Obama Claims That It’s Easier for Teens to Get Guns Than Books. Come On.


President Barack Obama made an extraordinary claim during a speech Tuesday on the ease with which many teenagers are able to get guns. “We flood communities with so many guns that it is easier for a teenager to buy a Glock than get his hands on a computer, or even a book,” Obama said during an interfaith memorial service for the fallen Dallas police officers.

A shocking claim, but is it true? Of course not.

To begin with, it’s against federal law for those below the age of 18 to own handguns, except in extremely limited circumstances. Licensed dealers are likewise banned from selling handguns to those below the age of 21. Technically, you could stretch the definition and say that fully-fledged adult 18-year-olds and 19-year-olds are “teenagers” who could legally own firearms, but even then they need to go through the backgrounds checks, mandatory courses, permitting , etc. that all gun owners have to go through, AND they need to find an unlicensed dealer willing to sell a Glock secondhand.

So really, for the vast majority of teenagers, you’re talking about illegal ownership and sale. Like any illegal good, that requires finding an adult willing to risk prison to get you that object and dealing with unsavory characters, imposing opportunity costs on both the buyer and the seller. Try buying Nyquil and then methamphetamine and tell me which one is easier.

The black market it turn means highly marked-up prices, usually up to 3 times higher than the retail price. For the cheapest Glocks, that means a price of around $1,500 (they sell for $500 legally). Meanwhile, quality laptops can be obtained for as low as $200 to $300. Suffice it to say, books are even cheaper.

Books and computers may also be used and obtained for free at a series of buildings throughout the United States, called “libraries.” These buildings require a “library card” and often result in nasty letters demanding 35 cents in late fees, but the hurdles pale in comparison to the arduous process required to obtain a gun, either legally or illegally.

The implication underlying Obama’s comments is of course that he’s talking specifically about urban communities and other areas where gun violence is an epidemic. But while it is tragically more difficult for those in low-income areas to finds bookstores, libraries, and computer stores… more difficult than finding a gun runner and/or an adult willing to risk prison, and coming up with over a grand? Come on.

It seems to me that Obama is incorrectly diagnosing the problem and replacing it with a problem he wished existed. Complaining that we “flooded” communities with guns implies that the problem is supply-side: that is to say, young people would have become well-adjusted scholars if the gun runners had just stayed home. Realistically, the problem is demand-side: gun runners and dealers bring guns to certain communities because people in those communities want guns. And unfortunately, many young people willing to pay in the thousands of dollars to get a gun are uninterested in shelling out $10 for a great novel.

The problem Obama wished existed is relatively easy to solve through extensive police action. The problem that actually exists is exceedingly difficult and defies easy soundbites. How do we as a society better teach our young people– especially those in high-crime areas– that an education and delayed gratification is the better course than the fleeting benefits of gangs and violence? I don’t have an easy answer, and neither does the president.

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This is an opinion piece. The views expressed in this article are those of just the author.

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