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Study: Criminals access guns through social circles
Acquistion most likely via family, friends
Published Sunday, September 20, 2015 12:36 pm
by Latisha Catchatoorian, The Triangle Tribune

DURHAM – According to new research by Duke University and the University of Chicago, criminals are far more likely to acquire guns from family and people they know than by theft.

“There are a number of myths about how criminals get their guns, such as most of them are stolen or come from dirty dealers. We didn’t find that to be the case,” said Philip J. Cook, professor of public policy, economics and sociology at Duke Sanford School of Public Policy.

One study asked Cook County Jail inmates in Chicago how they obtained guns. The second project analyzed data that traced guns used in crimes. Gun trace requests were submitted to the federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives by the Chicago Police Department from 2009-13.

Findings conclude that most offenders obtained guns from personal connections, most of the firearms were old (11 years on average) and criminals frequently held onto them for less than a year. Sixty percent of the respondents obtained guns by purchase or trade. Also discovered was Chicago gangs sometimes organize gun buys and distribute guns to members.

CPD’s enforcement efforts also had an influence on the underground gun market. Respondents were concerned with the higher risk of arrest when dealing with a stranger and about being caught with a “dirty” weapon that had been fired in a previous crime. Chicago gun laws prohibit selling guns to people with criminal records or to those who are under 21.

Researchers interviewed 99 inmates for the Cook County Jail Pilot Survey in 2013. All inmates had a record of violence and gang involvement connected to their gun purchases.

“One survey respondent gave what amounted to a lecture on how guns enter the neighborhood,” Cook said.

“As far as Chicago, it’s so close to Indiana… there’s gun laws (there) but it’s easier to get access to guns in Indiana so most people either go to the down-South states or go to Indiana to get guns or people obtain gun licenses, go to the store and then resell,” the respondent said.

Information provided by Cook County inmates lined up with findings from the second study, which identified straw purchasers and gun traffickers as key sources of crime guns in the Windy City. Straw purchasers can pass a background check and buy guns that they transfer to others.

By linking ATF information that traced guns to crimes with information from the CPD about the person caught with the gun, the researchers could identify which of them were gang members and compare their guns with those possessed by non-gang members. Those who deliberately violate the law and sell to buyers who cannot pass a background check accounted for less than 5 percent of the guns sold to gang members.

More than 60 percent of the crime guns were first purchased out of state. Fifteen percent of new crime guns confiscated from a man were first purchased by a woman, indicating a straw purchase.

Cook said the findings suggest that targeting by law enforcement of the intermediaries in the underground market, the straw purchasers and traffickers, helps reduce access to guns by some dangerous people.

“This research demonstrates that current federal and local regulations are having a big effect on the availability of guns to criminals in Chicago,” he said. “They can’t buy their guns from stores the way most people do and are instead largely constrained to making private deals with acquaintances who may or may not be willing and able to provide what they want.

“Other studies we have done have found that many criminals go without guns because they don’t know how to get one. We conclude that current enforcement is somewhat effective and devoting more resources to enforcement would further constrain gun access by dangerous people.”


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