Every year, tens of thousands of guns are purchased in states with weak gun safety laws and trafficked to states with stronger gun laws, where they end up in the hands of criminals and people unable to pass a background check.
Weak gun laws in far too many states drive the epidemic of shootings our nation faces each day. Deadly weapons are too easily purchased in states with little in the way of gun safety laws and trafficked to states with stronger gun laws, where they end up in the hands of people unable to pass a background check and are ultimately used in violent crimes. Strengthening state and federal firearms trafficking laws can significantly reduce gun murder and suicide rates. Policies that target straw purchases, hold negligent gun dealers accountable, and require reporting of lost and stolen guns dry up the supply of illegal guns and save lives.
The Problem: Loopholes Fuel the Illegal Gun Market
Every year, tens of thousands of guns enter the illegal market through a number of channels, including: 1) unlicensed private sellers at gun shows and over the internet who are not required to conduct background checks, 2) straw purchasers, 3) gun traffickers who falsely claim guns they purchased were lost or stolen, and 4) corrupt gun dealers who sell their guns off the books to traffickers.
For example, New York’s strong gun laws make it difficult for criminals to get guns in-state; however, guns are trafficked into New York from other states with weak gun laws. In fact, from 2010–15, 74% of New York’s crime guns came from out of state, with most passing through the “Iron Pipeline” of states with weak gun laws along I-95, like Virginia and Georgia.
Nationally, 29% of guns used in crimes that could be traced originated in another state, and that percentage is likely much higher when untraceable guns are included.
The Solution: Federal and State Anti-Trafficking Laws
No clear or effective federal statute currently exists to prohibit gun trafficking, though policy-based solutions are available to both state and federal lawmakers to make it more difficult for dangerous or prohibited purchasers to obtain access to deadly weapons.
Universal Background Checks
Many of the guns used in crimes in states with strong gun laws originate in states with weaker gun laws. For example, 50% of Chicago’s crime guns are purchased out of state, largely in Indiana, which lacks universal background checks. Closing the loophole in our federal background checks law is essential to ensuring guns aren’t sold to dangerous people and is the first line of defense to stopping trafficking.
Crack Down on Straw Purchases
A straw purchase occurs when the actual buyer of a firearm uses another person to undergo the background check necessary to purchase a firearm from a federally licensed firearms dealer. Although prohibited by federal law, straw purchases are often treated as a mere paperwork violation and left unchecked. Stronger federal penalties for straw purchasing, as well as state-specific straw purchasing laws, are solutions that will discourage this dangerous practice.
Require the Reporting of Lost or Stolen Firearms
There is no current federal law that requires gun owners to inform law enforcement when their firearms have been lost or stolen. Consequently, gun traffickers often claim that guns that were in their possession were lost or stolen in order to hide their involvement in gun trafficking. So far, at least 10 states have taken the responsible step to require gun owners to report lost or stolen firearms within a short period of time after discovering that they are missing. A nationwide poll found that 94% of registered voters supported laws to require the reporting of lost or stolen firearms.
Hold Corrupt and Negligent Gun Dealers Accountable
While federal law requires firearms dealers to have a federal license, loopholes enable unscrupulous dealers to engage in illegal business practices under the radar of the resource-strapped ATF. Strengthening gun dealer regulations will make it harder for corrupt dealers to sell guns to traffickers.