1 day, 11 hours ago
I published a story on Monday that has generated some of the strongest pushback — indeed, ridicule — of anything I have reported for The Trace.
My piece examined how gun manufacturing trends influence the criminal market and what changes in the types of guns being produced might mean for public safety. Gun companies are producing a greater number of semiautomatic handguns of the sort used as police sidearms and military service weapons — those that shoot 9mm, .40, and .45-caliber bullets — than in decades past. They are selling them to civilians who increasingly buy firearms for the primary purpose of defending themselves from other people, and believe that more powerful guns will make them more safe.
The increasing prevalence of powerful guns also means that criminals encounter them, and acquire them, more often. I also found in my reporting evidence that illegal buyers prefer high-caliber guns for the same reasons as legal buyers.
Law enforcement officers are recovering more of these weapons at crime scenes, and fewer of the kinds of cheap, small guns that criminals favored during the crime waves of the late 20th century.
The story was based on publicly available data from the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, which shows a sharp uptick in the number of high-caliber guns recovered by police in a short time period, just four years. The data makes clear that in the underground criminal market, the supply of semiautomatic handguns chambered to shoot 9mm, .40, and .45-caliber bullets is increasing faster than the supply of smaller calibers, like the .22.
Forensic evidence shows that larger bullets tear larger holes in human bodies, and thus are more likely to severely damage a vital organ or rupture an artery. Public health research indicates that an increasing number of people who get shot are dying from their wounds.
In an editorial on firearm news site Guns.com, Greg Camp said my article was “confusing.” Robert Farago of The Truth About Guns dismissed the piece as well. On his popular gun blog Bearing Arms, Bob Owens called the story “the second dumbest thing you’ll read about guns all day.” I’m not sure who crowded me out of the top spot.
Owens and others criticized my understanding of caliber and the gun industry’s last century and change of history. As they pointed out, the kinds of weapons at the center of my story have been around for more than a century. That’s true: the 9mm round was first designed in 1901, and the .45-caliber in 1904. My critics also argued that these rounds are far from the largest calibers available today. That’s also true: The weapons I wrote about don’t approach the power of the .50-caliber bullet shot by the Desert Eagle pistol so often favored by action movie villains.
As they made their criticisms, these gun writers did not engage with the point of my story. I never claimed that the calibers I wrote about were only recently invented, nor that they were the biggest rounds in history.
Rather, I pointed about that the production of more powerful handguns has surged, while production of others — revolvers and semiautomatic calibers considered too small for police sidearms, like .22, .25, and .32 — has grown comparatively slowly, or even withered away. The guns that make up an ever-greater share of the American arsenal often shoot larger, faster rounds than those weapons that are losing ground, and the handguns now most prevalent nearly universally accommodate higher capacity magazines.
I was ridiculed for noting these differences, cast as an ignorant fear-monger and outsider who lacked standing to comment on the gun world.
Ignored, in these critiques, are the public safety implications of a larger supply of more powerful guns flowing from the legal to the illegal market.
It seemed that they didn’t so much contest the conclusions I reached so much as they took offense that I would pose these questions about the relationship between the gun supply and crime in the first place.
I object that Alex didn’t interact with my assessment of their work. You can go assess the data for yourself. Alex is misrepresenting the data and isn’t quite at the point of truly understanding what he’s looking at because he isn’t a gunner. To repeat myself from the first analysis of this issue, he isn’t educated on his subject. Let’s take a closer look.
The data is only available on this site for the years 2012 – 2015. From a technical perspective (and given that I’m a PE, I’m qualified to make judgments concerning mathematics and statistics), I deny that this is enough data to develop a trend line with a reasonable correlation coefficient. In other words, the data isn’t statistically significant. Much more is needed before Alex can reach any conclusions like he did.
But to engage the data as if it’s meaningful, let’s outline what we know. In 2015, the following recoveries were made: 55,691 (9mm), 28717 (.40), 20,729 (.45 ACP), 9,417 (.357 magnum), and 35,382 (.22LR). This list isn’t complete.
In 2012, the following recoveries were made: 42,560 (9mm), 20,674 (.40), 17,280 (.45 ACP), 9,979 (.357 magnum), and 42,560 (.22LR).
This data doesn’t show what Alex wants it to show. First of all, it shows that more recoveries occurred (due to whatever reason, increased police work, presumably). It shows that approximately the same number of .22LR recoveries occurred in both years, while recoveries in 9mm and .40 went up in 2015 (although not significantly). But it also shows that recoveries in .45 ACP stayed about the same. It also shows that recoveries in .357 magnum decreased. No one would argue that the .357 magnum is a weak round. It has about the same bullet diameter as the 9mm but with approximately 400 FPS greater muzzle velocity than the 9mm. It packs a punch, enough to shatter windshields and keep moving, which is why LEOs transitioned to this round from the .38 Special.
But buyers are rejecting this round in favor of the much weaker 9mm (a judgment I reject given my love for the .357 magnum round). The higher ratio of 9mm to .22LR recovered in 2015 versus 2012 is analogous to the higher ratio of 9mm to .45 ACP in both years, meaning that buyers favor the weaker 9mm over the much stronger .45 ACP.
It’s what I told you in my earlier analysis without looking at the data. That’s how sure I was of my judgment – I didn’t even look at the data to write my analysis. And I was right. No one has ever preferentially selected the .22LR for self defense (although I’ve argued that the .22 magnum is a feasible self defense round even if not superior). Shooters may use it (including criminals) if it happens to be around.
But buyers are preferentially selecting medium calibers (9mm, .38 ACP) over larger rounds and rounds with higher muzzle velocity like the .357 magnum. Buyers simply are not purchasing higher caliber weapons (.40, .45 ACP, .44 magnum) or weapons with higher muzzle velocity (e.g., .357 magnum) in the same quantity as the 9mm. Instead, the 9mm is the ubiquitous round in America today. That’s why, during the ammunition shortage a few years ago, I could always buy .45 ACP, and when I looked for 9mm just to see what the other guys are doing, I could never find any.
Ironically, it isn’t the guns that have changed. Yes, technology has developed to some degree, but the real development has occurred in ammunition. So for example, the development of high performing personal defense ammunition has made buyers more confident in purchasing the 9mm (e.g., open tip bullets where the jacket is chemically bonded to the lead core, ensuring symmetrical expansion of the bullet).
Alex is wrong in his analysis. Just wrong. He’s trafficking in fake news. He has misread the data, and he is seeing what he wants to see. We firearms experts are always around to help him out before he writes the next gun piece, but remember, Google considers folks like me to be “fake news.” So Alex better be careful associating with folks like us. He may lose his reputation.