Ghost Guns And Gun Control

Once again the world has changed on us, and policy, as usual, remains several steps behind.

One solid move made by the Biden Administration has been the recognition of gun kit manufacture as a loophole in crime weapons laws and its subsequent closure. Companies like Polymer80 have been selling build-it-yourself kits without serial number stamping or tracking; i.e. ghost guns* — and doing so legally. Several thousand Polymer80 kit guns have been identified as crime guns. It’s only recently that the rule to treat kits like these as legal pistols has gone through, and even then there are ways around it — such as the 3D printing of homemade, rather than factory-produced, ghost guns.

Bearing in mind that more than 90% of the guns used in crimes don’t kill anyone, and that most aren’t even fired, it can be problematic to rely on the raw statistics shown in these reports to arrive at final conclusions. Curiously, the same numbers that tell us that almost 10% of the guns submitted for A.T.F. identification are ghost guns also reveal that more weapons are seized for the crime of being owned than were actually employed in acts of violence. It would seem that current gun control laws are working fairly well — though, as the gun kit rule demonstrates, they need fairly continual updating.

Homicides, along with violent crime of nearly every variety, spiked during the first years of the pandemic; they’re presently on the decline again. Suicide numbers are similar. Both of these are consistent global phenomena; the major difference is that gun use is more common in the United States — but not crime. This suggests that joblessness, desperation, financial catastrophe, and poverty in general are the major drivers of criminal acts.

Since the overwhelming majority of gun deaths in the United States are suicides, let us first examine those numbers, both alone and with respect to the rest of the developed world. While gun suicides are vastly more common in the U.S., overall rates are about equal with other nations that have similar poverty numbers — Germany, for example, which has strict gun control. (This graph presents a compelling picture.) There is some reason to believe that targeted gun control would slightly reduce suicides in impulsive border cases, the which alone is sufficient cause to justify such actions, the arguments of Libertarians notwithstanding.

However, there is no reason to think that increases in gun control would be at all effective in reducing crime in general; the same international studies bear this out. Even if they didn’t, the rising availability of ghost guns and the impracticability of policing 3D printer technology appears to make such discussions moot. Enact stricter laws and all you’ll accomplish is to create a new and lucrative criminal cottage industry. The same A.T.F. report cited above also tells us that a substantial percentage of crime guns already came from licensed private manufacturers; almost none were transferred by licensed collectors.

A note on “lucrative”: The price point of a Polymer80 gun kit is a bit over $650 (plus shipping). The same gun in a pawn shop runs about $300. One difference is the serial number, which is what makes the purchase non-trackable; buy a pistol in a pawn shop and you’ve got to fill out federal forms.

The disingenuous have suggested that ammunition control laws may well succeed where gun control won’t. That gunpowder and stable primers can be produced with common household chemicals would seem to give this the lie; if would-be criminals already take the trouble to construct ghost guns, ghost ammunition can’t be far behind.

The perennial cry among politicians is for “common sense gun control”. What they don’t tell you is that there’s no real opposition to common sense gun control, mainly because it works. What won’t work are blanket bans on entire categories of weapons: banning pistols would lead to ghost gun production, and no other type is regularly used in crime. Even rampage shooters that target schools and nightclubs prefer handguns; the 9mm Glock is the weapon of choice by criminals everywhere because it’s extremely effective.

Bottom line: Banning “assault weapons” isn’t sense. If you really want to reduce crime, fight poverty.

*NOTE: The term “ghost gun” is also used to refer to a weapon that can pass undetected through security; here, we’re talking about guns that evade serial number tracking.

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