Why Biden's Crime Plan Just Won't Work

AP Photo/Evan Vucci

Earlier this week, President Joe Biden unveiled his plan to address the surge in violent crime that is plaguing so many of our cities. To be fair, it was going to be mostly limited to what he could do via executive orders, so there was only so much he could do, but he still used that time to focus on guns.

In particular, he wanted to focus on gun stores.

Well, that approach just isn’t going to work.

The anti-crime agenda that President Joe Biden announced yesterday is heavy on gun control measures that cannot reasonably be expected to have a substantial impact on surging homicide rates. In particular, the benefits of cracking down on “rogue gun dealers” are bound to be slight, since only a small percentage of criminals buy firearms from federally licensed retailers.

Under the Biden administration’s new “zero tolerance” policy, gun dealers who “willfully” violate federal law will automatically lose their licenses “absent extraordinary circumstances.” That includes dealers who “willfully violate the law by failing to conduct required background checks, falsifying records, failing to respond to trace requests, refusing to permit ATF [the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives] to conduct inspections, or transferring firearms to persons who are prohibited from owning them.”

One glaring problem with that plan: According to a 2019 report from the Bureau of Justice Statistics (BJS), just 7 percent of criminals who use guns buy them “under their own name from a licensed firearm dealer.” Furthermore, such transactions are legal as long as the buyer is not disqualified from owning guns. A licensed dealer who sells a gun to someone who does not yet have a felony record, even if that person later uses the gun to commit a crime, is not violating federal law, let alone doing so “willfully.”

A dealer is violating federal law if he fails to conduct a background check or if he knowingly sells a firearm to someone who is legally disqualified. But even assuming the Biden administration’s new policy deters the “rogue gun dealers” who deliberately sell firearms to illegal buyers, people with felony records can always enlist people with clean records to buy guns for them. While such straw purchases are illegal, the dealer is willfully violating the law only if he knows that the buyer is acting on behalf of someone else.

In any event, the “zero tolerance” initiative will have no impact at all on the vast majority of guns used in crimes—something like 93 percent, according to the BJS study, which was based on a 2016 survey of prison inmates. The survey found that 43 percent of inmates who had used a gun obtained it “off the street or from the underground market,” 25 percent got it “from a family member or friend, or as a gift,” 7 percent “found it at the scene of the crime,” and 6 percent stole it.

This is, of course, part of a longer piece, but one worth reading in its entirety.

See, Biden’s current push is based on the idea that there are tons of rogue gun dealers who are willing to sell a gun to anyone regardless of the law, yet the numbers have never backed that up.

While a small percentage of criminals simply haven’t been caught and can buy a gun from a store, most are recidivists who can’t. They skirt the law quite often, as the above numbers show. The problem as it currently stands isn’t anything to do with rogue gun dealers and never has been.

Most infractions by licensed gun dealers are paperwork errors, which is why the ATF tends not to prosecute these dealers. The investigating agents understand that administrative mistakes can happen and that there’s no reason to imprison people who make honest mistakes. Unfortunately, anti-gunners don’t think there’s any such thing, so they’re clamoring for people to be arrested.

Biden, of course, is playing into that.

Writer Jacob Sullum also goes on to point out how Biden’s efforts to stem the flow of illegal guns isn’t likely to be very fruitful. After all, illegal drugs get around to many of these same people and law enforcement can’t stop that, so how are they going to stop the flow of guns?

The president made his pronouncements, but absolutely no one needs to be surprised a year from now when we find out that they had absolutely no impact on much of anything.

Par for the course when it comes to gun control efforts though, isn’t it?

Jul 31, 2021 8:30 AM ET