Glenn Kessler writes a column called Fact Checker for the Washington Post where he critiques statements made by politicians that don’t align with the facts. Recently he reviewed a statement about gun violence made by Presidential candidate Clinton and judged her comment to have “significant factual error and/or obvious contradictions.” The statement in question was made by Hillary last week when she said that “forty percent of guns are sold at gun shows, online sales.” Kessler argues that the offending statement is based on “very stale” data collected in 1994 and not subsequently verified by anyone else. But the 1994 figure refers to guns that individuals received without first undergoing a background check, which was the point of Hillary’s speech; i.e., the need to expand background checks to all transfers of guns
Hillary’s comment and my fifty-year experience in the gun business got me to thinking: is her statement about gun show and internet sales so far off the mark? Let’s try to build a little data. There are probably around 500 gun shows held in the U.S. every year. Some of these are mega-shows, like the Tulsa show, but most are local or regional affairs, usually hosting several hundred exhibitors with a few thousand gun nuts wandering around. I have probably been to 200 shows and have had a dealer’s table at 20-30 such events. Reflecting on that experience I would say that an average show might contain 10,000 guns available to be bought and sold, maybe half are on tables rented by people who do not have an FFL Are there 2.5 million non-FFL guns on display at gun shows each year? I’ll bet I’m not far off.
What about the internet? I have sold guns on big auction sites like Guns America and Gun Broker, and I have also bought guns from listings on Armslist. I belong to two private Facebook groups where members buy, sell and trade guns, there are also hundreds of gun blogs which allow registered members to buy and sell guns. Every one of these sites contains very clear admonitions to the effect that everyone must conform to all applicable federal, state and local laws. The only problem is that in most localities there are no state or local laws. And if two people who live in the same state want to transfer a gun, there’s no federal law requiring any paperwork at all.
Some of the guns sold on internet websites are posted by retail dealers who also sell guns on their own websites and at local shows. A study of Armslist postings by Third Way found there were 15,768 listings by private sellers in 10 states, which might indicate that 75,000 privately-owned guns are listed for sale at any one time, which is roughly 75% of all the guns for sale on the Armslist site. Gun Broker, the largest online gun auction site, claims to contain 500,000 listings at any given time, but probably half these listings are for ammo, optics and various non-gun crap.
Between the auction sites, the buyer-to-seller sites and the gun blogs, I’m probably not off by much in estimating that one million guns are available for sale on the internet, of which maybe 750,000 guns could be transferred without conducting a background check. And despite the rush towards a totally digital marketplace, most communities still have print newspapers and most of these papers carry classified ads for guns. I just took a random look at a local shopper, Thrifty Nickel, in Idaho Falls, and found ads to sell a Taurus revolver and a Para 45.
What Hillary meant to say was that 40% of all gun transfers occur without a background check and she may not be far off the mark. Kessler is concocting a straw horse by criticizing her for what was nothing other than a verbal slip. What she knows is that more background checks equals less guns going to the ‘wrong hands.’ And Glenn Kessler loses all credibility by not pointing that out.