- The “Iron Pipeline” doesn’t exist.
- Most guns that move from one state to another do so as part of normal human relocation, not trafficking.
- The time it takes for a gun to slip into criminal use is so long that the problem is local crime control and not interstate gun control.
When it comes to gun control, nobody has ever accused the New York Times of honesty or accuracy.
I won’t break their losing streak.
In a recent bit of editorial effluvium and journalistic malpractice, the NYT penned perilous prose concerning the mythical “Iron Pipeline” of guns migrating into states with strict gun control from states without. The Gun Facts Project has already run the numbers and shown the Iron Pipeline to be both a con job as well as demonstrating the inverse is actually true. In brief, states with strict gun control laws are more likely to import crime guns from other strict states than those with more libertarian laws.
Yet the NYT leaned upon ageless canards to make it appear as if local gun control laws were a meaningful determinate for gun crimes in strict law states. Since I enjoy propaganda analysis as well as debunking gun control misinformation, the NYT piece provides a delightful case study in both (Gregor Aisch and Josh Keller might want to read this breakdown to avoid making such amateur mistakes again).
Big, Scary Numbers
“About 50,000 guns are found to be diverted to criminals across state lines every year …” was one of the first factless factoids proffered by the NYT. According to the Catalog of Canards, the NYT was using the Lie of Intimidation (triggering instinctive reactions to create unfounded fears) and the Lie of Statistics (the use of numbers that present misleading information and distort perspective) to scare readers into believing southern hicks were endangering urban sophisticates (I’ve been to New York … often … it ain’t as sophisticated as their branding leads some to believe).
To create bogus bona fides, the authors link to a web page at the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms (BATF). Readers get dumped onto a page of links to various data, but not to a specific set of numbers that relates to the story. Having visited the same page while preparing our Iron Pipeline myth study, I know where the NYT did not deeply dive.
Buried on that page are the “time to crime” statistics. The BATF shows that the average time from a gun being sold at retail to when it is recovered in crime is around eleven years. Any alleged Iron Pipeline would get guns into criminal hands much faster than that. Hence, most of the guns migrated slowly into strict law states, and not via any “pipeline”.
More to the point though was the seemingly intentional merging of two unrelated assertions, namely guns being diverted, and guns crossing state lines (the Lie of Non Sequiturs, combining vaguely related, or completely unrelated, information to create a false impression or conclusion). Incorrectly citing a BATF report from the year 2000, they said that as many as 50,000 guns per year are misdirected into the criminal underground, but not all (or even most) migrate to other states. There is no mention in that BATF report of what fraction of the estimated number of diverted guns cross state lines, much less how many are in the mythical south-to-north “pipeline”.
The NYT continues the canard by stating “In New York and New Jersey, which have some of the strictest laws in the country, more than two-thirds of guns tied to criminal activity were traced to out-of-state purchases in 2014 …”
Define “out of state”.
Without a bridge, the article’s ham-handed construct leads from the bank of “southern states being the problem” to the opposite shore of “for state like New York and New Jersey.” New Jersey is “out of state” for New York, as is Pennsylvania, Ohio and other nearby locations from where people migrate for jobs, family and regional preference. The goal of the authors was to make an impression without showing the reality (the Lie of Definition, using purposefully vague or misleading definitions to create political or legislative leverage, especially when it splits the opposing faction). In this instance, the fact that many crime guns came from nearby states is carefully omitted.
Using the detailed BATF state-by-state numbers, for New Jersey we see that after New Jersey itself, Pennsylvania is the top state for crime guns (about 73% as many as the Garden State). In fact, Pennsylvania is the source for as many New Jersey crime guns as the next two states combined (Virginia, which though southern is spitting distance away, and North Carolina, just one more below). New York fared a little better, getting marginally more from Virginia than from Pennsylvania. However, the number of New York crime guns that came from New York is as much as the next four states combined.
But let me simplify this. If we look at the ten states with the “toughest” gun control laws (sans Hawaii, which has peculiar geographical barriers) and the ten states with the least restrictive laws, we see New York and New Jersey have much to fear … from other strict law states. If you are getting gunned down in New Jersey, odds are you were nearly eight times more likely to have been shot from a gun imported from a state with strict gun control laws that a state with lax ones.
“Law enforcement officials express frequent frustration that they are not able to track every gun that crosses state lines …”
Some lies never die. In this fiction we see the Lie of Omission (purposefully excluding information to inappropriately change beliefs about an issue).
According to the BATF’s pamphlet titled “Disclosure of Firearm Trace Data”, the BATF provides gun origin traces to every law enforcement agency for every bona fide investigation, regardless of the origin of the weapon. This includes joint investigations, investigations where the nexus to crime is uncertain, and for just about any other crime investigation reason.
What the BATF is prohibited from doing is helping politicians create false and misleading data, which the BATF was once in the business of doing. Desperados like Michael Bloomberg once obtained BATF trace data for political reasons, routinely misinterpreting and cherry picking data for their causes. Congress put a stop to that while leaving law enforcement free to get the information they needed on demand (for the curious, see the Tiahrt Amendment).
The propaganda element here is that the NYT paints law enforcement as hamstrung when they are not, and then links the non-existent hamstringing to the mythical Iron Pipeline. Simplistic agitprop, and likely plays well in Brooklyn, at least near 6th Avenue and West 38th.
“Most guns are originally bought from retail stores, but people who can’t pass a background check typically obtain guns from friends, family or illegal dealers …” was the NYTs almost honest, but utterly misleading claim.
About 40% of crime guns come from completely underground sources, such as trading guns for drugs, stealing them, or from street weapons dealers who vend recirculated crime guns (Bureau of Justice Statistics, Firearm Violence). Another 38% are acquired from “family or friends” but the definition of “friend” is extremely flexible, and includes fellow junkies and gangbangers. The NYT amalgamated two groups into one composite sketch, and by doing so obfuscated the true nature of the way guns get into criminal hands (the Lie of Association, Using invalid associations to demonize a person or position). Indeed, nearly a third of the guns in this “family and friends” category occurred via “unknown” exchanges, making the true source even less transparent than an NYT headline.
But the NYT doubles down on this con by citing a small, city-wide study in Chicago (while hiding the national numbers) by saying “Many inmates reported obtaining guns from friends who had bought them legally and then reported them stolen, or from locals who had brought the guns from out of state.” A non-specific claim, from a single city survey of convicts, without any linkage to the article’s “iron pipeline” myth thread, yet positioned as if it somehow was part of the plot. I’m not sure this can even be classified as journalism.
All the News That’s Unfit to Print
The bottom line is that the Iron Pipeline doesn’t exist, most guns that move from one state to another do so as part of normal human relocation, that the time it takes for a gun to make these moves and to slip into the criminal underground is so long that the problem is likely local crime control and not interstate gun control.
But don’t bother telling Gregor Aisch, Josh Keller or Jill Abramson this. They are the old media, dying a slow and painful financial death through their own comedy of canards and con jobs. The fifth estate has supplanted the fourth, and for good reason.