Confronted with Gun Laws, Criminals Get a Little Help from Their Friends

November 5, 2001

The passage of tougher gun-control laws in the 1990s may have deterred criminals from buying guns at firearms stores and flea markets. But it didn't stop them from arming themselves. They simply obtained them from family members and friends.

That is the conclusion of a report issued yesterday by the Justice Department, authored by Caroline Wolf Harlow.

  • Nearly 40 percent of state prison inmates in 1997 who used or possessed a firearm during a crime got the weapon from a friend or relative -- compared to 34 percent in 1991.
  • Over the same period, the proportion of inmates who brought or traded for their gun at a pawn shop, flea market or retail outlet fell from 21 percent to 14 percent.
  • Meanwhile, the number of state prisoners who used guns to commit their crimes rose from 16 percent to 18 percent between 1991 and 1997.
  • Federal prisoners followed the same trend, increasing their gun possession from 12 percent to 15 percent over the same period.

"What this shows is that making it harder for stores to sell guns does nothing to deter criminals from getting weapons," Jeffrey Wendell, a criminal justice professor at the University of Texas, comments.

Source: Associated Press, "Weapons Laws Alter Acquisition Patterns," Washington Times, November 5, 2001, Caaroline Wolf Harlow, "Firearm Use by Offenders," Bureau of Justice Statistics Special Report, NCJ 189369, November 2001.

 

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