Published Saturday, January 27, 2007, in Washington Times

Gun scruples

By John R. Lott Jr.

The article on gun-show regulations in Virginia contains a serious mistake ("Panel kills gun-show checks for private sales," Metropolitan, Thursday). The article cites state Sen. Jeannemarie Devolites Davis as claiming that "the federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives has reported that gun shows are the second-leading source of guns used in crimes, behind only unscrupulous licensed dealers." Unfortunately, the study she cites simply was not designed to reach the conclusion that Mrs. Davis claims, because the ATF report looked at 198 non-randomly chosen investigations. The ATF doesn't make the claim that its investigations are representative of the distribution of sources of illegal guns.

By contrast, the Bureau of Justice Statistics conducted a survey of 18,000 state prison inmates in 1997, the largest survey of inmates ever conducted. Less than 1 percent of inmates (0.7 percent) who had a gun indicated they had obtained it at a gun show. When combined with guns obtained from flea markets, the total rises to 1.7 percent. These are tiny fractions compared to the estimated 40 percent of the criminals' guns that are obtained from friends or family and the 39 percent that are obtained on the street or from illegal sources. The numbers also had changed little from a similar 1991 survey that indicated that 0.6 percent of inmates had gotten their guns from guns shows and 1.3 percent from flea markets.

Dean's Visiting Professor
Department of Economics
State University of New York at
Binghamton, N.Y.


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