The Journal Gazette
Tuesday, June 08, 2021 1:00 am


Gun crime abettor

State's lax firearms laws make it easy conduit

Fort Wayne police called Sunday night to the 2300 block of Hoagland Avenue found a man with life-threatening gunshot injuries.

Almost two weeks ago, a woman was killed and four others injured in a shootout at a south side apartment complex. A 20-year-old local man is charged with murder and several other felonies in that melee.

No one had been charged in the Hoagland Avenue shooting as of late Monday afternoon.

It's not known in either situation where the guns used came from, but new research sheds light on the genesis of weapons used in crimes involving firearms across the U.S.

Everytown for Gun Safety, a gun violence prevention advocacy group, recently launched its Crime Gun Dashboard – an interactive database built with government data showing the movement of firearms used in crimes from state to state. Using information from the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, Everytown found that states with lax rules on background checks often are the source for guns used in crimes.

Indiana is one of those states, an illuminating fact state lawmakers should take into account when considering potential crime-control legislation.

At issue is a national patchwork of laws that requires background checks in some situations and not others.

Federal law mandates background checks for people buying guns from licensed dealers. There is no requirement for background checks on sales in other settings, such as gun shows.

Many states, including Indiana, have not pushed their laws beyond federal requirements. Everytown contends that's created big problems with devastating consequences.

“This analysis is the latest proof that background checks matter,” Nick Suplina, the organization's managing director for law and policy, said in a statement announcing the launch of the dashboard. “Gun tracing data makes it clear that criminals are exploiting our patchwork of laws to traffic guns across state lines, overwhelmingly from states that do not require background checks on all gun sales.”

From 2015 to 2019, according to Everytown, nearly 84,400 guns were “likely trafficked” – a term the organization defines as “having crossed state lines and having been used in a crime within three years of first retail purchase.” About 69,000 – more than 80% – of those guns came from states without strong background-check laws.

Indiana is among states where that's most likely to happen, the dashboard shows.

Almost 17,300 guns “originating in Indiana” were used in crimes within three years of purchase, data from 2015 to 2019 show. That's higher than neighbors Illinois (12,667), Kentucky (9,778) and Michigan (8,723). Nearly 20,000 guns originating in Ohio were used in crimes within three years of purchase.

Ohio and Kentucky do not require background checks for sales from unlicensed sellers, while Illinois and Michigan require them in some situations, according to the Giffords Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence.

Allen County Chief Deputy Prosecutor Michael McAlexander likely is among the people most familiar with the effects of local gun violence, and he said in a recent interview that “so many of our cases involve stolen guns” that are hard to track. He's not convinced stronger background check laws would significantly reduce crime.

“The people using guns for crimes are not particular about where they get them,” McAlexander said.

True, and that's a strong argument. But any measure making it harder for criminals to get their hands on weapons is worth considering.

About Indiana

The dashboard is available at Below are some relevant statistics: 

• Between 2015 and 2019, the state supplied 40,049 guns used sometime after purchase. The number might be higher, according to researchers, because some guns are not recovered by police or traced.

• Of those, 14,667 crossed state lines.

• Of 17,286 guns from Indiana used in a crime within three years of purchase over that period, 4,770 crossed state lines.

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