Think That Gun Owners Really Know Why They Buy Guns? Think Again.

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About thirty years ago the gun industry discovered that people who owned guns for hunting and sport were literally dying out. At the same time, European gun makers like Glock and Sig were bringing their guns into the American market and their hi-capacity pistols quickly began displacing the traditional, six-shot revolvers made by Smith & Wesson and Colt.

sig320              The result of this product change was that handguns, which until the 1980s constituted a sizable but nevertheless minority of all guns manufactured and sold, pulled ahead of long guns – rifles and shotguns – to the point that currently pistols outstrip all other gun categories in terms of sales. The only thing that has kept rifle sales even close has been the continued demand for ‘black’ guns (assault-style rifles.)  In fact, were it not for the sale of assault-style rifles, long guns would probably not account for even one-third of all new guns added to the civilian arsenal each year.

The gun industry messaging promoting handguns and assault rifles embraces two points of view. First is the idea that guns can and should be used to protect society from crime. This is such a pervasive attitude in the gun world that the NRA has even copyrighted the phrase ‘the armed citizen©’ so I better make sure to include it whenever I write those words (I just did.) The second argument to promote handgun ownership is that a gun symbolizes the freedoms afforded Americans by the Constitution because the 2nd Amendment gives us the ‘right’ to own a gun.

One or both of these arguments or their variations are found in virtually every pro-gun statement no matter whose mouth utters the words. Both statements popped out of Trump’s mouth at every stop during the 2016 campaign. There’s only one little problem. Neither of these statements bears any relationship to reality at all.  As in none.  Get it?  None.

The idea that guns have a positive social utility because armed citizens protect us from crime has been floating around since God knows when, but the number of people who can honestly state that they used a gun to protect themselves or others from a criminal attack is pathetically small. The NRA invites its members to submit examples of how they or other armed citizens take the law into their own hands, and the website on which they post those stories has never carried more than 400 stories in any one year. Want to calculate the number of defensive gun uses as a percentage of concealed-carry licenses?  Try .00002%.  That’s it.

Talking about concealed-carry licenses, if John Lott and some of the other pro-gun blowhards really believe that the fact that 14 million concealed-carry licenses make America a safer place, why doesn’t he do a survey and ask how many people with CCW are actually walking around with a gun?  I’ll tell you why this esteemed researcher doesn’t do any research on this issue. Because he knows that most people who could carry a handgun don’t want to bother actually carrying the gun. This is because after the thrill wears off they realize that having a lethal device on your person is more trouble than it’s worth.

As for the issue of gun ownership making us ‘free,’ I won’t even comment on the stupidity of that one, despite the fact that there are even some liberal scholars who hold and promote that point of view. But this argument remains a potent source of pro-gun rhetorical energy because who would dare argue with motherhood, apple pie or the Bill of Rights?

Gun-control advocates should stop citing all these evidence-based studies which prove beyond any doubt that access to guns represents a risk because the other side isn’t interested in evidence at all. They’ll cling to their pro-gun notions for the simple reason that when it comes to forming or holding strong beliefs, emotions override facts every, single time. Don’t believe me? Ask that laid-off factory worker whether he still believes that Trump will bring back his job.

The Gun Show Loophole Is Much Wider Than What Happens At Shows.

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Once again the argument has erupted within Gun World as to whether or not a gun show ‘loophole’ actually exists.  The NRA, in trying to discredit an ISIS video which tells their followers in America to buy a gun at a show without undergoing a background check, is saying that the so-called ‘loophole’ is a figment of the overactive gun-grabbing imagination.  The GVP is saying that anyone can transact a private gun exchange at a show, and such transfers aren’t covered by any legal requirements at all.  So who’s right and who’s wrong?

gun-sales             The real problem in understanding whether or not the ‘loophole’ exists is the way in which one particular word – dealer – is thrown around whenever we talk about guns. I see this word being misused again and again on both sides of the debate, and it’s the reason why the gun show ‘loophole’ continues to be explained in ways that often don’t make any sense.

Being a gun dealer doesn’t mean that you get up one morning, throw some old piece of junk into the car, and drive down to the local McDonald’s to meet some guy who says he’s going to give you fifty bucks for the gun.  How did you make contact with the guy?  You put an ad in your weekly shopper, or you stuck a notice on a bulletin board at the laundromat, or maybe you mentioned it to the guy sitting next to you at the local VFW club.

The fact that you sell a personally-owned gun to someone else doesn’t make you a ‘dealer’ in guns.  In order to be a gun dealer, according to the ATF, means you have to be “a person who devotes time, attention, and labor to dealing in firearms as a regular course of trade or business with the principal objective of livelihood and profit through the repetitive purchase and resale of firearms.”  Last year Obama considered issuing an Executive Order which would have imposed a minimum number of guns sold as an additional  criteria for being in the ‘business’ of dealing in guns, but the consideration was as far as he got.

Now the fact is that very few states require a background check prior to transferring any and all guns whether you are a dealer or not. In fact, only eight states have what we call ‘universal’ background checks, although ten other states impose background checks on certain types of transactions, both in terms of the type of gun and where the transaction takes place. If a gun show promoter were to impose a requirement that only licensed dealers could display and sell guns at his shows, he’d better have another gig lined up because he won’t be running more gun shows any time soon.

Back in the 1980’s before guns became such a big, friggin’ deal, myself and a bunch of New York City gun-nut cops used to go to a gun show in Newburgh, N.Y.  The reason we went to that show was because there was always some interesting stuff lying around, and it was understood that you could buy anything ‘on shield;’ i.e., show a badge and that was that.  If you go to a gun show today in New York State, every single transaction requires you to fill out a 4473 background-check form, but who’s to say that you can’t walk outside to the parking lot or drive a block away?

The reason there’s a gun show loophole is that it’s a lot easier to walk past 50 tables and look at hundreds of guns rather than scanning the local shopper where you might see one gun ad or two. It’s not so much that gun shows encourage breaking the law, it’s that there are lots of guns that can be sold without NICS checks sitting in the same place. Which doesn’t mean there’s a gun show loophole because in this country just about anyone can buy a gun any time they want.

A Video About Gun Violence That You Certainly Should See.

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There’s a subscription-based website out there called Motherboard, which hosts independent videos which largely focus on social and physical sciences from a liberal point of view.  It’s a division of the media company, Vice, whose informational videos also appear from time to time on HBO.  One of the GVP state-level groups, Washington Ceasefire, recently collaborated with a Motherboard docu-maker on a program about smart guns; you can see it on Youtube and it’s worth a view.

Vice.jpg             The video moves back and forth between interviews with a woman who lost her son because another kid accidentally shot him with an unlocked gun; a gun-shop owner who, of course, doesn’t want to have anything to do with smart guns; several smart gun inventors including a guy who implants a chip in your hand which can be programmed to be used as a bio-identity device; and the head of the ATF’s firearm lab which contains a storage area with thousands of guns.  There’s also a quick cameo appearance by David Hemenway and Deb Azrael from Harvard’s School of Public Health, both of whom have published research which makes the amazing claim that shooting yourself with a gun might just be hazardous to your health.

These smart guns, or what is also called personal gun technologies have been flopping around the edge of Gun World for several decades, and while a story breaks out here or there, the technology as a consumer product just hasn’t taken off.  Most of the resistance to product development comes from within the gun industry itself which sees these efforts as just another attempt by the gun-grabbers of America to get rid of guns. But I think that Harvard’s Deb Azrael got it right in the video when she says that the gun industry’s real fear of smart guns is that the use of the technology would make it appear that guns without a digital safety device would then be thought of as not being safe.

One of the things which has always impressed about the gun industry in a perverse kind of way is the degree to which innovation in the industry is very similar to innovation in the auto industry, namely, the products look different every year but the essential technology remains the same. The first internal combustion engine which used gasoline was developed by Daimler in 1889, and although there have been numerous refinements, just about every car manufactured over the last century-plus is built around a Daimler-type machine.  The externals change every year, new color schemes, new lighting systems, blah, blah, blah. But it’s what’s under the hood that counts and what’s under the hood isn’t different in the least. [Yea, yea, I know all about the Tesla.]

The gun industry suffers from a similar lack of real innovation; i.e., the finish and stock change from year to year, but the way guns work with a firing-pin (or striker) hitting the primer which creates an explosion that pushes out the shell, dates from back before we were driving around in cars. So the gun industry, which also suffers from fairly narrow operating margins, is not only conservative in a political sense, but from an R&D perspective as well.

Despite what the NRA and other gun promoters say, with all the recent upshot in sales, the gun industry has always been forced not to figure out how to grow their market, but to figure out how to protect the market they already have. And if gun makers believe that anything they say or do will diminish the number of current gun owners, it won’t be said and it won’t be done.

The fear of change courses through the gun industry like molten lava running down a hill. Unless, of course, it’s a change which makes it easier to sell guns. Want gun makers to get behind technologies which can be used to make guns safe? Figure out a way for those technologies to also promote sales.  [Thanks to Po Murray.]

Here’s the video link again.

 

 

 

 

How’s The Gun Business Doing? Lousy.

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Last week Gun-nut Nation once again celebrated the mistaken belief that gun sales have not slowed down under Trump. Here’s the headline from NRA-ILA: April Background Checks: Strong Numbers Continue. The story then goes on to say: “While some who write headlines for a living may want you to believe we’re in a “funk” in firearms sales since President Obama left the White House, that shortsighted view neglects to consider that April 2017 was the second busiest April ever for NICS and the 21st busiest month of all time. There were only about 100,000 fewer background checks last month than in April 2016.”

sales             So here’s the question: Does the NRA staff member who writes this nonsense ever bother to actually look at the data which he so wrongfully describes? Or does he assume that everyone who reads what he writes will take what he says on blind faith?  It must be the latter because the statement above gives an impression about the state of the gun industry under #45 which is simply not true.  And I don’t mean ‘not true’ in a vague sense as if I’m quibbling over the meaning of a word here or there; I mean ‘not true’ as totally and completely false.

Take the trouble to download the background check numbers (just scroll to the bottom of the linked page.)  You’ll discover that the only correct statement in the NRA-ILA story is the number of total checks conducted in April – 2,045,564 – which has little, if anything to do with gun sales at all.  Oops – turns out that even the number is wrong, because the actual bottom-line for the April report was 2,037,180, but I’m not going to quibble over 8,000 calls here or there.

On the other hand, to the extent that FBI-NICS background checks represent how many guns were added to the civilian arsenal, despite the fact that NICS doesn’t differentiate between new and used guns and most non-dealer transfers still aren’t covered by the NICS, the total number of guns whose ownership was first proceeded by a background check was 1,060,322.  That number represents half the background checks conducted by the FBI last month, the other half were license checks, pawn-shop redemptions and private transfers, a number that was averaging less than 2,000 monthly in 2016 and is now over 3,000 background checks every month.

Not only have more than half the total background checks conducted since January 1, 2017 been for something other than a gun purchased over the counter, but NRA brouhaha to the contrary, background checks for gun sales continue to slide down. Gun sales always slow a bit in April because the yard needs work and then sales drop off even more from May through August because guns can’t compete with the beach. But the March to April drop-off in 2016 was around 12%, this year sales from March to April slumped 22%.  For January-April, 2016, total NICS gun checks were 4,950,000 (I’m rounding off,) for the same period this year gun checks were 4,500,000, a drop of 10%, with handgun checks declining by 17%.

That’s the good news about gun sales. Now here’s the bad news. This market loss by the gun industry will no doubt result in a more aggressive campaign to make consumers believe they should all own guns. Which means more appeals to fear, more appeals to fake patriotism, more attempts to promote phony ideas about 2nd-Amendment ‘rights.’

If you think the attempt to remove silencers from Class 3 restrictions is something, you ain’t seen nothing yet. The NRA is running a message on how animal-rights ‘perverts’ have ‘declared war’ on anyone who wants to hunt. Wait until you see what they will pull out when it gets time to push the national concealed-carry bill.

But the scare tactics won’t work for the simple reason that most people still don’t believe they need to own a gun. Unless, of course, Trump blurts out something positive about controlling guns. Think that can’t happen? You don’t know Trump.

 

Will Keeping Guns Out Of The ‘Wrong Hands’ Reduce Gun Violence?

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In his complex but ultimately simple book, Thinking Fast and Slow, the Nobel-laureate economist, Daniel Kahneman, tries to explain the decision-making process we use to make decisions, distinguishing between instinctive reasoning based on experiences and emotions, versus reasoning based on thoughtful analysis of what we hope will be valid information, with the former often influencing the way we deal with the latter.

gun-violence             Behind both these mental processes, according to Kahneman, is the idea that as human beings, we are always trying to figure out causality; why do things happen, not just what happened. Unfortunately, what for me was the most important and formative idea in the book is buried in a 400-page text by the author’s seemingly obsessive concern to relate a personal anecdote about every one of his students, academic colleagues and dear friends. Nevertheless, I found myself thinking about the notion that we always need to understand causality, and nowhere is this tendency more pronounced than when it comes to the issue of guns.

Actually, the search for the cause(s) of gun violence only exists within the community that would like to see gun violence come to an end. Because if you’re a member of the pro-gun camp, you’ve already decided that the fact that we suffer in excess of 120,000 gun deaths and injuries each year is a small price to pay for the ‘freedom’ to own a gun, and let’s not forget that you can and should use a gun to protect yourself and others from crime.

On the other hand, if you don’t start from the position that, like it or not, we can and should own guns, then the issue of causality looms large, if only because we assume that figuring out the cause(s) of gun violence will help us define some useful strategies for changing or preventing the behavior which leads to violence caused by guns. And what most of the research leads us to believe, from the perspective of causality, is the necessity to keep guns out of the ‘wrong hands.’  And how do we identify the wrong hands? We try to figure out what makes some individuals use guns to inflict injuries against themselves or against someone else.

This approach stands behind the ‘prohibited person’ categories which have been the foundation of gun regulation since 1968; i.e., if someone is a felon, or a fugitive, or a domestic abuser, or a mental defective, or a few other things, they should not be allowed to own a gun. And these definitions of prohibited behavior for gun ownership are based on substantial research which shows that individuals who fall into any of those prohibited categories have an above-average propensity to use a gun in an unlawful or inappropriate way.

Notwithstanding the fact that much of the activity by gun violence prevention (GVP) advocates is based on finding ways to either expand the ‘prohibited person’ categories, or make the reportage of prohibited individuals more accurate and comprehensive, or a combination of both, I’m not sure that the approach of pro-gun advocates is necessarily wrong. And furthermore, I’m not sure the GVP community couldn’t align itself with the gun-nut approach while maintaining and even strengthening their commitment to find more effective strategies to reduce violence caused by guns.

The problem with trying to figure out a rational or causal explanation for gun violence is that, despite the shocking numbers, most people who want to injure themselves or others don’t use guns.  In fact, of the 2,227,998 intentional injuries reported to the CDC in 2015, slightly more than 103,000, or 5%, were committed with guns.  And don’t tell me that the other 95% who committed a homicide, suicide or aggravated assault couldn’t get their hands on a gun.

Anyone can get their hands on a gun. And as far as I’m concerned, if GVP wants to end gun violence, they should take Gun-nut Nation at its word that ‘sh*t happens’ and just get rid of the guns.

Illinois Wants To End Gun Sales. Says Who? The NRA – Of Course.

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The Illinois State Senate has just passed a bill which creates a state regulatory process for gun dealers and the NRA is telling its members that the result will be that gun shops will close down.  Our friends in Fairfax claim that this bill “creates an onerous gun dealer licensing scheme within the state.” And according to the NRA, the whole idea of state regulations for gun shops is absurd because after all, the ATF “licenses and closely monitors all FFLs and strictly enforces any infringement of federal law.”

laws             Let’s begin by getting that lie out of the way.  According to our friends at The Trace, the ATF inspects roughly 7% of all gun dealers every year.  Their stated goal is to visit each shop every three to five years. That’s how the NRA defines ‘close’ monitoring – every three to five years? And let’s remember that when the ATF goes into a shop, the only thing they can actually inspect is the federal paperwork (A&D Book, Form 4473) that has to be filled out for every sale. How a particular dealer actually runs the business, what kind of employees he hires, how he secures the inventory from theft, whether he is following any state or local ordinances that cover retailing of guns or anything else are beyond the ATF’s purview, because there’s nothing in Federal law which covers any of those issues at all.

The last time the ATF inspection team came into my shop, back in 2013, they walked around and made some recommendations about this and that; wanted to know if my video system was working (it hadn’t worked for years,) wanted to know whether my alarm system was central station, blah, blah, blah.  I could have told them to shut up and get done with their inspection because I wasn’t obligated to discuss any of those things with anyone except the police chief in my town because my state has a state gun dealer license requirement which generates a few bucks in the license fee but beyond that, nobody cares.

The proposed Illinois law, which the NRA is saying will end retail gun sales within the state (although big-box stores are exempt from its provisions) will take effect in 2020 after a Gun Dealer Licensing Board sets up shop in 2019. The Board will consist of five members, two from law enforcement agencies, a third being a federally-licensed gun dealer, the fourth being a licensed attorney and the fifth being “a representative of an advocacy group for public safety.”

And that’s what’s sticking in the NRA’s craw. Because you know and I know that this public safety advocate isn’t going to be a staff member of the NRA. He or she will no doubt be another tree-hugging, gun-grabbing liberal whose presence on the licensing board almost guarantees that the poor, woebegone gun dealer in Illinois is going to get screwed. And when it comes to getting screwed, the NRA states that in addition to all kinds of onerous regulations, gun dealers in Illinois could face “fees potentially in the thousands of dollars,” no ifs, ands, or buts.

There’s only one little problem. If you bother to read through the entire 45 pages of the bill, you’ll discover that the only fee which is mentioned is a $50 fee if a dealer sends in a check which bounces and can’t be cashed. The actual fee schedule for developing and implementing the law’s provisions remain to be established after the Gun Dealer Licensing Board gets to work.

Know what? The stories which appear on the NRA-ILA website about gun laws increasingly remind me of the tweets pushed out each day by President Adolf Trump. Not only don’t the NRA-ILA bear any relationship to reality, but they contain content which is contradicted again and again by a simple reading of the relevant legal text.

I know, I know. The NRA’s self-appointed task is to protect its members from any threat to their 2nd-Amendment ‘rights.’ But the 2nd Amendment doesn’t say anything about whether you can buy a gun, just that you can own one.

 

 

John Lott Talks About Guns And Gets It Wrong – Again.

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My eye caught an op-ed the other in The Hill which is so rife with claims that are simply untruthful or wrong that I just needed to punch out a quick reply. And since I write about guns and I’m saying that someone else who writes about guns is saying things which aren’t accurate or true, obviously I’m talking about my good buddy, John Lott.

 

lott

John Lott

John has been on this kick for several years about how Democrats discriminate against minorities because they support the idea that big-city residents have difficulty getting licenses to purchase and/or carry guns.  It may come as a shock to John who lives in a nice, suburban town that is 85% white, but in fact the majority of city-dwellers throughout the United States happen to be white. They also happen to be middle class, so for John to say that excessive gun license fees show that Democrats (who usually support higher gun fees) discriminate against minorities and the poor is simply a typical example of how he often gets it wrong.

But what really grabbed my attention was his statement about the concealed-carry licensing procedure in Texas, which he claims has ‘more stringent mandatory training requirements’ than many other states. I’ll let you in on a little secret – I don’t believe that John Lott actually owns a gun. Or if he does own one, I can tell you that it’s been sitting on some shelf in a closet because this is a guy who talks about guns using verbiage that makes no sense.

First of all, Texas doesn’t have a ‘mandatory training requirement;’ in fact, the Lone Star State doesn’t have any training requirement at all. Nor for that matter does any other state. What Texas has is a one-time proficiency test which must be conducted as part of the licensing process and basically requires that the applicant prove that he or she has the ability to hit the broad side of a barn; in this case the barn being a B-27 target, which is the standard torso target used by most law enforcement agencies when the officers go to the range.

The proficiency test is based on a total score derived from where 50 rounds hit the target – the closer to the center of the target, the higher the score.  Some of the shooting is also timed with the shooter having to discharge the gun with several seconds allowed for each shot. A passing grade is 175 out of a maximum of 250 and the shooting is done at distances of 3, 7 and 15 yards.

This test is about as stringent as the diet I went on last night before I sat down to watch a Netflix movie with a big bowl of ice cream. First of all, the shooter doesn’t have to first pull the gun out of a holster so the timed shoots begin with the first shot. Now I don’t know about you, but I don’t recall seeing anyone even in an open-carry state walking down the street with his gun pointed in front of him waiting for a target to appear. And the minimum passing score can be met by only hitting the outside target ring which in real life would mean that the bullet wouldn’t strike anyone’s body at all.

In other words, the proficiency test for getting a carry-concealed license in Texas is bullsh*t.  It’s a joke. Not only doesn’t the test show whether someone can shoot a gun accurately, but it doesn’t replicate to any degree a situation which might occur if someone actually had to use the damn gun.

John Lott has been promoting armed citizens as the first line of defense against crime for twenty years. Buffoons like Ted Nugent may take his research seriously, but when it comes to concealed-carry from a practical point of view, anyone who thinks that the Texas licensing process validates that someone knows how to use a gun for self-defense better hope they never need to use their gun for anything but fun.

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