Half had stolen at least one gun in their criminal careers; between 40 percent and 70 percent of the handguns these men possessed most recently were stolen.62 These were incarcerated felons, likely to be among the most active and strongly motivated criminals. Advocates of gun control measures may believe that weakly motivated, infrequent criminals can be disarmed or prevented from acquiring guns through regulation. However, even among members of the general, noncriminal population, about 36 percent of guns are acquired through private parties, often as a gift.63 This implies that of an estimated 8.6 million firearms transactions each year, some 3.1 million are outside licensed retail sources. While some jurisdictions try to regulate the informal markets in gun trades, such transactions are invisible to authorities. And virtually all social scientists who have investigated the question have concluded that gun control laws are ineffective in denying guns to criminals because guns are so available on the underground market.
"About 3.1 million of the estimated 8.6 million firearms transactions each year are outside licensed retail sources."
Do Gun Laws Matter?
Existing studies find that current U.S. gun laws have no substantial impact on gun ownership or crime. Two possible exceptions are the 1934 federal machine gun ban and well-enforced prohibitions on carrying guns - although 5 percent of all U.S. adults regularly carry guns.64 Overall, restrictive gun laws raise the price of acquisition and diminish the value of guns, but the impact on both felons and nonfelons appears to be weak or nonexistent.
Other Methods of Deterrence.
Harsher punishment of armed criminals by the criminal justice system " such as mandatory prison sentences for using a firearm in the commission of a crime " appears to be one of the few effective crime deterrents. Mandatory penalties appear to reduce armed robbery rates, for example.65 And one study found that gun offenders receive harsher treatment at all stages of court processing and, when convicted, receive substantially longer prison sentences.66
© 1996 NCPA