WaPo Reporter Finds Experts Skeptical of Crime-reducing Efficacy of Virginia's One-Gun-Per-Month Law

On Monday, I noted how the Washington Post editorialized against repeal of Virginia's 1993 one-handgun-per-month law. The Post reasoned in its top March 1 editorial that without the law "straw purchasers" could "serve as front men for criminals who come to the state to buy guns in large quantities."

But today, in a Metro section front page story, Post reporter Fredrick Kunkle noted that experts in law enforcement and academia doubt there's a solid case ground in empirical data for that notion (emphasis mine):

At the heart of the renewed debate is whether the gun-a-month law works. 

Supporters and opponents agree that the cap reduced the number of Virginia firearms recovered and traced by law enforcement officials in cities along the East Coast. 

Special Agent Michael Campbell of the federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives added, "Anecdotally, we've heard people we've arrested for firearms trafficking say that it was more difficult to find people to do straw purchases because they had to find more people."

Beyond anecdotes, however, it's not clear that the law reduced crime or gun-related violence, largely because there's no way to determine whether criminals simply found another way to buy guns. Tracing data, collected by ATF, offer only a limited view of the flow of firearms.

"I would say that there's suggestive evidence that the Virginia gun-a-month law did some good, but it's not determinative evidence," said Jens Ludwig, a professor at the University of Chicago.

A study by Gary Kleck, a professor at Florida State University, was far more skeptical. Writing in the UCLA law review last year, Kleck argued that high numbers of guns traced to states, including Virginia, have more to do with rates of gun ownership and theft than trafficking. He also wrote that trafficking accounts for an extremely small number of guns obtained by criminals and that gun-a-month laws have had no provable effect on homicide rates or violent crime.

Kleck also said the oft-reported story of people loading up trunks of Glocks in Southern gun shops and selling them on the streets of major cities is not borne out by law enforcement findings. He cites data showing that guns on the street sell for substantially less than retail price -- a point that undercuts the rationale for traffickers to buy from licensed dealers.

"There is at present no reliable evidence to affirmatively support the view that such traffickers are common enough to be important in supplying firearms to criminals," Kleck writes.

So, at best the policy is a modest success in fighting crime, although the evidence is spotty, and at worst it's an ill-conceived failure that needlessly infringes on the law-abiding individual's right to keep and bear arms.

But what good are facts and nuance to the ideologues in the editorial page who are content to declare by fiat that there's no reason why one gun per month isn't "enough" for Post subscribers in the Old Dominion?

Ken Shepherd
Ken Shepherd
Ken Shepherd is the Managing Editor for NewsBusters