“How Did They Get That Gun?” A Terrifying Question

20140421-103241.jpgWhen a tragedy occurs, it is human nature to attempt to reason our way through it. We have all sorts of questions, and everyone of them is valid and reasonable to the mind of their creator. Yet, when I asked, last week, that we assess how the perpetrator of the Overlandpark, KS shootings procured his guns, the response was a virtual sock stuffed in my mouth. Don’t misunderstand, my feelings weren’t hurt, but it got me thinking, did I just elicit a fear-response? Do we gun owners, literally, fear the question, “How did that criminal get that gun?”

Gun owners are often asked by anti-gunners, what they fear that causes them to need a gun. We find this a ridiculous question because we know that owning a gun is not about fear but preparation. For me guns are a natural hobby because they encompass my need to tinker and create, with my love of the outdoors. I’m sure each reader of this post has a slightly different reason for their interest in firearms, very few of them inspired by fear.

There are, however, certain key terms and questions that seem to strike fear in most gun owners and I think I found one last week. Just so we’re clear, asking HOW a person procured a gun, is not always a lead-in to a Second Amendment argument. I have many reasons for asking this question that have nothing to do with creating laws or more 4473s. The main reason I find “how” important is because every criminal who uses a gun, reflects badly on the rest of us gun owners. We shouldn’t resign ourselves to the idea that laws don’t stop gun wielding criminals therefore we will stop talking about how to stop criminals from getting guns. When we shut down the conversation before it even starts, we miss out on an opportunity to educate and to learn.


  1. I think your anti gun childhood is showing! And not because of the ‘how” question. But your comment on designing ourselves to laws not stopping criminals. Which does imply you still think more laws might help even though you sandwiched that comment in between two conflicting statements. To me you seem confused on the subject.

    1. I assume “designing”was meant to read “resigning” and that you misunderstood my sentence. I didn’t mean that we should resign ourselves to the laws, but that we should open the conversation to “how can we stop them?”

      If being open-minded and attempting to facilitate a civil discussion, means that my “anti gun childhood is showing” then I’ll proudly let my freak flag fly.

  2. When there is a drive by shooting or people fleeing a bank robbery, nobody asks “how did they get that car?”. When there is an arson fire nobody wants to know where they got the matches.

    it’s only for the gun and about as silly as the first two questions would have been. It’s America. Guns are ubiquitous. We own more guns than we do cars. In an otherwise still sorta, kinda free society, people will get what they want and use it as they wish.

    You either do what you can to remove evil, dangerous people from the larger society and live with the risks that come from being free, or you allow the government and people who want more of it to take away your liberty.

    1. I disagree, well sort of… We may not ask how they got the matches, but we do ask how nobody noticed that the kid liked to burn stuff.

      1. i don’t think you actually are disagreeing, Gabby. We ask why the kid likes to burn stuff, or actually why he likes to burn stuff he shouldn’t, Or why he likes to hurt animals or bully smaller kids. Or why anyone is acting weird, inappropriately angry or aggressive, anti-social etc. More importantly what we as individuals, a family or society can or should do about it.

        if a kid was poking and tormenting a puppy or kitten with a stick, we’d focus on his tormenting, not obsessing over how he got a stick.

  3. To me, the “HOW” question is really not relevant. Evil exists, and that was the tool that was chosen. The context of how the question was asked would certainly determine the response. For me, asking such a question, causes me to believe that you may be looking to figure a way to restrict his ability to procure such weapons. That then leads into you are restricting my Right to procure mine, and conversely have it tracked/registered. I have never heard of a “HOW” question that was not going down this road unless it was part of an investigation.

    While I do not currently carry a weapon out of fear, it was born from that. My wife and I made a decision from fear, to never be a victim again. For me, to never be stabbed again, or have to look at my wife after she has been raped. For her, to never be in that situation again. We finally understood what being defenseless was. We are prepared and determined. Prior to this, we were hunters and rifle target shooters. Neither of us was new to guns, just to pistols and self defense. Now we compete regularly in USPSA and 3 Gun, and a very active in our electoral process.

  4. Agree with Bryan here. I would say that it is obvious that laws are not effective at disarming criminals, so the question “how did he get that gun” only serves as a vehicle of further restriction. It does not matter how, criminals always will.

  5. In Japan, I wouldn’t say guns are unavailable, but the criminal element is unwilling to use them, because the court system is stacked against them already and the punishment for using a firearm in a crime is extremely harsh.
    Meanwhile here, the plea bargain stage of trials often waives gun charges and lets violent criminals get back onto the streets in just a year or two, at which time they get/steal a gun from a friend/relative and just go back to what they were doing because our prisons don’t punish, they just facilitate networking between criminals.
    Nearly every noteworthy shooting down here (Florida) Is some scumbag with two dozen priors, and my main question in this case is, Why was this man even back out in public before he’s grown old and feeble? Surely we can identify the elements who are just no good and make sure they’re put somewhere that they aren’t mingling with honest people. Why aren’t we doing this?

    1. Recently and reapeatedly, I’ve been contemplating different gun issues and then coming to some version of the same conclusion; The US legal system is a complete disaster and farce that is barely achieving it’s goals… The only system doing a worse job is our prisons.

  6. Gabby,

    I’m not trying to pull the “you’re new here kid” card, but the “how” has been addressed multiple times over decades and the answer has consistently been that laws and restrictions are, in fact, irrelevant in terms of how to prevent it.

    Much of the criticism I’ve seen of your posts stems from you not actually researching the questions you ask prior to asking them. Thus the tone of frustration in the responses. You are using the exact same “but I’m just asking the question” technique the anti’s do, which misleads the ignorant reader into believing it is a *valid* or unanswered question.

    I understand you need post fodder but a better method might be to do the research and then “ask *and* answer” the question as one new shooter to another; rather than reopening hypothetical cans of worms long since buried.

    In this case the shooter, based on news reports, appears to have, like about 40% of offenders, acquired his firearms via a deliberate straw purchase from a non-prohibited person.


    2001 BJS study of offenders asking where they got their guns. The meaningful chart is on the front page. You’ll note the numbers do not appreciably change between ’91 and ’97: except for “purchase from retail sources” and from “family and friends”, which show almost a one-for-one substitution. From the explanatory text:

    “Inmates’ retail purchase of firearms fell between 1991 and 1997 In 1997, 14% of State inmates who had used or possessed a firearm during their current offense bought or traded for it from a retail store, pawnshop, flea market, or gun show (table 8). Nearly 40% of State inmates carrying a firearm obtained the weapon from family or friends. About 3 in 10 received the weapon from drug dealers, off the street, or through the black market. Another 1 in 10 obtained their gun during a robbery, burglary, or other type of theft.

    From 1991 to 1997 the percent of State inmates with guns who acquired them at a retail outlet fell from 21% to 14%. At the same time the percentage reporting that they used firearms furnished by family or friends increased
    from 34% to 40%. Between the two surveys the Brady Handgun Violence Prevention Act of 1993 was enacted.
    The act requires background checks for persons purchasing firearms from federally licensed firearm dealers. Changes in how inmates obtained firearms, when the two surveys are compared, may or may not reflect the
    requirements in the Brady Act. Inmates may have procured their firearm or entered prison before the Brady Act became effective in 1994.”

    The numbers haven’t changed appreciably, criminals still get their guns primarily (80%) through already illegal transactions. Either currently illegal straw purchases, or transfers from “friends and family” (who know or should know their criminality), which expanded background checks still won’t catch, or from street sources who will continue to sell illegally. Sourcing from legitimate places not typically requiring background checks (shows and markets) remained at <2%. There was no substitution effect present from Brady, and should expanded checks be put it place, the evidence is that such purchases by criminals would also shift to the black market, leaving only legitimate buyers inconvenienced. Criminals -will- still get guns.

    Anyway, there's the answer to your question. Again, I understand you feel like you're getting "Shut up, they explained," but more research on your part could still yield article fodder and good information for other newbies, but without rehashing effectively settled questions.

  7. How do people get illegal drugs and narcotics? Figure out how to stop the underworld/black market and you might resolve the how; or make everyone a millionaire and maybe we won’t have to worry about it. Okay, a million isn’t really likely enough these days, so make it 10 million for everyone. You know what, 10 million isn’t likely enough for those who deal in “HOT” commodities, make it 100 million, that should satisfy the majority of people.

  8. Another thing. I didn’t mention kids in the post you responded to but you did so I’ll say kids are a totally different story. Kids can’t go in a store and buy a gun or carry one in grammar school and nobody wants them to.

    Kids access to matches guns or anything else is the parents’ responsibility.

  9. I think it’s a valid question, and one we pro-gunners should be willing to address, because the antis are going to ask it.

    In most cases, the answer is “illegally”, and the question should immediately be asked why those illegal purchases aren’t being prosecuted. Put the onus on the antis (and on law enforcement) for why current gun laws are not being enforced.

  10. I have noticed that anti-rights advocates do not differentiate between intents. They see no difference between a murderous gang banger and a housewife carrying a gun in her purse for protection of that gang member.

    What we do know is that criminals lie, cheat and steal to acquire firearms. They convince people close to them who can pass the background check to buy the gun for them. For every law the government creates, criminals will figure out multiple ways to bypass the law.

  11. “… because every criminal who uses a gun, reflects badly on the rest of us gun owners.”
    What? Sorry, but I don’t bear that cross for anyone. That’s the view of the Brady’s, Feinstein, and that nasty little fascist Bloomberg… And that’s the propaganda that they promote. Seriously, what the hell does some broken person with a gun have to do with me? I don’t own any of that. Ever.

      1. Reality not as important as perception? Isn’t that the modus operandi of the anti-gun right crowd? The facts don’t matter so long as they can spin the media coverage or the narrative? No offense, but when you say something like that, you’re pretty much acting like a mouth-piece of the Brady bunch or MAIG.
        So if someone’s perception of me is negative because of my gun, my politics, my race, my religion, or the color of my skin, it’s somehow MY problem? Hell no. Nope. There is no middle ground to be found here. Never going to own that… because if you do, it means that you’ve accepted their perception as your ‘reality’.

        1. I was speaking in generalities when I made that statement. How we are perceived by others is often more important than what we know about ourselves. I know I’m not a violent gun owner but I have friends who fear guns, I have to work and be sensitive to bring them over to my side and my way of seeing things.

          However, SPIN is a tool with which both sides are all too familiar.

          1. I’m curious… how many of your fearful friends have you brought over? That’s a serious question by the way. I’m not talking about the fence sitters…. I’m talking about the “no one should ever own a gun”, “guns are too dangerous to have in the house” kind of person… aka most of my family who fear guns. I’m originally from NYC and I will never be able to bring those family members/friends over. They refuse to even consider going to the range, ever. Mind is made up. The fence sitters are never a problem. The fearful, committed ones… IMHO are never coming over until/unless they become a victim or personally know someone who was victimized. That’s why I think it’s useless to worry about the perceptions of those who fear/hate us.

          2. I actually didn’t have a whole lot of “no one should ever own a gun” friends. Most of the people I’ve brought over were varying degrees of fence sitters. Many just needed the opportunity to have an open conversation, but the fearful ones are often listening to those conversations too.

            Listen, if they live in NYC, they’ve already accepted that they are giving up their gun rights, but at least I have shown them that guns are not inherently evil. They know me and they know I’m not a criminal, so they have begun associating guns in a new light.

            It’s useless to worry about every perception that’s out there, but as a former NYer, AND a gun writer I will continue to push the envelope with those I care about. They read my stuff and it slowly changes their thinking, they share it with people who are closeted shooters (who I meet in Ny all the time) and soon my friends are thinking, “guns are all around and appreciated by more people than I ever realized”…

  12. Reality is Important, and We Must do all we can, to make sure that Reality is what The People Hear.

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