Where do illegal firearms come from?

After every public shooting, there’s a cry for gun control; after every cry for gun control, anti-gun control persons say “but the firearm was illegal anyway! Another law won’t help!”

I don’t understand that response. Illegal firearms were all legal once, unless there’s a still somewhere down south of which I’m unaware. Several gun manufacturers were found liable recently in a civil case in which the plaintiffs (the family of people killed by guns) were able to demonstrate that those manufacturers marketed firearms to and flooded markets in states with weak gun laws, knowing that those states are the main supply points for firearms dealers who purchase legally and sell illegally in states with stronger gun laws. I can go to Louisiana, purchase ten pistols with cash and a false name at a gun show, drive to New York and sell them illegally and untraceably for at least double what I paid.

How else are legal guns made illegal? I doubt that theft accounts for any great portion (though I could be wrong).

Ineffective gun control laws are useless and harmful. But if effective gun registration laws were in place that made the conversion from legal to illegal difficult, if not impossible, wouldn’t the supply of illegal firearms dry up?

I knew people in Canada who owned automatic weapons legally: they’d gone to the trouble of getting the required permits. Stringent registration means only that the black market in guns will be put out, not that ownership of heavy artillery is impossible.

Does anyone have any real statistics on the sources of illegal firearms?

Any illegal firearms manufacturer.

It’s the lawmakers who make 'em illegal – weapons aren’t in and of themselves illegal.

I’m not sure I understand that. Yes, it’s the lawmakers who make them illegal. How do they get onto the streets? Are manufacturers of illegal firearms selling them out of the CEO’s trunk? Is there another way besides buying them legally and at some point selling them illegally?

I was making the point that any firearm is potentially illegal.

Certain firearms are legal and illegal. Toting an Uzi would be perfectly legal if you were in the Mossad. Guarding a crack house in Queens with an Uzi is illegal.

They ways that a firearm can make the transition from legal to illegal are many and widely varied.

Now if you had a specific weapon in mind, in certain jurisdiction, used for a specific purpose, the TM may be able to assist you. Your question is too vague and lends itself to numerous interpretations.

A law cannot “make something difficult”. All it can do is punish action after it happens. For instance, it is currently illegal for me to run over pedestrians with my car. But the ease with which I can do that is not affected by the law, only the punishment I might receive afterwords is. So it’s definately a good thing that I don’t want to run anybody over, and wouldn’t do so even if there were no laws about it at all.

Also, we’re not dealing with advanced technology here. It is well within the ability of many individuals to make a working firearm and kill somebody with it, all the laws in the world notwithstanding. So everything is really much better when people don’t want do things like that. Gun laws don’t make us safer; if nothing else, they disarm victims but not criminals. Having fewer homicidal maniacs makes us safer.

peas on earth

I’m sorry, Chief Bear: I made the (unjustified) assumption that an American context was implicit in my question.

Specifically, my question is about the major sources of illegal firearms in the U.S. It’s been demonstrated in court that conversion of legal firearms to illegal is a major source: bought locally and legally, sold locally and illegally. To the same extent that this is a source of illegal guns, stringent and effective gun registration laws would hamper that conversion. The more of a paper trail I have to leave when I buy a gun, the more risky it is to sell that gun illegally, with a corresponding drop in the supply of illegal guns, I suspect.

Bantmof, a law can make something more difficult. It’ll be harder to buy an illegal gun if fewer people are willing to risk selling them because they can’t get them without a background check, three pieces of verified ID, and triplicate copies of the bill of sale with the gun’s serial number going to every law enforcement agency. As for driving over pedestrians, the law against doing so does inhibit some from doing so. If you doubt that, imagine the effects of repealing laws against vehicular homicide.

How many guns used in crimes are handmade? No law or agency will ever stop a really determined psycho from going on a spree, and in Canada, homicides occur from baseball bats and knives, instead of guns. That doesn’t mean that inhibitory laws won’t cut down on the instances of gun violence. If I could have 50% fewer gun deaths by passing some laws, I’d take it. Who wouldn’t?

We’d be safest if no one ever wanted to kill anyone. Nonetheless, it happens. That doesn’t mean that attempts to prevent or inhibit violence are wrongheaded.

I understand that the last time major gun control legislation was about to be passed, the gun manufacturers knowing it would pass stockpiled. Since it was illegal to make them AFTER the bill passed they could still sell them as they were made before the ban. Also I understand there is only a few differences between most illegal firearms and most legal ones so that you can change this and that and one two three a legal firearm is illegal and more deadly.

      • The problem with gun control legislation is that it has been a piecemeal effort based on high-profile incidents, usually with unintended consequences and often failing to address the original problem effectively. Some persons have a tendency to confuse “preventing destructive behaviour” with simply “passing some laws this year”. I for one wouldn’t argue with new gun control laws, if the government had to eliminate an old law for every new one enacted. After all, the purpose of gun control is to stop people who would be murderers, not simply to get rid of all guns. This world has had weapons as long as it has been civilized; I doubt any law will change that. - MC

When they say “the gun was illegal anyway”, they mean “the gun was obtained illegally anyway.” In other words, the political response to shootings is often to place more legal restrictions on the acquisition of guns. However, the existing legal restrictions had been violated by the shooter. If existing restrictions had been strictly enforced, the shooter wouldn’t have gotten the gun. So (in the opinion of the NRA) why pile on more restrictions that won’t be adequately enforced? First enforce the ones we’ve got, and watch how that reduces shootings!

Chaim Mattis Keller

“Sherlock Holmes once said that once you have eliminated the
impossible, whatever remains, however improbable, must be
the answer. I, however, do not like to eliminate the impossible.
The impossible often has a kind of integrity to it that the merely improbable lacks.”
– Douglas Adams’s Dirk Gently, Holistic Detective

This is all getting away from the original question, and that’s partly my fault.

Does anyone have real, statistical information on the sources of illegal firearms in the U.S.?

Any thoughts, Mr. Heston?

in regards to

whoops. sorry 'bout that folks.

in regards to Markxxx comment about gun makers mass-manufacturing soon-to-be-illegal guns so as to have a stockpile from which they can legally sell after legislation is passed, i know that this is used as an illegal method as well.

the best example that comes to mind actually deals with ammunition. apparently, some cop-killer type bullets are, similar to the aforementioned guns, legal if manufactured before a certain date. so companies will manufacture them in 1999, but sell them with the claim that they were made in 1988 (or whenever). this same trick is used with guns. i build an uzi (which i’m assuming is illegal for private citizens to own in the US of A) in my private shop today, which would be illegal for me to sell to you. however, i go to the gun show with faked documents saying it was made 10 years ago, and sell it easy as pie.

(the best source i can give is NPR, fairly certain there was also a piece in the Economist)

      • I have never heard of guns being stockpiled before a legislative restriction, but I don’t know that it never happened. Many small arms companies do short high-volume production runs anyway, because they only have enough equipment to produce one model at a time. I do know that high-capacity magazines were produced at an accellerated rate before the ban, but in this instance it’s kind of a silly law because magazines don’t have to carry manufacture dates anyway, so there’s no way to tell when any magazine was manufactured short of catching someone in the act of making it. Even if they had required magazines to be stamped with production dates, then you’d need a gov’t. registration base to keep record of all that production (which would cost money to do), and there are still several hundred million old, unstamped magazines floating around in the hands of the public anyway. You see, no easy solutions.
  • I read that the company that produced the Street Sweeper (a compact revolver-type shotgun) did so at a faster rate than other weapons because they felt that it would be banned somehow, but only about 120,000 were made - small potatoes, really. And the guns themselves were low quality and clumsy to use - the military and police didn’t express any interest. Production had pretty much fallen off before than actual effective date of manufacture because not many people wanted them anyway. There’s a South African shotgun that was (still is?) available - almost identical but better made, costing five times the Street Sweeper’s original price.
  • It’s the same story with steel-core armor-piercing ammunition. I don’t exactly know now if it’s illegal to posess or not nowadays - military ammo used to be very common at gun shows a few years back, but now it’s relatively rare. Buying it from somebody else might be difficult, but if you have bullet swaging equipment (which you can buy for $500-600) you can make most any kind of steel-core armor-piercing ammo in any caliber you want very easily. In other words, banning armor-piercing ammo is only keeping it out of the hands of people who weren’t very interested in getting it anyway. - MC

I understand that, aside from illegal gun manufacture, some paramilitary organizations actually STEAL guns from the Armed Forces–which must take considerable planning, not to mention lots of chutzpah.

They come from middlemen. Most illegal guns are new guns.

I think on point has been miss stated and overlooked. Illegal guns are already there and their not going any where. Hansel asked “wouldn’t the supply of illegal firearms dry up?”. No guns are not perishable and they simply keep redistributing themselves. I doubt that the bulk of crimes occur with new weapons, most new weapons are bought to protect homes, and to be stock piled by survivalists. Now these weapons inevitably will be used by idiots in high profile places, but they don’t make up a significant portion of the gun violence in the country. I am not anti-gun laws, but writing new ones would be useless and dangerous. If guns were outlawed all that would happen is that the current guns in circulation would become a black market good that will foster organized crime just like prohibition, and drug wars. I think better gun tracking is smart, and there is no good arguement as to why one would oppose controlling gun show sales and making retailers keep active enforced online tracking of the guns sold and held in stock. If we can find out where the majority of guns are at anytime then we will greatly reduce the likely hood of guns being distributed by middle men, and phony stolen weapons. Increasing waiting periods, and banning hand guns outright is useless and likely will do more harm than good.

Just another angle on gun control legislation.
It seems most of these bills are in response to high profile cases involving psychos commiting unthinkable acts.
The powers that be come in and slap either an un-enforced law or an un-enforcable one on as a bandaid.
Now as to the practicality of gun control laws, lets say congress finds a silver bullet and all firearms disapear from the face of the earth. What is to stop said same psycho from walking into his local hardware store and emerging with the components to build some other form of mass destruction. Hell I dont recall McVeigh using a gun at all.
My take is this. Of course some regulation is required on guns, we cant sell them at candy stores. But as far as the events that inspire these laws, the law that ends up passing almost never would have prevented the crime that inspired it. Even if it were enforced.

Most streetcrimes ARE committed with guns less than 2 years old. The traditional gun manufacturers are selling as usual, but the bureau of ATF is tracking down lots of illegal dealers who don’t check papers (age, for example). So the sales of so called cheap guns from 3 California manufacturers is going down rapidly.

      • Half the problem is gun dealers that don’t follow procedure. The other half is willing participants with clean records who buy guns new, for others that can’t - “straw buyers”. I for one would like to see the straw buyer face the same penalties as the perpetrator of the actual crime, up to and including the death penalty. Some bleeding-heart groups would bitch and whine but who cares, really. Let them go to the chair in the criminal’s place, if they want. (I reeeaaally doubt they’d care that much) - MC