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Do Gun Laws Disarm Criminals?

Although gun control advocates devote much attention to the alleged evils of guns and gun owners, they devote little attention to the particulars of devising a workable, enforceable law. Disarming criminals would be nearly impossible. There are between 100 and 140 million guns in the United States, a third of them handguns.[17] The ratio of people who commit handgun crimes each year to handguns is 1:400, that of handgun homicides to handguns is 1:3,600.[18] Because the ratio of handguns to handgun criminals is so high, the criminal supply would continue with barely an interruption. Even if 90 percent of American handguns disappeared, there would still be 40 left for every handgun criminal. In no state in the union can people with recent violent felony convictions purchase firearms. Yet the National Institute of Justice survey of prisoners, many of whom were repeat offenders, showed that 90 percent were able to obtain their last firearm within a few days. Most obtained it within a few hours. Three-quarters of the men agreed that they would have "no trouble" or "only a little trouble" obtaining a gun upon release, despite the legal barriers to such a purchase.[19]

Even if the entire American gun stock magically vanished, resupply for criminals would be easy. If small handguns were imported in the same physical volume as marijuana, 20 million would enter the country annually. (Current legal demand for new handguns is about 2.5 million a year). Bootleg gun manufacture requires no more than the tools that most Americans have in their garages. A zip gun can be made from tubing, tape, a pin, a key, whittle wood, and rubber bands. In fact, using wood fires and tools inferior to those in the Sears & Roebuck catalogue, Pakistani and Afghan peasants have been making firearms capable of firing the Russian AK-47 cartridge.[20] Bootleg ammunition is no harder to make than bootleg liquor. Although modern smokeless gunpowder is too complex for backyard production, conventional black powder is simple to manufacture.[21]
Apparently, illegal gun production is already common. A 1986 federal government study found that one-fifth of the guns seized by the police in Washington, D.C., were homemade.[22] Of course, homemade guns cannot win target-shooting contests, but they suffice for robbery purposes. Furthermore, the price of bootleg guns may even be lower than the price of the quality guns available now (just as, in prohibition days, bootleg gin often cost less than legal alcohol had).
Most police officers concur that gun control laws are ineffective. A 1986 questionnaire sent to every major police official in the country produced the following results: 97 percent believed that a firearms ownership ban would not reduce crime or keep criminals from using guns; 89 percent believed that gun control laws such as those in Chicago, Washington, D.C., and New York City had no effect on criminals; and 90 percent believed that if firearms ownership was banned, ordinary citizens would be more likely to be targets of armed violence.[23]

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