Ring of Fire  Guns and Crime

The cheap, easily concealable pistols produced by the Ring of Fire firms are the 1990s incarnation of the Saturday Night Specials of the 1960s and '70s. Thus, general information on a criminal preference for cheap, easily concealable, small-caliber handguns is relevant here.

In the 1970s, BATF conducted large-scale studies of handguns confiscated by the police. The first, Project Identification, described more than 10,000 handguns taken during 1973 - 1975. Of these guns, 56 percent were believed to be worth less than $50, 71 percent had a barrel length of 3 inches or less, and 61 percent were .32 caliber or smaller. Forty-five percent of the confiscated guns had all three of these characteristics and were classifiable as Saturday Night Specials.

This study was criticized because BATF had not distinguished guns actually used in crime from those confiscated for other reasons. However, as described by criminologist James Wright and colleagues, careful re-analysis yielded substantially similar results.

In a follow-up multi-city study called Project CLJE (Concentrated Urban Enforcement), BATF did associate gun characteristics with specific violent felonies. Of more than 22,000 handguns confiscated, 21 percent were involved in homicide, robbery, rape, or assault. Fifty-one percent of these known crime guns were .32 caliber or smaller, and 72 percent had a barrel length of 3 inches or less.

New data allow us to identify the specific role of Ring of Fire guns in crime. The conclusion is inescapable: Ring of Fire manufacturers supply today's weapons of choice for criminal use. Their guns are involved in many thousands of crimes each year.

The Washington Post reported in January 1994 that of all 21,744 guns "seized at crime scenes and traced" by BATF during 1991-1993, a remarkable 62 percent - 13,559 handguns - were produced by a "Jennings-related company." According to ABC television's DayOne, in 1994 the Lorcin .3 80 ACP is the single firearm most frequently submitted to BATF for tracing.

The particular tragedy of Ring of Fire handguns is that they are special favorites of young people. Stephen Teret of The Johns Hopkins University calls such weapons "starter set" guns. One New York high school student, an illicit gun dealer who specialized in guns from the Jennings family companies, told reporter Alix Freedman, "Here where I live, every young kid has a .22 or a .25. It's like their first Pampers.

In California, law enforcement agencies confiscate tens of thousands of handguns each year. Ring of Fire pistols make up an ever increasing share of these guns. By 1993, Ring of Fire manufacturers produced 8 of the 10 most frequently confiscated handguns in California.

Local data from around the country tell the same story. According to Freedman's Wall Street Journal article, police in Houston confiscated nearly 1,000 guns used in crimes in 199 1; the Raven .25 ACP, the Davis .380 ACP, and the Davis.32 ACP pistols ranked as the top three guns. In Cleveland that year, police confiscated more than 2,000 handguns; the Raven .25 ACP ranked second.

In Milwaukee County, Wisconsin, the Raven pistol has ranked first among all brands of handguns destroyed by the police department since at least 1991. By 1993, Davis Industries ranked second. More than half of all handguns destroyed by Milwaukee County law enforcement agencies in 1993 came from Ring of Fire manufacturers. Ironically, the commercial success of individual Ring of Fire companies can be reflected in Milwaukee's data. Davis Industries, for example, went from 79 guns destroyed in 1991, to 116 in 1992, to 270 in 1993.

And Raven Arms ranked among the top 10 manufacturers of handguns used to murder law enforcement officers in the 1980s." This is particularly remarkable in view of the fact that Raven produced only a .25 ACP pistol. Wounds from such "mouse guns" are less likely to be lethal than are wounds from more powerful handguns. It is probable that if information were available on both homicides and non-fatal shootings, Raven's ranking - and that of other Ring of Fire manufacturers - would be substantially higher.

These reports certainly show that guns produced by Ring of Fire manufacturers play a major role in firearm violence. They cannot prove, though they certainly suggest, that Ring of Fire handguns are actually weapons of choice for criminal use. To do this, it must be shown that Ring of Fire handguns are used in crime not just frequently, but disproportionately - more frequently even than would be predicted from the large number of Ring of Fire guns in circulation.

The weapon-of-choice question is an important factor in determining how policymakers view Ring of Fire handguns. For example, when ABC's Day One reporter confronted Lorcin's Jim Waldorf with the fact that his company's .380 ACP pistol was traced more frequently than any other handgun in early 1994, Waldorf shrugged him off, noting that Lorcin had more than half of all .3 8 0 ACP pistol sales in the United States. Waldorf s implication presumably is that the Lorcin gun's prominence in the BATF tracing data is no more than should be expected, given the large number of these guns Lorcin has made.

As this anecdote and the earlier local area studies indicate, one common method for estimating and comparing the frequency with which different guns are involved in crime is to use BATF records of requests they receive from local law enforcement agencies to trace particular firearms. To trace a gun means to identify its chain of ownership beginning at the point of manufacture. While there are exceptions, this situation nearly always arises in the course of a criminal investigation. One recent example is BATF's determination that the Taurus .38 special revolver used to assassinate Mexico's presidential candidate Luis Donaldo Colosio was originally sold in 1977 by a San Francisco gun shop to a Bay Area security executive.

BATF has produced a special tabulation of all handguns for which tracing requests were submitted from September 1989 through September 1991, for each of the top 25 manufacturers in their tracing data. Importantly, this tabulation was limited to requests regarding handguns that had been manufactured on or after I January 1987. With this key refinement, it is possible to compare the number of traced guns made by a particular manufacturer to the total number of guns produced by that manufacturer that might have been traced.

Manufacturer Guns Traced
Sept. 1989 -
Sept. 1991
Guns Made
1987 - Mid 1991

Ring of Fire
Gun Valley
   Smith & Wesson
   Sturm Ruger

These data are displayed in above table, in which the Ring of Fire manufacturers are compared with the Gun Valley firms Smith & Wesson, Ruger, and Colt. Nearly 6,300 Ring of Fire handguns were traced by BATF's National Tracing Center during the two-year study period. Guns from the Gun Valley manufacturers were involved in only 4,307 traces, a decrease of 32 percent, although these manufacturers had produced more than twice as many handguns since the beginning of 1987.

This large and important difference can be summarized in a standard public-health measure of comparative risk called an odds ratio. In this case, the odds that a Ring of Fire handgun will be traced (the number of Ring of Fire guns traced, divided by the number of Ring of Fire guns not traced) are divided by the odds that a Gun Valley handgun will be traced (the number of Gun Valley guns traced, divided by the number of Gun Valley guns not traced).

By this measure, handguns produced by the Ring of Fire manufacturers are 3.4 times as likely as guns from Gun Valley to be traced by BATF. Handguns from the Ring of Fire manufacturers are disproportionately involved in crime. They truly are weapons of choice for criminal use.

This overall conclusion is reinforced by the findings of a new study of the risk that specific guns would be used in homicides of law enforcement officers. The single gun with the greatest number of police homicides per number of guns in circulation was the .32 caliber pistol. As of 1992, nearly 90 percent of these guns were produced by Ring of Fire manufacturers.

The frequency of crime associated with Ring of Fire handguns can also be estimated in a nontraditional way that captures both risks and benefits associated with these guns. This might be called the crimes-to-jobs ratio. On the jobs side of the balance, Jim Waldorf of Lorcin Engineering stated in a letter to his suppliers that the five Jennings-related companies and their suppliers employed 2,100 people in early 1993. As for crimes, the Justice Department estimates that there were 931,000 handgun crimes in 1992 , and BATF tracing data establish that 62 percent of all guns submitted for tracing by law enforcement come from one of the Jennings-related manufacturers.' For rough estimation purposes, we can assume that a similar percentage of all handgun crimes involve guns made by these companies.

On this basis, in 1992 there were approximately 577,000 crimes committed with a gun from a Jennings-related company. This amounts to 275 gun crimes committed each year, somewhere in the United States, for each of the 2,100 persons employed directly or indirectly by the Jennings-related companies - more than one gun crime per employee per working day.

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