The Myth of Black Market Guns
by Dr. Paul Gallant and Dr. Joanne Eisen
On November 5, 1999, Reuters carried a story headlined "Colorado Residents Want Stricter Gun Laws". According to the item, "Though we may not be able to stop Honolulu or Seattle", said Denver Mayor Wellington Webb referring to that week's spate of workplace violence, "we need to have regulations...to lessen the proliferation of guns on the street".
Sound familiar? It ought to. "Proliferation of guns" and its constant companion, "easy availability", are the latest buzzwords of the anti-self-defense lobby. It's nearly impossible to pick up a paper or watch the news without hearing the demand for more gun laws that, we are promised, will reduce firearm-related violence.
The mental picture we're asked to paint is one of truckloads of Uzis rolling down the streets of America in broad daylight, and guns handed out like free samples at the local supermarket.
But "proliferation of guns" and "easy availability" are code words used to disguise the existence of the black market, and the failure of more than 20,000 gun control laws already on the books.
In all of today's rhetoric, one key fact is almost always ignored: this "easy availability" or "proliferation" of guns is true only when it pertains to the black market in firearms. And that black market is a direct result of previous laws which, we were also promised, would reduce the criminal use of guns.
Cracking the secret code used to hide the truth is simple. Just substitute "black market" every time one of these phrases is uttered. For example, writing on "The Epidemic in Youth Violence", anti-gun researcher Philip Cook observed that "gun possession was much more widespread among violence-prone youths in the early 1990s than in the early 1980s...Gun use may be driven in part by the availability of guns on the street..."
Or, take Mayor Webb's words and make the substitution: "we need to have regulations...to lessen black market guns on the street".
These statements point to the fatal flaw in schemes to regulate or ban firearms: restrict legal channels, and all that will change is the pattern of their availability.
The purpose of this deliberate deception is easy to see. By diverting the real blame away from juvenile offenders, guilty politicians, and politically-motivated researchers - and onto peaceable gun-owners, instead - it sets the stage to justify harsh new restrictions.
Spawned from a glitch in U.S. crime data, the so-called "epidemic" of juvenile violence derives from a single fact: between 1984 and 1993, the rate at which homicides were committed by adolescents aged 13 to 17 quadrupled. And that increase is accounted for, almost exactly, by the increase in homicides committed with guns.
But it is the crime confined to geographically narrow inner-city neighborhood areas - often just "a small number of city blocks", according to the U.S. Department of Justice - that has been driving the entire youth homicide rate.
The recent spate of U.S. school shootings played right into the hands of the firearm-prohibitionists, by allowing them to paint a counterfeit picture of juvenile "gun-violence" sweeping across all the streets of America.
Their antidote was predictable, and spelled out, in no uncertain terms, by Michael Tonry and Mark Moore in "Youth Violence", a 1998 U.S. Department of Justice compendium of articles on the subject: "[We must]...treat the availability of weapons as a key contributing factor...If the availability of guns could...be suppressed, the extent and virulence of the epidemic [of juvenile violence] could be stemmed...this could, arguably, hold out the hope that we need not succeed in the expensive, arduous, chancy, long-run task of keeping youths on healthy developmental trajectories to prevent youth violence."
One can hear a deep sigh of relief from Tonry and Moore as they declare a new war on guns, in an attempt to wash their hands of the mess they helped create. But they're all guilty, as charged, and deserve no sympathy, for they know, full well, what the policies they've championed have wrought.
They know, too, that the "logic" connecting the problem, its cause, and the proposed solution are flawed. For what they don't bother telling us is that the "epidemic" of juvenile violence is limited to areas where decades of restrictive gun regulations have rendered lawful firearm ownership virtually impossible, with an outcome exactly opposite to what we were promised.
Witness the fact that "the St. Louis youth gang homicide rate is [now] 1,000 times higher than the [overall] U.S. homicide rate", according to U.S. Department of Justice statistics. And all of this was accomplished with guns from the black market.
In November 1999, Dr. Alan Lizotte presented the findings of an ongoing study on juvenile delinquency in Rochester, N.Y., to the American Society of Criminology. Lizotte noted that "obtaining a pistol permit in New York is no easy matter," and characterized the state's law as "tough".
Nevertheless, Lizotte's conclusion ran true to the familiar pattern of false promise followed by abject failure, the signature of every gun law: "There is nearly universal non-compliance with New York's strict handgun licensing law...illegal handguns are easy to obtain".
Lizotte never once mentioned "black market". He didn't have to. His references to the "underground economy" told what most of us already know, and what people like Tonry and Moore do, also.
Underscoring that point, in New York City, where requirements for ownership of firearms of all types are far more stringent than throughout the rest of the state, and licensing is required for possession of both handguns and long guns, current estimates peg the number of "unlicensed" firearms at 2 million, or more, out of a population of 7 million.
Another "tough" gun law was enacted on November 30, 1998. This time it was a federal law. Under the National Instant-Check System, every firearm transaction in America involving a licensed dealer is now subject to government scrutiny and approval.
Just like with past laws, NICS was supposed to finally close the "loopholes" which allow criminals access to guns. It was a fraud, of course, because the stated goal is simply beyond reach.
The New York Connection
Barely one year after the advent of NICS, Sen. Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) and his cronies set about to perpetrate yet another fraud. In November 1999, Schumer announced his next "new" solution: federal legislation to eliminate private transfers of all firearms, including gifts between family members. Bill Clinton, in his final State of the Union address on January 27, 2000, went even further, calling for the licensing of all handgun owners.
Canada already tried that. The day after NICS went into effect, it implemented a "tough" gun law of its own, the Firearms Act. The reality of Canada's new system of national firearm registration was summed up by journalist Lorne Gunter in the October 31, 1999 edition of the Edmonton Journal:
"Thanks to Justice Minister Anne McLellan's hysterically rigid insistence that each and every gun sale, even these neighbour-to-neighbour sales, be approved by her department in advance, nearly all these sales are now so-called black market sales...In the nearly 11 months since the Liberals imposed their universal registry... black market gun sales have boomed."
More restrictions mean only one thing - more business on the black market, and even easier access for criminals. The equation is simple: if people want something badly enough, someone will supply it for a profit.
For many of America's firearm-prohibitionists, the real goal has never been a safer society. To them, success is achieved, not by reducing crime, but by enacting a law which is certain to fail. Of course, when it does, we'll need a new remedy, won't we?
And when it comes to firearms, their next new "remedy" is not hard to imagine.
About the Authors:
Dr. Joanne D. Eisen is engaged in the private practice of family dentistry. She is President, Association of Dentists for Accuracy in Scientific Media (ADASM), a national organization of dentists concerned with preserving the integrity of the professional dental literature, against the politicization which has corrupted America's medical literature.
Dr. Paul Gallant is engaged in the private practice of family optometry, Wesley Hills, NY. He is Chairman, Committee for Law-Abiding Gun-Owners, Rockland (LAGR), a 2nd Amendment grassroots group, based in Rockland County, NY.
For more information contact:
P.O. Box 354
Thiells, NY 10984-0354
Reprinted with permission from Guns Magazine, September 2000.