Mike Bloomberg, soon-to-be former Mayor of New York City, has blanketed the airwaves and the internet since Sandy Hook with his campaign to stop gun trafficking. Although I can’t find a strict explanation for what constitutes gun trafficking, I guess we can use the one found in H.R. 2554, the bill to prohibit firearms trafficking that was introduced by Rep. Carolyn Maloney (D-NY) that never got out of committee. The text of the bill says that trafficking is the transfer of a firearm to an individual:
whose possession or receipt of the firearm would be unlawful; or who intends to or will use, carry, possess, or dispose of the firearm unlawfully.
If you want to know what this means or doesn’t mean, which is a polite way of asking whether Bloomberg, Maloney, et. al., knows what they’re talking about, just read on.
Bloomberg’s gun trafficking “evidence” is presented in two ways: there’s a detailed report and an interactive website. The website allows the viewer to choose any state and see where guns initially sold in that state were later picked up by the cops, or you can turn it around, choose a state and see where guns picked up in that state were first sold.
Not surprisingly, the states that exported the most guns to other states are also states where there are few, if any legal restrictions on gun sales. The website lists 10 state gun regulations that help deter illegal gun activity (licensing, straw sales, etc.) and only two of the top-10 exporting states, Virginia and North Carolina, had 4 of these regulations on the books, and nearly all the other high-exporting states had one or none.
It has long been an article of faith held by Bloomberg and other gun control advocates that more gun laws equals less gun crime. But the evidence isn’t so much causal as coincidental because states that have stricter gun laws also tend to be states with less gun ownership. And the bigger problem is that it’s simply impossible to take a phenomenon as complicated as crime and try to find a single factor that explains why and when it occurs.
But the real problem with Bloomberg’s search for gun traffickers lies in the fact that if we use the transfer of a firearm to test the definition of gun trafficking, and restrict our data to interstate seizure of crime guns, the data used to rank the exporting states starts to get less than precise. For example, Georgia ranked 10th in total exports and yet 35% of all their exported guns were found in contiguous states. Virginia was the 7th-highest export state but 40% of its gun exports were found in DC, Maryland and North Carolina.
I’m not surprised that a majority of the crime guns recovered in New York come from non-contiguous states when you consider that both Massachusetts and Connecticut not only have strict laws but have a per capita gun ownership rate far below the national average.
I could write ten more diaries on the analytical problems involved with understanding gun trafficking but my point is simply this: If anyone thinks there’s a silver bullet out there that will solve the issue of gun violence, think again. The problem is very complex, it’s simply not amenable to any sort of “quick fix,” and before we change the laws, we better make sure that we really know what’s broken and whether we can fix it.
- DA: Gun Trafficker Indicted For Illegally Selling Weapons To Undercover NYPD Detective (newyork.cbslocal.com)
- Landmark study on gun violence (deansblog.law.northwestern.edu)
- More Guns Equal More Deaths, Study Finds (livescience.com)