Menus Subscribe Search

Follow us


Patchwork of Gun Laws Assists Traffickers

• October 27, 2011 • 4:28 PM

Decentralized regulation in the gun-friendly U.S. creates ample opportunities for guns to leech from lightly regulated areas to stricter locales.

The range of gun laws in states across the country is vast. Some states demand stricter background checks, and others make it easier to purchase weapons at gun shows. Wisconsin and Illinois don’t offer concealed carry permits, while every other state does. California just outlawed openly carrying an unloaded gun in public. Federal law excludes convicted felons from purchasing guns, but some states add to that black list anyone with a violent misdemeanor on their record.

The cumulative effect is a national patchwork reflecting regional cultural differences around gun politics. But Brown University economist Brian Knight has documented another side effect of this variegated map: Guns in America have been flowing from states with weak laws into those with much stronger ones, as demonstrated by this week’s gun smuggling case announced in New York City.

“What surprised me was the magnitude of the effect,” Knight said. “It turns out that over one-third of guns recovered at crime scenes are originally purchased in other states. In New York, it’s two out of three guns.”

[class name=”dont_print_this”]

The 10 Gun Laws (Mayors Against Illegal Guns Index)

Here are the 10 common laws that are aimed at making it more difficult for people to buy guns from a dealer:

Straw Purchase Liability: A “straw purchase,” purchasing a gun on behalf of somebody else, is a federal crime. Some regions have passed laws allowing for the local policing and prosecution of straw purchasers.

Falsifying Purchaser Information Liability: It is a felony under federal law to provide false information when purchasing a gun. Some states allow for local prosecution of offenders.

Background Check Failure Liability: A dealer who fails to conduct a background check has committed a misdemeanor under federal law. Some states allow for prosecution and incarceration of these offenders.

Gun Show Checks: Infrequent sellers of firearms are not required to be licensed under federal law. Several states have attempted to close this “gun show loophole” with a variety of restrictions on casual gun merchants.

Required Purchaser Permit: Several states require that all prospective gun purchasers acquire a permit, regardless of whether the dealer has a federal firearms license. This often includes a background check.

Local Discretion to Deny Carry Permits: Concealed carry permits are available in every state except Illinois and Wisconsin. Some states allow local law enforcement discretion to deny carry permits, even if an individual meets the state and federal requirements.

Misdemeanor Restrictions: Federal law prohibits gun ownership by individuals convicted of felonies or domestic violence misdemeanors. Some states extend the restriction to individuals found guilty of other violent misdemeanors.

Required Reporting of Lost Or Stolen Guns: Some states require that lost or stolen guns are reported.

Local Discretion over Gun Regulations: Eight states currently allow municipalities, cities, and countries authority to enact gun control and regulation.

Dealer Inspections by State: The Federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives has inspection authority over licensed firearms dealers, but some states supplement these inspections by allowing or requiring their own.[/class]

In a National Bureau of Economic Research working paper, Knight draws on data from the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives tracing the state origins of guns recovered at crime scenes in 2009, according to their serial numbers. (Yes, this is the same gun-tracing tool that got the ATF caught in its own “fast and furious” gun-trafficking scandal).

Knight isn’t generally a gun policy researcher. Rather, he studies federalism and thinks about which levels of government should have say over different public policy problems.

“The disadvantage of decentralization is that you have a lot of externalities,” he said. “Policies in one state might have impacts on other states, and if those are not taken into consideration when policies are set, we might get very inefficient policies.”

You may recognize this phenomenon if you’ve ever driven across the border from a state that doesn’t allow the sale of fireworks into one that does. Knight has also done research into state lotteries, where eye-popping jackpots in one state have been shown to cut into ticket sales in neighboring areas.

Of course, the stakes for gun sales are higher than they are for Roman candles or lotto tickets, but so too is the demand for states to be able to locally determine their own gun laws. Knight says his research suggests there would be significant benefits from establishing more uniform federal gun policy.

“On the other hand, you don’t want to push that too far because there’s a cost associated with that intervention,” he said. “Namely, you’re going to force Texas and New York, where they have different preferences, to have the same gun laws.”

Knight measured the differences between states by indexing 10 common laws (see box) that are aimed at making it more difficult for people to buy guns from a dealer. One, “straw purchase liability,” legally holds accountable the straw men who often buy guns for out-of-state traffickers. Another law requires gun owners to immediately report lost or stolen guns (to prevent suspect traffickers from claiming — after a gun-related crime involving a gun they owned — that the weapon had been stolen from them earlier).

Places with the strongest policies, like New Jersey, New York and Washington, D.C., have versions of all 10 laws in place. Eleven other states — spanning the deep red swathes on Knight’s map — have none of them.

Gun trafficking generally occurs between states that are relatively close to each other. And so a state like Illinois — an island of blue surrounded by states with much weaker gun laws — winds up on the receiving end of some of the worst trafficking. In 2009, for example, among the 7,200 guns recovered at crime scenes in Illinois, more than a thousand were originally sold in Indiana.

Knight has found that the inverse is true, too: there is considerably less gun trafficking between neighboring states with comparable gun laws.

“Texas is a state that has very weak gun laws, none out of these 10 gun laws, but all of their neighbors also have weak gun laws,” Knight said. “So, we actually don’t see Texas as being responsible for as many as you’d think they would.”

At least not domestically, that is. The trafficking of guns to Mexico is an entirely different question.

[class name=”dont_print_this”]

Patchwork of Gun Laws Assists Traffickers

CLICK TO ENLARGE
Traffic flow: Traffickers tend to move illegal guns from states with weaker gun laws (red-hued) into states with stricter gun laws (blue-shaded). (Mayors Against Illegal Guns, 2010).

[/class]

 

Sign up for the free Miller-McCune.com e-newsletter.

“Like” Miller-McCune on Facebook.

Follow Miller-McCune on Twitter.

Add Miller-McCune.com news to your site.

Subscribe to Miller-McCune

Emily Badger
Emily Badger is a freelance writer living in the Washington, D.C. area who has contributed to The New York Times, International Herald Tribune and The Christian Science Monitor. She previously covered college sports for the Orlando Sentinel and lived and reported in France.

More From Emily Badger

A weekly roundup of the best of Pacific Standard and PSmag.com, delivered straight to your inbox.

Recent Posts

December 20 • 10:28 AM

Flare-Ups

Are my emotions making me ill?


December 19 • 4:00 PM

How a Drug Policy Reform Organization Thinks of the Children

This valuable, newly updated resource for parents is based in the real world.


December 19 • 2:00 PM

Where Did the Ouija Board Come From?

It wasn’t just a toy.


December 19 • 12:00 PM

Social Scientists Can Do More to Eradicate Racial Oppression

Using our knowledge of social systems, all social scientists—black or white, race scholar or not—have an opportunity to challenge white privilege.


December 19 • 10:17 AM

How Scientists Contribute to Bad Science Reporting

By not taking university press officers and research press releases seriously, scientists are often complicit in the media falsehoods they so often deride.


December 19 • 10:00 AM

Pentecostalism in West Africa: A Boon or Barrier to Disease?

How has Ghana stayed Ebola-free despite being at high risk for infection? A look at their American-style Pentecostalism, a religion that threatens to do more harm than good.


December 19 • 8:00 AM

Don’t Text and Drive—Especially If You’re Old

A new study shows that texting while driving becomes even more dangerous with age.


December 19 • 6:12 AM

All That ‘Call of Duty’ With Your Friends Has Not Made You a More Violent Person

But all that solo Call of Duty has.


December 19 • 4:00 AM

Food for Thought: WIC Works

New research finds participation in the federal WIC program, which subsidizes healthy foods for young children, is linked with stronger cognitive development and higher test scores.


December 18 • 4:00 PM

How I Navigated Life as a Newly Sober Mom

Saying “no” to my kids was harder than saying “no” to alcohol. But for their sake and mine, I had to learn to put myself first sometimes.


December 18 • 2:00 PM

Women in Apocalyptic Fiction Shaving Their Armpits

Because our interest in realism apparently only goes so far.


December 18 • 12:00 PM

The Paradox of Choice, 10 Years Later

Paul Hiebert talks to psychologist Barry Schwartz about how modern trends—social media, FOMO, customer review sites—fit in with arguments he made a decade ago in his highly influential book, The Paradox of Choice: Why More Is Less.


December 18 • 10:00 AM

What It’s Like to Spend a Few Hours in the Church of Scientology

Wrestling with thetans, attempting to unlock a memory bank, and a personality test seemingly aimed at people with depression. This is Scientology’s “dissemination drill” for potential new members.


December 18 • 8:00 AM

Gendering #BlackLivesMatter: A Feminist Perspective

Black men are stereotyped as violent, while black women are rendered invisible. Here’s why the gendering of black lives matters.


December 18 • 7:06 AM

Apparently You Can Bring Your Religion to Work

New research says offices that encourage talk of religion actually make for happier workplaces.


December 18 • 6:00 AM

The Very Weak and Complicated Links Between Mental Illness and Gun Violence

Vanderbilt University’s Jonathan Metzl and Kenneth MacLeish address our anxieties and correct our assumptions.


December 18 • 4:00 AM

Should Movies Be Rated RD for Reckless Driving?

A new study finds a link between watching films featuring reckless driving and engaging in similar behavior years later.


December 17 • 4:00 PM

How to Run a Drug Dealing Network in Prison

People tend not to hear about the prison drug dealing operations that succeed. Substance.com asks a veteran of the game to explain his system.


December 17 • 2:00 PM

Gender Segregation of Toys Is on the Rise

Charting the use of “toys for boys” and “toys for girls” in American English.


December 17 • 12:41 PM

Why the College Football Playoff Is Terrible But Better Than Before

The sample size is still embarrassingly small, but at least there’s less room for the availability cascade.


December 17 • 11:06 AM

Canadian Kids Have a Serious Smoking Problem

Bootleg cigarette sales could be leading Canadian teens to more serious drugs, a recent study finds.


December 17 • 10:37 AM

A Public Lynching in Sproul Plaza

When photographs of lynching victims showed up on a hallowed site of democracy in action, a provocation was issued—but to whom, by whom, and why?


December 17 • 8:00 AM

What Was the Job?

This was the year the job broke, the year we accepted a re-interpretation of its fundamental bargain and bought in to the push to get us to all work for ourselves rather than each other.


December 17 • 6:00 AM

White Kids Will Be Kids

Even the “good” kids—bound for college, upwardly mobile—sometimes break the law. The difference? They don’t have much to fear. A professor of race and social movements reflects on her teenage years and faces some uncomfortable realities.



Follow us


Don’t Text and Drive—Especially If You’re Old

A new study shows that texting while driving becomes even more dangerous with age.

Apparently You Can Bring Your Religion to Work

New research says offices that encourage talk of religion actually make for happier workplaces.

Canadian Kids Have a Serious Smoking Problem

Bootleg cigarette sales could be leading Canadian teens to more serious drugs, a recent study finds.

The Hidden Psychology of the Home Ref

That old myth of home field bias isn’t a myth at all; it’s a statistical fact.

The Big One

One in two United States senators and two in five House members who left office between 1998 and 2004 became lobbyists. November/December 2014

Copyright © 2014 by Pacific Standard and The Miller-McCune Center for Research, Media, and Public Policy. All Rights Reserved.