So now we have the second report in as many weeks that strongly points to the connection between gun violence and gun laws; i.e., less of the latter produces more of the former. The first report came from the Center for American Progress (CAP) which found that states with fewer legal restrictions on guns have higher rates of gun violence; now we have another report issued by New York State’s Attorney General, Eric Schneiderman, which shows that states with lax gun regulations also export more crime guns to other states, hence raising gun violence rates in states which often have very strict and comprehensive controls.
So the bottom line is that states that do not view guns as a threat to community safety not only make their own communities less safe but also help to make communities elsewhere dangerous as well. And if you believe that this is in any way a new discovery, let me take you back the passage of the Federal Firearms Act in 1938. The FFA38 was actually the second gun bill passed during the presidency of Franklin Roosevelt, the first being the 1934 law that regulated sale and ownership of full-automatic weapons and sawed-off shotguns whose use became the staple of Hollywood gangster movies then and now.
The 1938 law moved the Federal government into gun regulation big-time, because it focused not on the control of these somewhat exotic and relatively unusual (and relatively expensive) machine guns, but established the regulation of standard, run-of-the-mill handguns and long guns which could be found in probably a majority of American homes. Moreover, the basic components of the 1938 law, even though much of it was revised by the Gun Control Act of 1968, created the regulatory environment which exists to the present day. To wit:
After 1938, anyone who wanted to be in the business of selling firearms, as opposed to simply collecting and transferring personal guns, had to acquire and operate the business with a federal firearms license issued by the Treasury Department. Why the Treasury Department? Because the license cost one buck, and anyone who paid anything to the U.S. Government paid to the U.S. Treasury. The law also made it illegal if a felon, fugitive, or anyone ‘convicted of a crime of violence’ received a gun and, most important, required that federally-licensed gun dealers only transfer guns to individuals who were residents of the same state in which the dealer sold guns. The law was later revised to exempt long guns from the in-state purchase requirement (hence Lee Harvey Oswald was able to purchase and directly receive a rifle from a sporting-goods dealer in Chicago) but the requirement that handgun sales be limited to in-state transfers remained law from then until now.
Why has the government always required that handgun ownership be more rigorously regulated than long guns? Because the basic purpose of federal gun regulations is to “provide support to Federal, State and local law enforcement officials in their fight against crime and violence.” So says the Gun Control Act of 1968, a law which, incidentally, was supported by the NRA.
Note that neither the 1938 gun law nor the law passed thirty years later or, for that matter, the third big law passed in 1994 attempted to regulate guns per se; all three laws were attempts to break the connection between guns, crime and violence by defining which individuals could acquire guns. But none of these laws defined gun violence for what it really is.
Gun violence is a pathogen and most pathogens spread through human contact, which is certainly the case with the pathogen caused by guns. We still don’t know exactly how, when or why this human contact takes place, but the reports issued by CAP and New York’s AG provide a good start. They also provide valid methodological templates to be used for further research. In sum, these reports deserve to be read, discussed and their value applauded and understood.