Election 2020 Politics

How guns flow across state lines

So we end up with a system where it’s hard for the federal government to implement controls on gun ownership, given the fight over the Second Amendment, and states instead passing their own rules about who can buy what kinds of firearms.

On Thursday, the Biden administration unveiled a series of actions aimed at instituting some centralized control over gun ownership. The Justice Department is tasked with introducing proposed rules to contain untraceable weapons and to clarify when certain modifications to a firearm change how it is controlled by federal law. It’s an effort to both apply a national limit to certain types of gun ownership and to do so without having everything collapse in an evenly divided Senate.

It’s also a reminder of how the lack of federal standards makes state laws aimed at limiting the proliferation of guns much more difficult.

Last month, we looked at Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives data tracing firearms used in a crime or suspected of use in a crime back to their points of origin. Often, those firearms were purchased in the states where they were recovered. Often — particularly in states with tighter gun laws — they came from somewhere else.

We can map the most recent recovery data as below. The states which are shown in a darker color are states that have been given a failing grade on their gun laws by the Giffords Law Center, a gun-control advocacy organization named after former Arizona representative Gabby Giffords.

Show guns
as a .

Your browser cannot display this graph.

Flip around between the states and notice the patterns. States like Georgia provide a large chunk of the firearms recovered in other states with tighter laws: 11 percent of the firearms traced in New York, 10 percent in New Jersey. States like Illinois, with relatively strict gun laws, end up having a large percentage of recovered guns coming from out of state.

In the article last month, we shared a graph showing the percentage of firearms recovered in each state were traced back to that state. Below, we’ve overlaid the Giffords letter grades for each state, showing a clear link between the strictness of gun laws and the arrival of weapons from out of state. There are some exceptions — Virginia, Wyoming — but the pattern otherwise holds quite well.

This is the ongoing frustration for gun-control advocates. Even if Illinois tightens its rules, Indiana is right next door. Yes, it’s still the case that half the firearms recovered in Illinois were traced to Illinois, but it does prompt an obvious question: What would happen if Illinois’s and Indiana’s laws on purchasing guns were the same?

Without congressional action, Biden is left implementing the sort of modest changes that he presented today. Indiana gets to say how and when Hoosiers can buy guns and, on 1,882 occasions in 2019, guns bought in Indiana ended up being used for suspected crimes one state over.

You may also like