Publisher's note: This post, by Lee Brett, was originally published in the Justice & Public Safety section(s) of Civitas's online edition.
"When guns are outlawed," the adage goes, "only outlaws will have guns." That certainly seems to be the case in Charlotte: A Civitas analysis of gun-related arrests in Charlotte indicates that at least 66 percent of arrestees were ineligible to purchase handguns.
Using public records, Civitas requested data on all handgun crimes committed in the Queen City during 2005.[i] By applying some of the factors that disqualify purchase of a handgun, it was possible to more closely identify whether a person arrested for a crime could legally have owned a weapon.
The table below lists factors that disqualify a person from purchasing a handgun in the state of North Carolina. Due to the shortcomings of publicly-available records, it was only possible to account for two out of 10 of the criteria in the data provided by the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police Department. Specifically, Civitas was only able to identify arrestees who were under the age of 21, as well as arrestees who had been convicted of a felony.
Parameters for Handgun Eligibility
Before describing the results of this review, it is important to note that this was not a scientific survey. There are major limitations to this review, due to the general lack of available public data on the subject. Some problems of this methodology include:
It is impossible to know whether the person arrested for a handgun-related crime was actually in possession of the handgun, or whether a partner/accomplice possessed the weapon. CMPD does not distinguish between the two in its files.
It is impossible to identify 8 out of 10 of the disqualifying parameters for handgun purchase.
Analyzing handgun crimes in one city, in one year, does not provide a sufficient sample from which to draw scientific conclusions.
Despite the fact that this was not a scientific inquiry, the results are still instructive to some degree. They provide a rough "snapshot" of handgun crime in North Carolina's largest metropolitan area. What that snapshot shows is eye-opening.
By federal law, it is illegal for gun stores to sell handguns to people under the age of 21. But 238 out of 636 Charlotte arrestees were under the age of 21. And 81 of the 238 underage arrestees were under the age of 18. As a result, more than a third of the people arrested for handgun crimes could not legally have purchased handguns, simply by virtue of their age.
Using data from the Department of Corrections, Civitas analyzed the records of all arrestees over the age of 21 to identify any felony conviction prior to 2005 that would disqualify them from handgun ownership. Out of 398 arrestees over the age of 21, Civitas identified 185 arrestees with prior felony convictions. As the pie chart below indicates, about 47 percent of the arrestees over 21 had prior felony convictions.
In total, at least 66.5 percent of arrestees were legally ineligible to purchase handguns. That figure is probably dramatically understated. Due to the limitations of publicly-available records, it was not possible to examine eight out of the ten disqualifying criteria for handgun purchases. If these criteria had been applied, it seems reasonable that a much larger percentage of arrestees would be identified as legally ineligible to buy handguns.
To most gun owners or police officers, this information will not seem surprising in the least. It is a simple truth that criminals do not obey gun laws. Nor do gun laws inhibit criminal access to firearms. Unfortunately, that will probably not stop policymakers from attempting to reduce crime by levying more restrictions on law-abiding citizens.
[i] The year 2005 was selected in order to ensure that no cases would be pending appeal or be otherwise incomplete.