Bad Guys Don't Buy Guns at Wal-Mart

From the March 31, 1995, statement of Tulane University criminologist James Wright before the U.S. House of Representatives Subcommittee on Crime of the Committee on the Judiciary:

My fifth observation is that the bad guys do not obtain their guns through normal retail channels. Research on both adult and juvenile felons and offenders has made it obvious that the illegal firearms market is dominated overwhelmingly by informal swaps, trades, and purchases involving family members, friends, acquaintances, drug dealers, street and black market sources of various sorts. It is a pretty rare criminal indeed who attempts to acquire a gun through a conventional over-the-counter transaction with a normal retail outlet.

Now, many efforts at gun control pertain to the initial retail sale of weapons, for example, the prohibition against gun purchases by people with felony records, or by people with alcohol and drug abuse histories, or the national five-day waiting period in the Brady Bill, or various state and local permit and registration laws.

Since felons rarely obtain guns through customary retail channels, these kinds of controls imposed at the point of retail sale must necessarily miss the vast majority of criminal firearms transactions.

Having learned now well more than a decade ago, incidentally, that the criminal acquisition of guns involves these informal and hard-to-regulate transfers, average gun owners often conclude, whether correctly or not, that such measures as registration, permits, waiting periods, and so on and so forth, must therefore be intended primarily to keep tabs on them, that registration or permit requirements are just the first step towards outright confiscation of all privately held firearms, for example, or that mandated registration of new gun purchases is an unwarranted police-state intrusion on the Constitutional rights of law-abiding citizens.

It doesn't really matter whether they're correct in this judgement or not, that they reason in this vein, I think, is sufficient. It is reasoning in precisely this vein that often seems bizarre, or even psychotic, to proponents of these kinds of measures, but it is exactly the style of reasoning, I think, that raises the stakes in the debate over guns and that accounts for the white-hot ferocity of that debate today.