It looks like we may be headed towards Round 2 of the gun control fight in Washington, in which case the NRA will begin kicking and screaming again about how expanding the National Instant Criminal Background Check system (NCIS) will “weaken” the Second Amendment and ultimately lead to the confiscation of guns. But is the argument really about “constitutional rights”? Or is the real argument about something else?
Don’t forget that every single gun entering the consumer market for the first time is sold by a federally-licensed dealer to a consumer and every one of these transactions requires a NICS background check. Whether the dealer is sitting behind the counter in a retail store, or sitting behind a table at a gun show, or sitting on the porch of his home, he/she must still dial 877-324-6427 and get a “proceed” from the very efficient NICS examiner before Joe or Jane Customer walks away with the gun. After that, God only knows what happens to the gun, but every first transaction is registered and approved.
The 156 million calls logged by the NICS came from all 50 states, but just under 50 percent of FBI background checks covered residents in just 16 Southern and border states: MD, VA, WV, NC, SC, TN, KY, GA, FL, LA, Al, MS, TX, OK, MO and AR. These states have a combined population of 114 million. In other words, states that contain less than one-third of the nation’s population bought half of the guns manufactured and sold since 1998.
Incidentally, the ratio of population to NICS calls actually underestimates the number of guns because when I or any other dealer calls NICS we do not tell them how many guns are actually being purchased by the customer. The NICS data doesn’t reflect the fact that if someone walks into my gun shop and purchases one gun, or two guns, or ten guns, I still make only a single NICS call and do not disclose the number of guns being transferred since NICS is verifying background information on the buyer, not on the guns.
With the exception of Maryland, which lies below the Mason-Dixon line but is clearly a “northern” state, the remaining 15 states that gobble up half the new guns sold each year also have the loosest gun controls at the state level. The word “loosest” is something of a misnomer, since the majority of these states, in fact, have no state gun regulations at all. None of them require locking devices on any guns; only one — Virginia — imposes any regulations on gun show sales; and only one — North Carolina — requires a gun permit issued prior to purchasing a handgun. It goes without saying that none of them mandate any legal requirements over private sales.
Of the remaining 34 states, there are 21 that have regulations covering either gun locks, gun shows or private transfers. Most of the other 13 states that impose no restrictions are Western states which, for the most part, account for a small percentage of national gun sales simply because these states don’t have many residents. Montana, for example, is one of three states in which the number of NICS checks between 1998 and 2012 exceeded the total number of residents, but Montana still doesn’t have one million people who call the state their home.
Common sense and practical experience tells us that when government regulates any consumer product, either the price goes up or the supply goes down, or both. Fighting against regulations that would be imposed on the gun owners of all 50 states might appear to be a Constitutional issue, but it’s a marketing strategy as well. The gun industry and its allies want to push as many guns as possible into parts of the country where government regulation won’t dampen sales. The Second Amendment not only protects the rights of individuals to own guns, it also protects the rights of manufacturers to make more guns. Does laissez-faire trump gun control? If the Manchin-Toomey bill is resurrected, we’ll soon find out.