Focus on Illegal Firearms Trafficking in Virginia

Hi guys!

This is going to be a brief post, as I just want to update you all about the direction that my research is taking as I narrow the scope of my inquiry into Virginia’s gun markets. I am going to focus on policy solutions for illegal firearms trafficking from Virginia. Several studies have shown that firearms move from states with weak gun laws, like Virginia, into those with stronger laws. The recent discovery of a resurgence in the “iron pipeline” from Virginia to NYC in early 2017 makes this topic exceptionally salient. This particular incident involved New York law enforcement officials tracing over 200 guns to Virginia, with the majority of the traffickers linked to the Richmond area in particular.

If you consult my abstract post, you will see that my project is focusing on identifying externalities that Virginia’s gun policies and markets may contain. Thus, trafficking fits very neatly into that context. The costs associated with crime by guns that originate in Virginia are externalities that our gun markets, and associated policies, place on other states. I have spent the last few days identifying potential solutions for interstate trafficking. I will continue to collect evidence of academic studies of policy implementation in the upcoming weeks.

A report by Everytown, the National Urban League, and Mayors Against Illegal Guns from 2016 identified universal background checks, increased oversight of gun dealers, and promoting responsible practices among private sellers as ways to reduce the supply of illegal guns to cities. Additionally, I have found evidence that Virginia’s previous one-gun-a month law was effective at reducing bulk firearms trafficking along the east coast.

I will keep you all updated as I proceed to wade through the complicated waters of illegal firearms trafficking and policy in Virginia and prepare to attend my first gun shows in a couple of weeks!


Here is the link to the report mentioned above:


  1. emmamerrill says:

    Hi Hannah! As far as the resurgence in the Iron Pipeline these past few years, most of what I have read suggests that this type of trafficking was not in response to Virginia’s repeal of the one handgun a month law (as some sources are wont to suggest). In fact, most trafficking of firearms is done in small batches, so laws restricting how many guns one person can purchase per month don’t really impact it at all. Most studies on trafficking show that this type of law doesn’t have a big impact on trafficking, and that we would be better off with greater oversight of licensed dealers, universal background checks, ect. The most recent gun bust of trafficking from VA to Brooklyn involved 10 people bringing 10 to 12 guns at a time from Virginia up 95 to Brooklyn. So it’s easy to see that with so many potential straw purchasers or legal buyers, the traffickers could have worked around the law.

    As far as the new administration goes, I do not see federal gun legislation in our near future…you are definitely right that the most comprehensive gun regulations that have been proven to limit trafficking are at the state and local levels of government. However, like any externality, any discrepancy in laws or regulations between states will tend to shift guns–and most likely the crime and violence associated with them–from one state to another. Ideally, I would be able to identify concretely how implementing successful policies that have already reduced trafficking in other states can be implemented in Virginia–and prove that gun violence will be reduced as a result. The issue is that this connection between less trafficking and less violence is largely absent in the academic literature, so that’s one part of the project that is largely in development! To make a long response short, I think that it makes sense to focus initially on implementing policies in states with the largest trafficking problems first so that the crime that results from these guns is reduced. Then, on a more long term time frame, I think that there is definitely going to need to be presidential action to promote universal background checks as a first step, especially since 87% or so of Americans favor them. To be honest, I’m just not sure if our current administration has these issues on its radar. Hope this at least partially answered your very thoughtful question(s)!

  2. hrgourdie says:

    Hey, Emma! I hope your summer break is off to a great start.

    Your project sounds so interesting, and I’m really looking forward to reading more of your blog posts. I’m curious to know what sparked the resurgence in the Iron Pipeline this year—was it Virginia’s lax gun laws alone or another trend or event in addition to this more lenient legal environment that prompted it? I’m also curious to know if and/or how the new administration will respond to this issue. It seems like the most effective solutions to the problem have to be formulated and implemented at the state and local levels of government, so it will be intriguing to see if/how much the federal government can intervene at all.