There are certain groups of people in America that most would agree shouldn’t have access to guns:

Keeping guns away from CHILDREN

Under federal statutes, an individual must be at least 18 years of age to own a long gun (such as a rifle or shotgun), and at least 21 years of age to own a handgun.

Keeping guns away from THE MENTALLY ILL

I think most people would agree that those struggling with a serious mental illness – especially one that makes them violent, paranoid, or suicidal – should not have access to firearms.

Keeping guns out of the hands of CRIMINALS

It is illegal for those with a felony conviction on their record to have access to firearms. Those with misdemeanor domestic violence convictions are also restricted in many states.

How Criminals & the Mentally Ill Get Guns

So if most Americans agree on keeping guns away from those who shouldn’t have them, how do such people still get access to them? There are several ways:

1. Stolen guns
Approximately 500,000 guns are stolen each year in the U.S. from gun owners who fail to properly secure their weapons. (Baum, 2013) They are taken during burglaries, snatched from unlocked cars, or lifted by visitors to the home. Virtually all of these guns end up getting sold on the black market.

2. Gun shows and secondhand sales
While all states require background checks for the purchase of a new weapon, one of the biggest loopholes is that many don’t have the same requirement for secondhand sales or guns purchased at gun shows. This means that anyone can buy any type of gun simply by purchasing it from an online ad or by attending a trade show. You can buy handguns along with military-grade weapons such as an Uzi or assault rifles, even if you have a long rap sheet of violent crimes, simply by taking cash to a gun show.

3. Access to guns through family
Many simply take or borrow guns from family members. Others who aren’t legally able to purchase a particular firearm may have family buy the weapons for them.

4. Corrupt dealers
Some people make good money purchasing guns and then illegally selling them to people who shouldn’t have them. They purchase the guns in bulk, sell them for two or three times what their retail value is, then claim them as lost or stolen, sometimes even getting paid again through an insurance claim.

5. Print-at-home guns & “ghost guns”
Technology has now made it possible for people to manufacture their own guns in the basement using a 3-D printer, with instructions that can be downloaded from the Internet. A person will typically print out the receiver (the only part of the gun which can’t be sold freely) and then buy the rest of the parts from a gun supply company.

The guns used in a November 2017 rampage by a California man were rifles that he had manufactured himself. The man would have been prohibited from buying such weapons legally. Ghost guns such as this have “become so commonplace we’re buying them from 17-year-old gang members,” says Graham Barlowe, an agent for the ATF in Sacramento, California. (Elinson, 2018)

With so many loopholes, unfortunately there are many ways for those who shouldn’t have guns to nonetheless gain access to them.

How criminals get guns

Criminals will make use of all of these outlets to get guns. Back in the early 1980s, a survey of 1900 incarcerated felons across 10 states found that 70% had obtained their most recent weapon by theft or from someone they thought had stolen it. More recently, so called “straw man” purchases seem to be the preferred method of choice. As Jacob Sullum notes, “A recent survey of 99 jail inmates in Cook County, Illinois, found that they generally obtained guns from friends, relatives, or other people with whom they had prior relationships.” The guns were rarely directly stolen, had an average age of 11 years old, and changed hands frequently. Meanwhile, another recent study by Duke University criminologist Philip J. Cook and his colleagues looked at guns seized by Chicago police. They found that “15 percent of new guns that were sold within two years of confiscation and were taken from male gang members were first sold to a woman.” In other words, girlfriends and wives were buying for husbands or boyfriends. They also found that trafficked guns originally purchased in Indiana gun stores played a significant role in Chicago’s gang violence. (Sullum, 2016)