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Ghost guns: “A crisis!”

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Ghost guns A crisis

The Law of the Bureaucrat states that for every perceived problem there is a rule that can solve it. Supposedly having a gun with no serial numbers makes it impossible to solve crimes. After all, the serial number is exactly like the VIN on your car. If you have the number, you can somehow find the owner in a database somewhere. That will lead you to the criminal. Hence, the rule that manufacturers must put serial numbers on guns.

Right.

I got a hunting rifle for my birthday. It has a serial number. If it somehow gets used in a crime (not by me!) there’s no guaranteed way to use that number for anything except to identify when and where it was manufactured. The police might even learn that I bought it. That’s it. The criminal who stole it won’t be identified, for the simple reason that he stole it.

Duh!

There’s no database of serial numbers and owners. But suppose that we start registering every gun sale in a permanent record tomorrow. That won’t do anything for the hundreds of millions of guns that Americans already own. And it’s not going to do anything to help identify the stolen guns used in crime. And almost every gun crime is committed with a stolen gun.

So how do the police solve crimes? They find the weapons used in crime, fire bullets through them, and compare marks on the bullets and shell casings with evidence from the crime. Yes, they do try to discover the original purchaser, but since that person rarely commits the crime, that’s little real help. After all, what good did it do to learn that the Las Vegas shooter bought his weapons over several years? He was a lawful purchaser. And he had already suffered the death penalty.

One could propose a complete ban on guns, but that has been proven useless. Chicago plants a citizen every eighteen hours, and guns are all but illegal in private hands there. Gang-bangers get them anyway. Guns and knives are illegal in prisons, but prisoners figure out how to make them. The criminal mind is always a step ahead of law enforcement.

So what’s the big deal about an AR-15 with no serial number? Have ghost guns been used in lots of crime? The Wall Street Journal lists three crimes in four years. Surely that’s an epidemic in the context of over 12,000 murders a year. Of course we need to go ballistic over three criminals. A total of ten killed in four years is definitely worthy of hyperventilation when Chicago loses that many every week with stolen guns.

Don’t get me wrong. Every wrongful death is a tragedy. But when we are obsessing over less than one tenth of one percent of murders in order to create rules that only law-abiding citizens – who don’t commit crimes! – will obey, we’re barking up the wrong tree. We need to be dealing with the other 99.9% of the murders. When we have saved those lives, then it may be worth our efforts to save the remaining few.

It is immoral to spend scarce resources on even scarcer problems. It is even more reprehensible to spend them on solutions that don’t offer any realistic promise of success. Remember that every gun investigation starts with a gun in hand. If that gun has no serial number, either because it never had one or because it has been filed off by the criminal, the rest of the investigation isn’t materially changed. Fingerprints, DNA, and ballistic data will build the case. Those are far more likely to provide useful information than any serial number.

Serial numbers are applied by manufacturers to allow quality control. They have developed a secondary use in identifying the date of manufacture, either to allow purchase of proper spare parts or to establish value in old and rare models. They were never designed for criminal investigations, and are generally a poor tool in them.

To allow “ghost guns” to be the subject of legislative action is an example of magical thinking. Somehow, the good intentions will make life safer. But reality teaches us that we must take action that actually addresses real problems.

Ted Noel MD is a Board Certified Anesthesiologist with 36 years of experience. He produces a video blog on current political subjects weekly at www.VidZette.com.

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1 Comment

1 Comment

  1. Steve

    January 9, 2018 at 12:10 pm

    Stopping people from making guns is impossible. Guns are just relatively simple machines. You might as well try to stop somebody from building a model airplane. There isn’t much difference. If commercial manufacturers can make guns then others can learn to make guns. It’s not magic.

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