Gun running and our gang problem

A nine-year-old child has been murdered in a gang retaliation, and as always, the advocates of gun control are calling for more laws.  Harold Pollack, co-director of the University of Chicago Crime Lab, calls for changes in federal gun policy in an interview with WBUR’s Here and Now, including background checks on all gun sales, while acknowledging that criminal gangs make a business of trafficking in illegal drugs, showing that it would be easy for them to smuggle guns.  He also acknowledges that police targeting of felons caught with guns makes a significant difference.

States with so-called lax laws keep getting the blame for the migration of guns to places like Chicago.  Or to Brooklyn, as was reported here last month.  What doesn’t get discussed by the advocates of control is why guns feel the need to travel before committing acts of mayhem.

The fact is that guns do not have legs or fins.  They lack locomotion.  Guns are consumer goods that are supplied by human beings.  As long as there’s a demand for them, there will be a supply.

The obvious parallels here are drugs and alcohol.  We have decades of experience trying to control substances that come from plants, and while dogs can sniff them out, large quantities crossed our borders and continue to do so.  Guns are machine parts.  And the world is filled with them.  Consider the AK-47, a simple design that has some 100,000,000 copies currently in use.  That’s only one of many types of guns cranked out by the Soviet Bloc over the decades of the Cold War, designs that are noted for their reliability after years of abuse.

And as I’ve discussed before, guns aren’t so difficult to make at home.  As 3-D printers become more common, home gunsmithing will only get easier.  Designs for many common guns are readily available—take, for example, the M1911.

So what do we do?  If gun control won’t work, and Chicago keeps being an example of this, what answers are there?

The first target is gangs.  Reports from law enforcement agencies around the country put the percentage of crimes that are gang related at between a fifth to a half.  As Pollack points out in his interview, when the police make it clear that felons in possession of guns will be a focus of law enforcement, rates of violence go down.  If we add on years to a prison term for using a firearm in the commission of a felony, we could drive down the rate even more by removing the most dangerous offenders from our streets.

A second answer, one that ties into the first, is ending the War on Drugs.  This year alone, we’ve spent already some $35,000,000 and arrested 1.4 million—almost a half of that latter figure being for possession of marijuana.  And our efforts at attacking the supply of drugs only increases their price, thereby raising profits for dealers, since demand is inelastic.  Whatever we may believe about the moral aspects of drug use, the facts demonstrate that our punitive approach isn’t working.

What would be the effect of these things?  Doing them goes after the illicit demand for guns.  Law-abiding citizens want guns, but their purposes for being armed are not the same as those that criminals have.  A law-abiding person may be a collector, a hunter, or may be someone concerned about the potential—a genuine, but small risk—for a violent attack.  People who make a living by committing crimes can reasonably expect more violence coming their way.  And they have a greater perceived need for saving face.  Credit checks on criminals won’t provide any information not already known, and you can’t sue a criminal for breach of contract.

Going after root causes is harder than offering platitudes and busywork, but it’s the only way to solve real problems.  The cost in the near term may be higher—though perhaps not, given the billions we waste now—but the end result is a more peaceful and productive society.  Remember that the next time a gun control advocate tells you that something like background checks are what we really need.

The views and opinions expressed in this post are those of the author’s and do not necessarily reflect the position of

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