997 guns were traced to Chuck's Gun Shop over four years, 2013-2016. That is 6.7 percent of the guns that were traced. There were 960 purchasers. Over 92 percent of the purchasers of these guns purchased only one gun. Of the 997 guns confiscated and traced, only 43 were reported stolen. When we consider the total number of guns confiscated, the percent from Chuck's Gun Shop drops to 3.7 percent.
The number of guns that were not traced was calculated from the information in the report. According to the report, of the guns traced from 2013 to 2016, 40.41 percent of the of eTraced guns equaled 6,026 firearms. Simple math converts those numbers to 14,912 guns eTraced.
That number was checked with the figure of 12,531 guns given as 84.01 percent of the guns eTraced. Converting that to 100%, there were 14,916 guns eTraced, total. There is a small round off error of four guns. I will conservatively use the larger figure of 14,916.
14,916 guns were traced during the period of 2013-2016.
From the report, total guns confiscated during 2013-2016 were 26,849.
The percent eTraced is calculated as 14916/26849, which equals 56 percent of the total.
This would not matter much, if we had a reasonable idea that the guns that could not or were not traced were from the same places that the traced guns were.
That would be a bad assumption. The newer a gun is, the more likely it is to be traceable on eTrace. Newer guns are more likely to be traced to gun stores. This already biases the sample, probably quite significantly.
There are categories and sources of guns that cannot be traced. Many shotguns and .22 rifles made prior to 1968 did not have serial numbers. They can not be traced. I have seen and owned many of these guns.
Pistols were not required to have a serial number before 1958. Hundreds of thousands of small, inexpensive revolvers were made from 1875 through 1958 without serial numbers. I have seen numerous examples at guns shows. There were about three dozen manufacturers making revolvers under hundreds of different names. Most did not have serial numbers.
Homemade guns hardly ever have serial numbers, or if they do, the numbers are not usable. They can be a significant percentage of the guns used in crime. In Australia, almost 14 percent of pistols that are confiscated are illicitly made. In 1986, 20 percent of the guns seized by police in Washington, D.C., were homemade. More and more guns in the United States are being made at home. It is becoming easier and easier to do so.
There are many firearms that were made for military purposes without serial numbers or with identical serial numbers. There are also “lunch box specials” where people who have access to firearms factories smuggle out gun parts to assemble their own guns.
The report calls for universal gun registration, background checks on private sales, and state licensing of gun dealers. All of these measures are indicated as means of making the tracing of guns to their legal source easier.
The report does not indicate how making guns easier to trace will have any effect on crime, or on the availability of guns to criminals.
In Chicago, of the guns traced to gun stores, nearly 92 percent were one time purchases by an individual (the average number is about 1 percent smaller than the percentage from Chuck's Gun Shop). The fact the gun could be traced to an individual that purchased one gun has done nothing to reduce the number of guns from this source. Because an individual purchased one gun, once, the ability to stop future sales becomes moot.
Illinois has a legal requirement for gun owners to report lost or stolen guns. But only 4.3 percent of the guns traced to Chuck's gun shop were reported as lost or stolen. Clearly, the law is ineffective. It is nearly impossible to prove a person knew a gun was lost or stolen at a certain time.
The suggested legislation has significant costs. Universal gun registration is expensive. State licensing of gun dealers is expensive.
The unstated purpose of these regulations is to make it harder for law abiding people to own guns. The theory seems to be, if the number of legal guns can be reduced a little, eventually, guns available for crime will be a little harder to get. If it is a little harder for criminals to get guns, then crime will be reduced.
There is no evidence that this complicated and expensive means of reducing the availability of guns to criminals actually works.
Because criminals who are willing to use guns are a small percentage of the population, gun availability in the general population has to be reduced by large numbers to have any chance of working.
It did not work in England and Wales. It did not work in Europe. It did not work in Australia. It did not work in Canada. After gun registration, crime, or crime with guns, did not decrease. In Australia, homicides with guns decreased, but the numbers were falling before the gun registration scheme was put into place.
Perhaps the clearest example is Brazil. Brazil never had widespread gun ownership. Yet Brazil has a very high level of homicide and homicide with guns. Brazilian criminals routinely make their own guns, often small shop sub-machine guns. Brazil's homicide rate is five to six times as great at that in the United States. The homicide rate was not reduced after Brazil made its restrictive gun laws even more restrictive.
The report overlooks an extremely important fact. While most of the guns traced in Chicago come from outside of Chicago, the crime rates in the areas the guns come from are routinely far, far below the crime rates in Chicago.
This shows the guns are not the problem. Focusing on the guns is a distraction, at best, at worst, a deliberate misdirection from the obvious primary problems.
Essentially, the report is saying: We have a crime problem in Chicago. To fix it, restrict the rights of those other people in those other states, where the crime rate is lower.
That does not pass the smell test.
The linchpin of the regulatory scheme is universal gun registration. We have examples of failed registration schemes. New Zealand eliminated most of their required gun registration in the 1980's. There was no measurable effect on crime. Canada did away with most of its long gun registration scheme in 2011. From forbes.com:
Maybe they shouldn't worry. Universal registration has been tried in several countries, most recently in Canada. The program turned out to be far more expensive than expected and didn't have any discernable impact on crime, perhaps because long guns are used so rarely by criminals in the first place. Canada's gun homicide rate, according to the handy statistics at Gunpolicy.org, has held steady since the late 1990s.
To sum up. Tracing guns almost never does any thing useful to solve crimes. It only has any chance with universal gun registration. Universal gun registration is expensive and ineffective.
What is the purpose of focusing on ineffective policies that have been shown not to work? Could it be to focus thought away from policies that encourage criminality and violence? Maybe gun owners in other states are considered to be a “whipping boy”, someone who needs to be punished for crimes committed by other people?
©2017 by Dean Weingarten: Permission to share is granted when this notice is included.
About Dean Weingarten:
Dean Weingarten has been a peace officer, a military officer, was on the University of Wisconsin Pistol Team for four years, and was first certified to teach firearms safety in 1973. He taught the Arizona concealed carry course for fifteen years until the goal of constitutional carry was attained. He has degrees in meteorology and mining engineering, and recently retired from the Department of Defense after a 30 year career in Army Research, Development, Testing, and Evaluation.