As I am sure everyone knows, Gun-nut Nation has been celebrating what they claim is a tremendous surge in gun sales which started when Obama moved into the White House and allegedly hasn’t let up. The result for a publicly-owned company like Smith & Wesson is an increase in share price from $5 in 2009 to nearly $26 last week; for the gun industry in general a conviction that guns are becoming so mainstream that sooner or later there will be one in every American home.
Actually, surveys about gun ownership keep pointing to a different reality; namely, that fewer and fewer people own more and more guns. The gun researchers at Harvard and Northeastern have done the latest study on gun owners and found that only 22% of adults own guns, of whom 3% re considered ‘super’ owners because their gun stash is between 8 and upwards of 100 guns.
But surveys conducted by phone or computer are one thing; hard data is something else. And here is where the problem gets sticky, because the data that is usually used to figure out how many are being sold is probably less exact and reliable than the surveys of gun owners like the Harvard-Northeastern survey that’s currently making the rounds.
I am referring, of course, to the monthly totals of FBI-NICS background checks published by the ATF, which shows a nearly 80% increase in annual checks between 2009 and he current year. The problem with this number, is that it hides more than it explains, because NICS is utilized for any over-the-counter transaction which means that used guns, which for many shops count for 30-40% of their inventory, are not being sold for the first time but are being resold. NICS is also used for checking the issuance and status of gun licenses, this type of check has recently been responsible for 25% of all NICS calls, and then there is the requirement in a growing number of states that all gun transactions take place at the countertop whether the dealer sold the gun or not. I’m not saying that gun sales haven’t increased under Obama – of course they have. But I’m not about to drink the gun industry Kool Aid which, if true, would make it appear that just about everyone out there is grabbing a gun.
On the other hand, it’s not only Gun-nut Nation mixing up a pitcher of Kool-Aid for everyone to drink; Gun-sense Nation also has a tendency from time to time to offer up their own flavor of Kool-Aid when it comes to discussions about how many people buy or own guns. I am talking in this instance to a story that just appeared in The Boston Globe in which the reporter, Matt Rocheleau, looked at the ATF listing of gun dealers for Massachusetts and discovered, much to his concern, that the Bay State has more people holding federal firearms licenses (FFL) than it has cities and towns. According to Rocheleau, there are 389 license-holders in Massachusetts and only 351 municipalities, with some locations having as many as six or more – oh my God! If you live in Massachusetts, it sure must be easy to buy a gun.
There’s only one little problem with this article – it bears no relationship to reality at all. You can have as many FFLs as you want, but if you don’t have a state dealer’s license you can’t sell a gun to anyone except yourself. And you can’t even sell a gun to yourself unless it is approved for civilian ownership in Massachusetts both by the Executive Office of Public Safety and the AG; which means you can’t own a new Glock, Springfield or Taurus handgun, as well as any gun that looks like an AR-15.
I’m not surprised when writers for Gun-nut Nation take liberties with the truth because, after all, their job is to promote guns. But when The Boston Globe promotes their version of gun sense, at least they should get it right.