States' rights are one of the greatest impediments to reducing gun violence in the United States.
According to the most recent ATF statistics, released in August, the bureau traced 332,101 guns in 2018. The average time-to-crime of those weapons was 8.8 years. That's why a particularly short time-to-crime raises red flags for law enforcement, since it often suggests the weapon was acquired for criminal purposes.
In California, for example, 12 percent of the guns recovered in the state had a time-to-crime of less than one year. When you isolate only those guns that originated in Nevada and were recovered in California, the figure jumps to 23 percent — almost one in four. (Nationally, 10 percent of all guns had a time-to-crime of less than one year.)
For the pro-gun NRA crowd, this essentially proves that gun regulation doesn't work; that's a reason they love to talk about Chicago so much, even though most of the illegal guns there come from Indiana. But I don't actually buy that at all. The issue is and always been about ease of access. Most people aren't going to go out of their way to navigate the black market, trading Bitcoin over Silk Road just to get a gun. If you live in California, and have a cousin in Nevada (or even just know a guy who knows a guy), it becomes less of a "black market" trade, and more of a favor. Hell, fireworks were illegal when I was a kid, but you could just drive to New Hampshire and buy them tax-free.
These fears of black market gun deals are based on the assumption that "criminals" are some kind of alien species that defies all understanding of basic human behavioral patterns. But most people who do commit gun violence aren't deliberately evil mustache-twirling goblin-creatures—they're just people who have behaved outside of the order of the system, thanks to a combination of internal and external stimuli. (And of course, most of them are men with established histories of violent behavior, which is not the same as some vaguely-defined "mental health problems.") If it wasn't so easy to skirt around the loopholes—or to get a gun in the first place—then most people with the potential to become criminals wouldn't risk it. It won't be 100 percent efficient, of course; nothing is. But if it significantly reduces gun deaths in exchange for a mild inconvenience that only affects a fraction of the population, it would arguably be worth it.
Unfortunately, that will never happen, because of states' rights. We'll never be able to fix the NICS background system for the same reason either. As long as states and the military are under no obligation to report any kind of standardized information to the background system, the system itself is doomed to fail. And that's how people like Dylann Roof are able to legally obtain firearms. (I personally think we should also extend the "default proceed" period for people who gets flagged in the NICS system, but that's more of a band-aid to the larger problems.)
This is not to say that states' rights are inherently bad. My most cavalier libertarian friends have enjoyed quite a bit of gloating throughout the reign of Trump as states' rights have increasingly been used for progressive causes instead of just, ya know, racism. And they're right. But at the same time, we have a problem, and a very clear solution to it that we can't enact. That's a problem in and of itself.
Potential Gun Trafficking Hubs Revealed in ATF Data [Alex Yablon and Daniel Nass/The Trace]
Image via Pxhere