Gun Poor

Does gun control discriminate against the poor?


Saturday night specials aren't just tools for mayhem on the cheap. And laws targeting them might just violate the Equal Protection Clause of the Constitution, says a recent study from the Journal of Criminal Law and Criminology.

At least four states–Illinois, South Carolina, Minnesota, and Hawaii–enforce "melting point" laws, which ban guns with low melting points. It may seem curious for states to be concerned with metallurgical trivia, but guns with low-melting point metals tend to be cheaper.

Why target cheap guns with such laws? The states' rationales include that those guns aren't useful for sportsmen; that they pose particular problems for ballistics experts; and that melting-point laws reduce criminals' access to guns.

The article written by T. Markus Funk, casts doubts on all those reasons. Self-defense, not sport, is the main reason a poor person, generally disproportionately victimized by crime, would want a gun. The distinct marks defining a bullet as having come from a particular gun are more present in cheaper guns, which have more of the irregularities that mark bullets uniquely. And criminals tend to get most of their weapons from black markets anyway. The Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms estimates that in violent crimes committed with guns, 93 percent of those guns were acquired illegally.

Melting-point laws' only effect seems to be to keep guns out of the hands of the law-abiding poor. "The historical background of…melting-point laws, the apparent lack of rational justification for the laws, and the laws' ultimate effect of making handguns less accessible to the poor lends…potency to the argument that the passage of melting-point laws was motivated…by…improper discriminatory considerations," Funk writes.