What’s not well-known is that the vast majority of the approximately 12,000 annual gun murders and 66,000 non-fatal shootings are committed by people who have no legal right to a gun. How do criminals and other prohibited people get guns so easily? Through a highly efficient, organized, and profitable business of gun trafficking that moves guns from legal manufacture to dealers to criminals and young people who can’t buy guns legally.
Where do crime guns come from?
Virtually every gun starts out as a legally manufactured product, but the
Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) points to three common ways guns move from legal distribution channels to the criminal market:
•Corrupt federally licensed gun dealers: Federally licensed gun dealers send more guns to the criminal market than any other single source. Nearly 60% of the guns used in crime are traced back to a small number—just 1.2%—of crooked gun dealers. Corrupt dealers frequently have high numbers of missing guns, in many cases because they’re selling guns “off the books” to private sellers and criminals. In 2005, the ATF examined 3,083 gun dealers and found 12,274 “missing” firearms.
•Straw purchasing: Straw purchasing is the most common way criminals get guns, accounting for almost 50% of trafficking investigations. A straw purchaser is someone with a clean record who buys guns on behalf of someone legally prohibited from possessing guns. Straw purchasers are often the friends, relatives, spouses or girlfriends of prohibited purchasers. The two Columbine High School shooters recruited friends to buy guns for them at Colorado gun shows. One of the buyers admitted she would not have bought the guns if she had been required to submit to a background check.
•Gun Shows and private gun sales: Gun shows have been called “Tupperware parties for criminals” because they attract large numbers of prohibited buyers. A loophole in federal law allows unlicensed or “private” sellers, many of whom work out of gun shows, to lawfully sell or transfer guns without conducting a criminal background check. Gun show dealers have been known to advertise to criminals with signs that read “no background checks required here.”