Gun Control

Biden's Gun Control Plans Won't Do Much To Address Surging Homicides

Cracking down on "rogue gun dealers" and enforcing background checks won't stop criminals from arming themselves.

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The anti-crime agenda that President Joe Biden announced yesterday is heavy on gun control measures that cannot reasonably be expected to have a substantial impact on surging homicide rates. In particular, the benefits of cracking down on "rogue gun dealers" are bound to be slight, since only a small percentage of criminals buy firearms from federally licensed retailers.

Under the Biden administration's new "zero tolerance" policy, gun dealers who "willfully" violate federal law will automatically lose their licenses "absent extraordinary circumstances." That includes dealers who "willfully violate the law by failing to conduct required background checks, falsifying records, failing to respond to trace requests, refusing to permit ATF [the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives] to conduct inspections, or transferring firearms to persons who are prohibited from owning them."

One glaring problem with that plan: According to a 2019 report from the Bureau of Justice Statistics (BJS), just 7 percent of criminals who use guns buy them "under their own name from a licensed firearm dealer." Furthermore, such transactions are legal as long as the buyer is not disqualified from owning guns. A licensed dealer who sells a gun to someone who does not yet have a felony record, even if that person later uses the gun to commit a crime, is not violating federal law, let alone doing so "willfully."

A dealer is violating federal law if he fails to conduct a background check or if he knowingly sells a firearm to someone who is legally disqualified. But even assuming the Biden administration's new policy deters the "rogue gun dealers" who deliberately sell firearms to illegal buyers, people with felony records can always enlist people with clean records to buy guns for them. While such straw purchases are illegal, the dealer is willfully violating the law only if he knows that the buyer is acting on behalf of someone else.

In any event, the "zero tolerance" initiative will have no impact at all on the vast majority of guns used in crimes—something like 93 percent, according to the BJS study, which was based on a 2016 survey of prison inmates. The survey found that 43 percent of inmates who had used a gun obtained it "off the street or from the underground market," 25 percent got it "from a family member or friend, or as a gift," 7 percent "found it at the scene of the crime," and 6 percent stole it.

The Biden administration plans to attack the underground market through "multijurisdictional firearms trafficking strike forces." That attempt to prevent illegal gun sales probably will be about as effective as the government's efforts to prevent illegal drug sales. With hundreds of millions of guns already in circulation, there will be far more than enough to supply every criminal in America even if the feds manage to snatch a few of them.

Biden wants to "strengthen our gun background check system" by expanding it to cover private sales, which would require new legislation. Needless to say, underground dealers who specialize in serving illegal gun buyers are unlikely to follow that requirement. So are millions of otherwise law-abiding Americans who simply want to sell a gun or two without the hassle and expense of going through a licensed dealer so a background check can be completed. The experience of states that already notionally require background checks for all gun transfers suggests that compliance would be the exception rather than the rule.

Biden claims "we know that if there is a strict enforcement of background checks, then fewer guns get into the hands of criminals." Based on blocked purchases, he says background checks "have thus far kept more than 3 million guns out of the hands of…convicted felons, fugitives, domestic abusers, and others prohibited from being able to purchase a gun." But the categories of prohibited gun buyers are absurdly broad, encompassing millions of Americans who have never demonstrated any violent tendencies. And judging from what typically happens after a purchase is blocked, few rejected buyers pose serious threats to public safety.

According to a 2018 report from the Government Accountability Office (GAO), background checks "resulted in about 112,000 denied transactions in fiscal year 2017." Someone who tries to buy a gun even though he knows he is not legally allowed to own one is attempting a felony. If he lies on the ATF form that people have to fill out when they buy guns from federally licensed dealers, that's another felony. But in fiscal year 2017, the GAO reported, the ATF thought just 12,700 of those 112,000 blocked buyers were worth investigating, and U.S. attorney's offices had prosecuted only 12 of them as of June 2018. Justice Department officials told the GAO "prosecuting denial cases can require significant effort and may offer little value to public safety compared to other cases involving gun violence" (emphasis added).

2004 report from the Justice Department's  inspector general sheds further light on the sort of gun buyers who are typically flagged by background checks. If the FBI cannot complete a background check within three business days, the dealer is allowed to complete the sale, so the ATF is sometimes tasked with seizing guns after the fact from people who are not legally allowed to own them. The inspector general noted that there were often delays in retrieving weapons from prohibited buyers, partly because "ATF special agents did not consider most of the prohibited persons who had obtained guns to be dangerous and therefore did not consider it a priority to retrieve the firearm promptly" (emphasis added).

Presumably some would-be gun buyers who fail background checks plan to use the weapon for criminal purposes. But contrary to what Biden seems to think, stopping someone from buying a firearm at a gun store is not the same as preventing him from obtaining one, as the data on sources of crime guns demonstrate.

The "assault weapon" ban that Biden once again urged Congress to pass is even less plausible as a response to rising homicides. The firearms covered by such laws account for a tiny fraction of the guns used in homicides, and there are plenty of equally lethal alternatives, as Biden himself has conceded.

Biden also mentioned banning "high-capacity magazines," meaning magazines that hold more than 10 rounds, which come standard with many of the most popular handguns and rifles sold in the United States. He obscured that point by saying "there's no possible justification for having 100 rounds in a magazine." In practice, the real issue is whether standard-capacity magazines holding, say, 12, 15, or 20 rounds are useful in some self-defense situations. The current and retired police officers who always insist that they be exempt from state restrictions on magazine capacity certainly seem to think so.

Biden is not even willing to acknowledge that the Second Amendment has anything to do with self-defense. "No one needs to have a weapon that can fire over 30, 40, 50, even up to 100 rounds unless you think the deer are wearing Kevlar vests or something," he said. Biden thought that comment was so clever that he repeated it: "Like I've said before: What do you think, the deer are wearing Kevlar vests?"

Biden's lame joke is of a piece with his previous remarks about legitimate gun use, which suggest he thinks the Second Amendment is mainly about hunting rather than the fundamental right to armed self-defense. That misconception makes it hard to give him the benefit of the doubt when he touts new gun controls that have little or nothing to do with the problems he claims to be addressing.

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  1. Good piece, Sullum. Stick to guns and drugs.

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  2. The only impact he’s trying to have is making life harder on people who want to exercise a civil liberty he disapproves of.

    1. That’s how all communist revolutions start.

      1. The greatest threat guns pose to humans is . . .suicide. PEW reports in 2019 39, 776 people died from gun related injuries and 60% of those were self-inflicted gun-shots.

        So it goes.

        https://www.pewresearch.org/fact-tank/2019/08/16/what-the-data-says-about-gun-deaths-in-the-u-s/

        1. And you only need one bullet for those, no detachable magazine required.

          Problem is when a politician or reporter conflates all of the numbers [suicides, homicides, accidents; all of which pose very different problems and solutions] as one big “gun violence epidemic” trope and then focuses on banning what they don’t like.

  3. I was talking to one of the employees at the local gun store here a week or so ago, and she mentioned that the local ATF guys never want to come out and examine their paperwork to make sure they’re being compliant.

    Why? Because due to the sheer number of guns they sell and the fact that the ATF will only send one agent to do the review, it would take that agent a month to review a week’s worth of paperwork. It’s literally impossible for them to actually keep the gun store honest, the paperwork comes in much faster than it can be checked. They do some spot checks, get bored of staring at paperwork and then presumably go back to burning children alive or selling weapons to Mexican cartels.

    I’m not advocating for more ATF agents, just pointing out that Biden’s plans as they relate to checking up on gun stores don’t make a lick of sense given the current market conditions and ATF staffing levels. I know, I’m as surprised as the rest of you that he hasn’t thought this out.

  4. “…which suggest he thinks the Second Amendment is mainly about hunting rather than the fundamental right to armed self-defense.”

    His comments about nuclear weapons and F-15s suggests otherwise.

    1. I think hunting deer with nuclear weapons might be going a bit too far.

      1. “Biden thought that comment was so clever that he repeated it: “Like I’ve said before: What do you think, the deer are wearing Kevlar vests?””

        Thereby demonstrating that Biden doesn’t know that godsdamned near every rifle round ever will punch right through a Kevlar vest. Or what he had for breakfast.

        1. Biden knows what he had for breakfast. It may be from today, or from 1982, but he knows.

        2. That lame ass joke wasn’t funny 30 years ago, and it sure as shit hasn’t improved with age.

        3. Probably shouldn’t be hunting with ball ammo, but the deer wearing kevlar might actually benefit you in that situation. Get some nice expansion before it gets to the meaty bits.

    2. The fundamental right to self defense against an oppressive government.

  5. he thinks the Second Amendment is mainly about hunting rather than the fundamental right to armed self-defense

    That explains why Biden’s Secret Service detail all carry .30-06’s.

    1. I gotta say that’s pretty impressive. Do they go old school with the M1 Garand or new school “assault weapon” style?

      https://onlylongrange.com/bn36x3-long-range-270-25-06-30-06/

  6. Did Biden imply that the government would defend itself from an armed revolt with the use of nuclear weapons? Maybe it was a joke, but it seems in poor taste, and something you’d expect to hear people criticize just a bit.

    1. He said an armed revolt wasn’t going to overthrow a country with F-15s and nuclear weapons.

      Eric Swalwell, however, suggested that flyover country could be nuked in the name of gun control.

      1. Well, the Soviet Union had fighter jets and nuclear weapons too…

        1. And that did them exactly how much good against the Afghans? How did our jets and nukes do there? Do you seriously think Biden and US generals would do worse against the American populace than they were willing to do against them? Do you seriously think they’re going to carpet bomb US cities? Exactly how fucking retarded are you.

          1. I believe that he’s suggesting that in spite of these weapons, the USSR still fell apart.

            Please don’t make me defend Jeff again. It makes me feel cheap and dirty.

            1. Lol. I’m glad you did it. I couldn’t, but you’re right.

          2. It’s pretty clear that Democrats hate Republicans with near murderous intent…so yeah.

            If the Democrats could get away with it, they would send the military to search and confiscate (and kill) anyone owning a gun.

            Look at what the January 6th protesters have been put through. They’d like to do that with every non-Democrat voter.

            1. I disagree with your use of the term “near” but otherwise … +1.

        2. Most of the military will refuse to follow unlawful orders. The military also has zero police powers, outside of their own personnel.

          1. Except the military is now being taught with Critical Race Theory, that white people are irredeemably evil

          2. And those who may conscientiously not follow orders will be purged until the only ones left are the corrupt ones. Kinda like what’s happening in blue city police departments.

      2. And as I said at the time, if you can find me even *one* Air Force captain willing to drop a *nuke* on an American city I’ll eat my hat. I’m going to specify “current” Air Force captain, because gods only know who they’ll start putting in the seat.

        1. It’s a B.S. question. They like to talk big but after 2 decades of muddling in Afghanistan and losing it’s pretty safe to say since they haven’t nuked the Taliban they aren’t nuking any tabernacle choir regardless of how many AKs or ARs they have.

          They talk big but, I hope, they know full well that if the US uses nukes inside the US it’s an invitation for China, North Korea, or Russia to pile on because there’d be no reason not to come to our aid with additional nukes. It’s so far beyond anything one could call a suicide pact that speaking of it can only show exactly how insane they are.

        2. I’m sure one of the new woke recruits would be happy to drop a nuke on deplorables via the drone she’s controlling.

    2. Imagine if Trump had told that joke.

      1. Trump, “I Will Nuke Entire Nation.”

        That would be a headline.

        1. “I love Nuke York”

      2. Glowing orange man bad

        1. Orange Hulk?

      3. Reagan did and the left had a complete melt down.

        1. Hot mike moment; he said “the bombing of the USSR will start momentarily” or something to that effect.

          I used to think if only the threat of the Soviet Union could be nullified, how great everything would be. Damn I was naive.

    3. It’s a pretty common comment from people who are full of shit when someone makes the point that the second amendment is in part about defending against a tyrannical government. And it’s always stupid for all the reasons everyone has already mentioned, plus one more. Even if it were a lost cause for an armed insurgency to stand up to the US military (which the last 20 years have shown us not to be the case), are people just supposed to give in any let tyranny blossom because it might be hard to fight it?

      1. But Zeb, it’s the only clap back they have. They know “we’ve got nukes” isn’t a real thing because it fundamentally says we’re prepared to commit national suicide by using nukes in our own country. We all also know that if we did there are several other countries who would be lining up to help us commit national suicide.

        Imagine Who-Ya Momma Been Layin’ realizing that all he needed to do was get an anti-gun authoritarian elected president and saving all the effort of training people to crash planes into the World Trade Center. He’d feel pretty silly if he knew he could get us to destroy ourselves. Sadly, he still might assuming he made it to some afterlife.

  7. While we’re on the subject.
    Fist this morning expressed a desire that gun ownership should be more widespread. Is that a common sentiment by most people here? How much more widespread do you think it ought to be?

    By point of reference, about 42% of households have a gun in the house right now, and that seems to be more or less steady for the past 50 years or so.

    https://www.statista.com/statistics/249740/percentage-of-households-in-the-united-states-owning-a-firearm/

    1. I think his comment was more specifically about carrying a weapon, but both are probably worth addressing.
      I wouldn’t say there is a number there should be. If someone wants a gun, they should be able to have one. If they don’t then they don’t have to. I’d be happy to see the number go above 50% of households. The more widespread private gun ownership is, the more politically difficult it is to try to end it.
      I’m all for more people carrying too. And for removing permit requirements. There are many places where lots of people legally carry, and those places are not hotspots of people flying off the handle and shooting each other (though such things can and will occasionally happen because people are people).

      1. I’d like for it not to be a federal crime for truckers to carry firearms. Like, not even getting into the bullshit mishmash of laws you’d run into going from state to state, it definitely shouldn’t be a *federal* crime.

      2. I would like all my neighbors to have guns. And for them to think that I have them.

        1. I think that all of my neighbors do have guns. I am pretty sure about 90%, but there is one retired woman, several doors down who may not. She is also the only house w/o a pickup – but that is because her brother, a mile or two away, has a construction company, which means that she can borrow one when necessary.

      3. Yes, I was referring to normalizing carrying.

    2. By point of reference, about 42% of households that admit to having a gun in the house right now, and that seems to be more or less steady for the past 50 years or so.

      Fixed that for you. There are a large number of gun owners that are going to tell anyone calling up and asking them if they own guns to go pound sand. Putting aside people being paranoid about the government putting them on a list or whatever, a lot of people think it’s a bad idea to tell a random stranger that you have something valuable in your home…

  8. “That attempt to prevent illegal gun sales probably will be about as effective as the government’s efforts to prevent illegal drug sales.”

    So, in 50 years guns will be nigh ubiquitous and ten times as powerful?

    Man, I’m kinda sad I’ll be too old by then to enjoy *that*!

    1. That would be a phased plasma rifle in the 40-watt range. I’ll be back.

      1. Hey. Just what you see pal.

  9. Thankfully, the government agent that murdered Ashli Babbitt did not use a nuclear weapon.

    1. Or even an “assault weapon”, except maybe under CA law. It very much looks like he used a handgun instead.

  10. Just ignore Biden and anyone who pushes for gun control. When they are ready to discuss people and how they behave, then we can listen.

  11. They should tax the fuck out of bullets and guns to pay for infrastructure. You guys would go crazy!!!!

    1. Because the USSC hasn’t already ruled on that.

    2. Thanks for admitting this isn’t about crime.

    3. Nice to see the writer of the bad article chiming in here.

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  13. The one thing that would actually help is to end drug prohibition. The Dems won’t even legalize weed. Buncha posers!

    1. Mentioning the stupid deer with Kevlar joke was good. But this was also the same speech where Biden butchered Jeffersons “tree of liberty” quote and admitted the first thing that comes to his mind when people don’t comply with his gun control is to bring out the nukes and warplanes. The same guy who’s been saying a bunch of unarmed grandma’s and 40 year old man children nearly overturned the US system of government by entering the Capitol on Jun 6 is saying “you can’t take us unless you’ve got F-15s and nukes.”

      1. Not only did he do that, this was a prepared speech. He and his handlers thought “I dunno, threaten to nuke them” was the best way to approach the subject.

        I’d say this was unpresidential and divisive, but I’m not sure Biden is orange enough for those adjectives to apply.

  14. Mentioning the stupid deer with Kevlar joke was good. But this was also the same speech where Biden butchered Jeffersons “tree of liberty” quote and admitted the first thing that comes to his mind when people don’t comply with his gun control is to bring out the nukes and warplanes. The same guy who’s been saying a bunch of unarmed grandma’s and 40 year old man children nearly overturned the US system of government by entering the Capitol on Jun 6 is saying “you can’t take us unless you’ve got F-15s and nukes.”

  15. “The Biden administration plans to attack the underground market through ‘multijurisdictional firearms trafficking strike forces.'”

    Do you hear yourself, Joe. Fascists gotta fasc.

  16. Tyrants don’t like an ‘armed’ citizenry. That’s exactly why Democrats who *LOVE* pointing their Gov-Guns at citizenry also love disarming them. Nothing is more scary to a tyrannical gun-totter than meeting a ‘normal’ person with a gun. It throws off their delusions of COMPLETE CONTROL and self-empowerment.

    1. Look up “The gun is civilization”. Very solid explanation of this idea.

      If you intend to deal with people using reason, it doesn’t matter to you whether or not those people are armed. Your arguments and ideas as just as effective regardless of how armed the other person is.

      If you intend to deal with people via violence, it certainly matters if they are armed. Your decision to become violent takes on much different risks when they can shoot back.

      As someone who has never committed a violent crime, there is no legitimate reason to fear my armaments. I’m forced to assume the people who want to disarm me fall into the category of people who intend to get violent with me.

  17. This leaves me wondering, if Biden really is as obtuse as he sounds, or if he is just trying to play a lame game, part of which is acting dumb so he can engage in promos like “are the deer wearing Kevlar?” Because his loyal audience eats that nonsense up as if it were a delicious gruel, and reporters will copy it into their headlines knowing that their audience have no idea as to what the 2A is actually about; it and its adherents are just getting in a way of utopia. If all the guns could be taken away we would live happily in peace ever after.

  18. Targeting gun stores shows he does not mean to stop “gun violence”.
    If he wanted to really stop homicide by gun, he would target the drug markets of the inner cities.
    But that would disproportionally affect minorities.

    What he really wants is to disarm the citizens.
    So they cannot resist the truly oppressive ideas his handlers are planning

    1. It wouldn’t even take arresting them, just end the war on drugs and the incentive to get violent with one another goes away. CVS and Walgreens do not get in gun fights over ibuprofen territory.

      What they decide to do once a bunch of legitimate businessmen eat their lunch at the drug trade remains to be seen, it’s possible they find other reasons to shoot each other, but at least you’ve taken away one reason.

  19. According to a 2018 report from the Government Accountability Office (GAO), background checks “resulted in about 112,000 denied transactions in fiscal year 2017.” Someone who tries to buy a gun even though he knows he is not legally allowed to own one is attempting a felony. If he lies on the ATF form that people have to fill out when they buy guns from federally licensed dealers, that’s another felony. But in fiscal year 2017, the GAO reported, the ATF thought just 12,700 of those 112,000 blocked buyers were worth investigating, and U.S. attorney’s offices had prosecuted only 12 of them as of June 2018. Justice Department officials told the GAO “prosecuting denial cases can require significant effort and may offer little value to public safety compared to other cases involving gun violence” (emphasis added).

    One of the overall problems is that our current gun laws aren’t being enforced. Police catch a felon with a gun, and that is a federal and typically state felony (at least in AZ, it is, unsurprisingly, “Felon In Possession” or FIP). It is almost never prosecuted at the federal level. The obvious question is, if the DOJ isn’t prosecuting more than a tiny fraction Of the slam dunk cases dumped in their laps, then why do they think that more gun laws would reduce gun violence?

    1. Joe Biden personally knows somebody who has quite explicitly violated gun laws and is making no moves to punish him.

      Again, the violations are quite undeniable. Yet, legal system seems uninterested. Odd.

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