In my opinion, this suggestion is sooner introduced to help keep guns on the streets than get them off them, because the latter is probably the only alternative. You can’t just mark all 240.000.000 guns out there so that you can trace them back, but the bullets are supposed to have a higher replacement rate than the guns. Also, having to mess with each and every single bullet is a lot more work making the illegal use of bullets more costly and inconvenient, and a lot more bullets are left behind as evidence than guns.
That said, I’ve no idea if it will work. But I can understand the motives for them, and they’re not necessarily let’s make life harder for our law-abiding gun-owners.
Consider the in-depth analysis of illegal gun distribution, below.
Based on the evidence currently available, organized high-volume gun trafficking appears to account for a few percent of the guns acquired by criminals, and this modest flow of guns may well be largely concentrated in only a few cities with unusually strict gun control, such as New York City, Washington, DC, and Boston. Criminals do not typically get guns from people in the business (even the part-time business) of illegally selling guns, but rather buy them from family, friends, and acquaintances, or steal them, while about 16% of adult criminals obtain their guns via a purchase from a licensed retail dealer (Wright and Rossi 1986, p. 185).
Equally important, surveys of gun criminals have consistently indicated that, among both adults and juveniles, multiple sources of guns were typically available to any one offender. For example, data from a survey by Sheley and Wright (1995) of juvenile inmates indicated that an average of three sources of guns were identified as certain or probable sources from which the offenders could obtain guns (computed from data on p. 47). These authors noted that “most respondents felt there were numerous ways that they might obtain a firearm” (p. 46). Thus, shutting down one source would not imply a given criminal would be unable to acquire a gun. In reply to the question “Where do criminals get their guns?,” one reasonable response would be: “everywhere.” The sources of guns are numerous, diverse, and diffuse, a state of affairs that should not be surprising in a nation with over 240 million guns circulating in private hands (Kleck 1997, p. 97), at least 750,000 of which are stolen each year.
Criminals obtain guns, then, primarily by way of unrecorded, one-at-a-time transfers, some legal, some not, from people not in the illegal gun trafficking business. A prototypical chain of possession of a gun that eventually is used to commit a crime, consistent with existing evidence, would be as follows: a gun is produced by a licensed manufacturer, who sells it to a licensed distributor, who sells it to a legitimate licensed retail gun dealer, who then sells it to a legally qualified buyer. At some later point in time, perhaps after a few sales or trades among private parties, the gun is stolen, most commonly from the residence of its owner, by a burglar who (perhaps illegally) sells it to a friend, who later (perhaps after a few more unrecorded private transfers) commits a crime with it.
As far as one can tell from the admittedly limited evidence currently available, organized trafficking of guns, whether intrastate or interstate, whether from the Southeast to the urban Northeast or elsewhere, accounts for no more than a tiny share of the guns obtained by criminals. Consequently, enforcement efforts aimed at locating high volume dealers appear to be [Page 43] directed at individuals who are rare (and non-existent in many places), easily replaced, and not especially important as criminal gun
suppliers in any but a handful of unusual locales. On the other hand, enforcement efforts aimed at the far more numerous (and even more easily replaced) individuals who occasionally sell small numbers of guns are not cost effective. This suggests that the supply-side strategy in gun control needs to be reconsidered, just as its counterpart in drug control is being reconsidered.[Page 44]
- School of Criminology and Criminal Justice Florida State University, Tallahassee, Florida 32306-1127.