The first part of this article will discuss another great myth of the progun lobbyists. This presupposes a condition that could never exist in reality in the US of today, that of all private gun ownership being illegal. As hilarious as this statement sounds, it is believed and repeated by tens of millions of Americans as one of their fundamental reasons why gun control laws are bad. They equate any gun control law with this clichÃ© as if no other type of gun safety provisions could ever exist.
Let's review this absurd abomination and its roots. One of the earliest known references to such an illogical and impossible situation appears to come from a somewhat obscure American essayist from the latter half of the 20th Century. According to Wikipedia, Edward Abbey was an American author and essayist noted for his advocacy of environmental issues and criticism of public land policies. His best-known works include the novel The Monkey Wrench Gang, which has been cited as an inspiration by radical environmental groups, and the non-fiction work Desert Solitaire. Writer Larry McMurtry referred to Abbey as the "Thoreau of the American West".
But his progun quote of fame comes from another, less well known essay called "Abbey's Road." In 1979, Edward Abbey wrote, "Let us hope our weapons are never needed --but do not forget what the common people knew when they demanded the Bill of Rights: An armed citizenry is the first defense, the best defense, and the final defense against tyranny. If guns are outlawed, only the government will have guns. Only the police, the secret police, the military, the hired servants of our rulers. Only the government -- and a few outlaws. I intend to be among the outlaws." He is also quoted in "The Right to Bear Arms," from the same year as saying, "The tank, the B-52, the fighter-bomber, the state-controlled police and military are the weapons of dictatorship. The rifle is the weapon of democracy. If guns are outlawed, only the government will have guns. Only the police, the secret police, the military. The hired servants of our rulers. Only the government - and a few outlaws. I intend to be among the outlaws."
It is easy to make the not-so-mental leap to the quote we see slapped on bumper stickers all over America and especially on the bumpers of pickups carrying gun racks, far too many guns, and signs of the Confederate States of America in obvious places, though the latter is not an obligation, but a birthright. Even though the statement is absurd and describes a situation that could never occur in the US while the second amendment remains in effect, the main concept that progun proponents are trying to convey is that the outlawing of ALL guns would create a situation where the only people who would have access to guns of any kind are the criminal elements of society and that the good, law-abiding citizenry would be basically defenseless against their aggression. Of course, we must first discard the obvious fact that law enforcement agencies around the country would probably still maintain their weaponry. It is then true that a situation where the citizenry has absolutely no access to guns, yet guns remain accessible to those who want to obtain them illegally, would necessitate the result that the criminals would have a great advantage over the average citizen.
However, by breaking down the various elements within the quote itself, this straw man is shown to be baseless. We are all very aware what an outlaw is. The name became synonymous with criminals living in the Old West who would ride in on their trusty deeds and terrorize the locals. Let's now look at the second key element of this straw man, outlawed guns. Any gun used in the commitment of an illegal act by someone other than its owner can be designated an "outlawed gun," or "illegal gun." Thus, many progun lobbyists maintain that most of the guns used in criminal acts around the US are actually illegal guns and they are stolen from their rightful owners and then sold to the highest bidder on the gun black market.
Several years ago, PBS aired a special on illegal guns. One of their findings was that the myth about guns getting into criminal hands via theft is wrong. While the local policeman might agree with the progun lobbyists, the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms (ATF) do not. According to agent Jay Wachtel, most guns used in crimes are not stolen out of private gun owners' homes and cars. "Stolen guns account for only about 10% to 15% of guns used in crimes."
If that's the case, where are these illegal guns coming from? They aren't manufactured illegally. If there are thousands of illegal manufacturers of guns in America, why isn't our law enforcement agencies closing them and putting their illegal manufacturers behind bars? Where is our law enforcement if we have tons of illegal arms being manufactured on a daily basis and being sold to criminals? The answer is simple. Guns ARE NOT manufactured illegally. Guns almost never start off as illegal. Guns are made legally.
Then how do they attain their illegal status? According to the Violence Policy Center, VPC, one of the principle answers is the holiest of holies, the gun show. Their report, Illegal Trafficking at Gun Shows, demonstrates how illegal firearm transactions at gun shows produce an abundance of guns ripe for the gun black market. These trades usually occur in one of three ways:
Straw man purchases
Sales from "personal" collections
Straw man purchases happen when someone who is prohibited from buying guns gives the money to another person who can buy guns. Very few people are ever brought up for charges of this type even though it often takes place right under the dealer's nose. The VPC states, "At a 1993 hearing on federal firearms licensing before the crime subcommittee of the House Judiciary Committee, one of the few convicted criminals for this offense, Edward Daily III, testified that he regularly used straw purchasers to buy handguns at gun shows in Virginia. The 22-year-old Daily traded the guns for narcotics in New York City. At the hearing, then-House Crime Subcommittee Chair Charles Schumer (D-NY), who has played a leading role in documenting gun show abuses, questioned Daily as to the role gun shows play in criminal trafficking. Daily testified, "At each gun show, there were about, maybe 250 tables with different gun dealers, and we would visit maybe 20, 30 tables. Some of them saw me every weekend, and they knew me....'Hi. How's it going....Are you picking up any guns today?'" Representative Schumer asked Daily whether "this was always at gun shows?" Daily responded, "Always at gun shows."
The VPC points out one common story as told by the National Association of Stocking Gun Dealers' Bill Bridgewater who asserts that gun show violations occur all the time. "If you can't see them you're blind. When you go to a [North Carolina] gun show and you see every state licensee around you for 250 to 300 miles and you chat with various folk standing behind their table of handguns...[from Ohio, Florida, Virginia], does that give you a clue? There are a lot of [illegal sales being committed] under the color of an FFL traveling state to state every weekend and attending firearms shows and selling firearms unlawfully in those states. The principal reason they do is that at every gun show in this nation no one pays any attention to the law." Another FFL dealer, Richard Yarmy, illegally sold guns to New York City criminals for years before being caught.
Personal collections, VPC concludes, are also another good source for gun trafficking. Many unscrupulous dealers use their family and friends as purchasers who are merely augmenting their own hobby while others state that they are merely selling their very own collection. In defining the threshold of activity one must cross to be categorized as a "dealer," The Firearm Owners Protection Act, also known as the McClure-Volkmer Act, specifically excludes a person who makes "exchanges or purchases of firearms for the enhancement of a personal collection...or who sells all or part of his personal collection of firearms."
Therefore, private individuals selling firearms at gun shows from their "personal collections" are not required to obtain a Federal Firearms License, and as noted earlier, need not comply with the recordkeeping and reporting requirements that apply to license holders. In addition, unscrupulous dealers can thwart gun control laws by transferring weapons to relatives' or friends' "personal collections," to be resold with no record of the ultimate purchaser.
Progun lobbyists will also argue that we already have enough gun laws out there and that they are good enough to protect us going forward. But as in the cases cited above, where people circumvent the law on purpose, a law is only as good as its enforcement. When the letter of the law becomes a shallow and moot point, it ceases to be effective. Let's look at just one case where a person commits a crime using a firearm in the murder of others, is arrested and convicted, and then returns to their vice upon release back into society.