What the Gun Debate Misses


From Kevin D. Williamson:

Almost every single substantive gun-control proposal put forward by our progressive friends is oriented toward adding new restrictions and regulatory burdens to federally licensed firearms dealers and the people who do business with them: what they can sell and what they cannot sell, to whom they can sell, under what conditions they may sell, etc. But, as I often remark, gun-store customers are just about the most law-abiding demographic in the United States. The best information we have comes from the Department of Justice, which found in 2019 that less than 2 percent of all prisoners had a firearm obtained from a retail source at the time they committed their crimes.


Criminals mostly don’t get their guns at gun stores — because they mostly can’t.

The great majority of murders committed in the United States — upwards of 80 percent — are committed by people with prior arrest records, often by people with prior convictions for violent crimes or prior weapons offenses — and almost none of our gun-control proposals is targeted at this group.


Democrats who complain that it easier to buy a gun than it is to vote are lying for partisan political purposes and should be dismissed with contempt.


The data very strongly suggest that people who buy firearms from firearms dealers very rarely commit crimes of any kind with those firearms. . . . Given the very weak statistical relationship between buying a gun from a gun dealer and committing a crime with that gun, why is there so much focus on federally licensed firearms dealers and the people who do business with them?

The answer is that this conversation has almost nothing to do with violent crime, and almost nothing to do with policies aimed at reducing violent crime.

The gun-control debate is first and foremost a culture-war issue for Democrats. There is a great deal of violent crime in the United States, and that crime is concentrated in big cities over which Democrats enjoy an effective monopoly of political power. The people who commit most of the murders in the United States — and the people who most often die in those murders — check a lot of Democratic-voter demographic boxes: They are very disproportionately low-income African Americans in urban areas. Democrats are desperate to put a more Republican-looking face on the violent-crime problem, preferably one that is older, white, middle-aged, rural, southern, and Evangelical. That is the reason for the focus on the National Rifle Association in particular and on gun dealers and “gun culture” in general. As is so often the case in our contemporary politics, what we are talking about matters mostly because it is a way of not talking about something else.


The Democratic Party and the progressive movement more generally are dominated culturally and financially by college-educated, affluent, white metropolitan professionals, mostly living in those two-thirds of U.S. households in which there is no firearm present. They present themselves as the champions of poor, black, urban communities about which they know almost nothing, and understand themselves as the enemies of lower-income, aging, white, rural communities — the stereotypical NASCAR crowd — about which they also know almost nothing. Never mind that much of the increase in gun ownership in recent years has been driven by women, African Americans, and recreational shooters in urban areas — the eggbound snake-handling hayseeds and would-be militiamen of Georgia and Alabama, whose cultural prominence is almost exclusively a matter of the progressive imagination, simply must be the face of gun ownership, at least for the purposes of culture war. Never mind that most of the violent crime involving guns in this country is carried out in zip codes where the voters elect Democrats almost exclusively, and never mind that the reason we do not act on those “common sense” gun-control measures on which almost all of us notionally agree — such as prosecuting straw-buying and other everyday weapons offenses — is the fact that doing this would irritate important Democratic constituencies in the big cities.


Among the few proposals that are targeted at someone other than licensed gun dealers and their customers is the idea of so-called universal background checks, also known as “closing the gun-show loophole.”

According to the DOJ, the share of prisoners who obtained guns through gun shows was — commit this figure to memory — 0.8 percent.


‘Weapons of War’

As I have pointed out many times, the 5.56mm semiautomatic rifles that progressives like to call “weapons of war” are not really that, inasmuch as they are not generally issued to troops in the United States or elsewhere. But do you know what is a weapon of war? Granddad’s deer rifle. The ubiquitous Remington 700 bolt-action rifle has long been a favorite of hunters, and it also is the go-to sniper rifle for military services around the world.

Gun-control activists insist that AR-style rifles are not hunting rifles. A typical tirade found on the Internet: “An AR-15 is not a hunting rifle. Do you really need a high-powered rifle round and high-capacity magazine to take down Bambi? Last time I checked, Bambi wasn’t wearing a bullet proof vest or hiding behind cement barriers.” That isn’t Joe Biden, but it could be.

This is, of course, wrong on every count: The rifles in question not only are hunting rifles; they are today the most common hunting rifle in the United States. But they are not rifles that typically fire a “high-powered” round — in fact, the standard 5.56mm round has long been considered insufficiently powerful for humane deer hunting and has been prohibited at various times in various places for that purpose for that reason. Hog-hunting is one of the most popular kinds of pursuit in the United States, and many outfitters will not allow a hunter to use a 5.56mm rifle for hogs — because it is not powerful enough. The idea of shooting through concrete barriers and body armor with that round is an uncertain proposal at best. You’d be better off with a traditional big-game hunting rifle, which is four or five times as powerful as the “higher-powered” 5.56mm. But, in any case, most of the popular hunter cartridges either began as military rounds (such as the .30-06) or still are military rounds (such as the .308 Winchester). As a practical matter, you aren’t going to find a rifle that is good for killing elk that isn’t also good for killing people.

And that fact matters . . . almost not at all, since rifles are almost never used in murders in the United States, accounting for only 2.5 percent of homicides. What murders in 2022 have in common with murders in 1922 is that the gun most commonly used in a murder is the most common handgun. Once upon a time, it was the Colt Single-Action Army revolver, and then it was the .38 Special, and now it is the 9mm pistol. In 20 years, it may be something else — but the shooters probably will be the same people, i.e., habitual criminals with prior records.

And gun-control advocates will still be focused on the 2 percent of criminals who buy guns from gun dealers, or possibly the 0.8 percent who get them from gun shows.

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