Study Finds That Chicago Criminals Get Guns From Friends, Family

Not acquired from gun shows or online sales

September 3, 2015

A survey conducted by researchers from Duke University and the University of Chicago found that Chicago criminals obtained their firearms almost exclusively from friends and family.

The survey, funded by the Joyce Foundation and set to be published in the October edition of Preventive Medicine, consisted of interviews with 99 inmates at Chicago’s Cook County Jail who had illegally possessed a gun within six months of their incarceration. It found that most criminals only acquired guns from people they knew and trusted.

"It is rare for offenders to buy from licensed dealers, and also rare for them to steal their guns," the study says. "Rather, the predominant sources of guns to offenders are family, acquaintances, fellow gang members—which is to say, members of their social network."

The study found that due to fears of encountering undercover police officers attempting sting operations, a large majority of the criminals surveyed would only make illegal gun purchases from people they knew. "In discussing the underground gun market in their neighborhoods, most respondents emphasized the importance of connections—prior relationships that could create sufficient trust to reassure the seller that the transaction would not create an unacceptable legal risk," the survey says. "A majority of the primary guns (40 of the 48 for which we have detailed information on the source) were obtained from family, fellow gang members, or other social connections; the fraction is still higher for secondary guns."

"Only 2 of the 70 primary guns (3%) and no secondary guns were reported as purchased directly from a gun store."

The survey also found that criminals preferred handguns by a wide margin. Rifles, shotguns, and firearms that would be classified as "assault weapons" under Illinois law made up a small percentage of the guns criminals reported they had owned. Additionally, the survey found that criminals kept their firearms for only a short period of time and had little knowledge of firearms.

The researchers noted that the findings may challenge what many believe about how criminals obtain firearms.

"Some of the pathways people are concerned about don’t seem so dominant," Harold Pollack, co-director of the University of Chicago’s Crime Lab and co-author of the survey, told the Chicago Sun-Times.

Gun rights groups such as the National Rifle Association and the Second Amendment Foundation said that the survey is evidence that new gun control legislation aimed at gun shows or online sales is misguided.

"The University of Chicago Crime Lab survey said the same thing as the U.S. Bureau of Justice: Criminals get their guns from friends and family—not gun shows," said Lars Dalseide, a spokesman for the NRA.

"This proves what we have said all along," Alan Gottlieb, the founder of Second Amendment, told the Free Beacon. "Criminals don't go through background checks to acquire a gun. They don’t buy them at gun stores, gun shows, or on the Internet. They get them from family, friends, and fellow gang members. Gun control laws only affect lawful gun owners."

"Criminals don’t obey laws," he said. "That’s why we call them criminals."

Published under: Guns , New Gun Laws