I’m not one to go around patting government bureaucracies on the back, but I have to admit that one such bureaucracy of which I have been less than positive in the past has made an important change in the way it conducts its regulatory activity, and it’s a change that’s positive in every respect. I am referring to the new 4473 background check form which the ATF released in 2016 but it now required for every FFL-transaction beginning January 1st of the current year. And what this change amounts to is an additional data field on the form that describes the transaction as a sale, a pawn redemption or – and here’s the dooda – a transaction to ‘facilitate a private transfer.’
What this means is that, for the first time, the FBI-NICS data, which is published monthly on a state-by-state basis, will be able to show how many private transactions are now going through the same background-check process that is required for all dealer sales. According to the Law Center, there are 10 states (plus DC) that currently require background checks on all private sales. There’s also an additional eight states that require background checks on handguns or transactions conducted at gun shows, so we still have a long way to go. But the year-end FBI-NICS report for 2016 should be looked at in detail, because it tells a different story about the whole regulatory environment than what Gun-nut Nation would like to believe.
Back in October, Fox trumpeted that the background check numbers indicated that 2016 would set another record for gun sales, a claim that was joyously validated by the Washington Examiner when year-end NICS totals were released. And while it’s true that background checks for gun sales did go up 11% year-over-year, calls to the FBI-NICS phone bank to validate or check license and permits jumped by one-third! Of the 27.4 million NICS calls that set the all-time record in 2016, almost half of the telephone traffic (including pawn redemptions) were calls that had nothing to do with gun sales at all. Of course if you’re a gun manufacturer, being in an industry that sold more than 14 million guns isn’t chopped liver, but 14 million guns ain’t 27 million guns, which is what the intrepid reporters at Fox and other pro-gun outlets would like you to believe.
The year-end NICS number for private transactions was 26,641, of which 14,561 were handguns, 11,042 were long guns and 1,038 were ‘other’ guns which, in case you were wondering, normally means serialized AR receivers and other junk like that. But while this is a tiny number when compared to background checks on primary sales, it’s interesting to note that dealers in only 8 states reported no private transactions at all. Which means that FBI-NICS checks on private transfers are taking place in many more states than the 18 states where private-sale background checks are required by law. Remember when Hot Air Queen Laura Ingraham scoffed at the surveys which showed that a majority of gun owners favored private-sale NICS checks?
Obviously the states that require universal checks registered most of the private sales in 2016 – New York, for example, had almost 25% of the year-end total for all 50 states; tiny little Delaware added 3%, Massachusetts chipped in another 6%, and so on down the line. But let’s remember that until 2017 numbers start coming in for background checks, we really won’t know how many gun owners really use the NICS system since the new 4473 was optional until this current year.
On the other hand, it’s interesting to note that of the 26,000 private transactions captured by NICS in 2016, almost 54% involved the transfer of handguns, which is where the whole issue of unregulated gun transfers really lies. Because when Grandpa’s old shotgun is sold at a tag sale for ten bucks, this transaction really won’t change gun violence numbers one bit. But 14,000 private handgun transfers that required NICS checks is a good thing.