New Jersey Makes It Easier To Trace Crime Guns But The ATF Could Make It Easier Still.

A serious and long-overdue step has finally been taken in New Jersey with a decision by the State Attorney General to require that every law enforcement agency participate in the ATF’s data-sharing program on gun traces known as eTrace.  What this means is that when any agency in Jersey asks ATF to run a trace on a gun, unless otherwise directed for reasons of confidentiality, the information will be shared by every police department throughout the state. The purpose of this new procedure, according to the directive sent out by the AG, is to enhance law enforcement’s ability to combat gun violence and trafficking by “identifying statewide patterns in sources and types of guns, as well as unlawful purchasers and firearm traffickers.”

ATF logo             The good news about this directive is that it serves notice on every agency in New Jersey that conducting a trace request is now a mandatory activity, not just something that a police department may or may not choose to do. The biggest problem with enforcement of gun laws is that the ATF, which has total regulatory authority over the gun business at the federal level, has no authority to tell a local law-enforcement agency what it can and cannot do with guns picked up at a crime scene – some agencies run traces, others don’t, it’s a typical hodge-podge which reflects the federal-state division of authority that has been the hallmark of our legal system since a bunch of guys sweated through a hot Philadelphia summer in 1787 and produced the Constitution of the United States.

That was then, and this is now.  The 2nd Amendment notwithstanding, you couldn’t just walk into a gun shop in the olden days and buy a gun.  There weren’t any guns and there weren’t any gun shops. Most Americans owned some kind of gun back then, but for the most part these guns were old-style muskets manufactured one at a time and useful for protecting livestock from Mister Wolf or Mister Fox, but not much more.

In 2016 there were 375 homicides in New Jersey, most of them because of illegal guns. And don’t for one minute think that this violence was only a function of the inner-city ghettos like Newark and Camden; the Jersey shore county, Ocean, was right up there too. New Jersey has one of the strictest permit laws for buying a handgun, but the state suffers from an unusually-high number of crime guns which were first sold in other states. In 2012, four out of five guns traced in New Jersey came from some other state.

The problem with this eTrace program, however, is that even when the Jersey cops learn that a crime gun was first sold in Pennsylvania or Virginia or wherever, they still have no idea how the gun got from there to here. So, the idea that giving all police departments access to the same trace information about a particular gun doesn’t really solve the problem of determining the extent and flow of crime guns.

If the ATF is really serious about helping local law enforcement agencies combat gun crimes, I have a simple suggestion that could be implemented without requiring the cooperation of a single police department at all. Let’s not forget that the ATF has total regulatory authority over the behavior of every, single gun dealer whose shops are the initial source of every, single gun that is ever traced. And many guns that are stolen and trafficked from one state to another, often wind up back in a gun shop because gun dealers are always willing to fork over some cash and buy a used gun.

What the ATF should do is require that any dealer who wants to take in a used gun must first make sure that the weapon hasn’t been previously reported as a stolen gun. It’s not a foolproof system, obviously, but at least it would reduce the extent to which gun dealers play a role, unwittingly or not, in the movement of crime guns. Giving licensed dealers access to eTrace is long overdue.

 

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Sometimes The Trace Gets It Right, and Sometimes They Get It Wrong.

According to our friends at The Trace, they describe their mission as an “independent, nonpartisan, nonprofit newsroom dedicated to shining a light on America’s gun crisis.” And sometimes they do, such as the series they ran last year on stolen guns, other times they don’t. And the reason they don’t sometimes get it right is because none of their writers have any actual experience in the gun business, which means that when they rely on an ‘expert’ for information about guns, they really have no way of determining whether this so-called expert knows what he’s talking about or not.

Today they have posted a link to an article featuring their ATF expert, who happens to be employed by Gabby’s group.  The expert, whose name is David Chipman, spent 25 years with the ATF, allegedly ‘overseeing’ their firearms programs, whatever that means. If what he said about the ATF‘s tracing activities is based on his oversight of gun programs, no wonder the ATF is such a mess. In a word, what The Trace is relying on from this expert to inform their readers about how the ATF operates, is pure crap. It’s nothing more than a very selective description of ATF tracing which simply bolsters the same, old whining narrative about not enough people, not enough money, not enough this, not enough that.

I love how Chipman begins his bravura performance by referring to the clerks who run around the tracing division as “patriots.”  That’s the tip-off right there because we all know that someone who is a ‘patriot’ is above reproach, right? And why are these people busing their butts to fulfill their patriotic duty? Because the 4473 forms which they collect from non-operating gun dealers are stacked away in cartons and have to be searched by hand. It’s those NRA meanies, recall, who won’t let the ATF out the records on disk and make them instantly searchable – a problem explained by The Trace back in 2015.

Now here’s where, as we used to say in the South, the tailgate drops and the bullshit stops. Because even though Chipman says that more than 2 million new documents arrive every month and are added to the (ready?) 700 million documents already being stored, without a modern, computerized search system, the mind boggles at the idea of looking up data in this vast collection of paper.  And the Trace says that the ATF conducted 373,349 traces in 2015, a number which increased to 407,000 last year. Oh my God. Do this without a computer?  Oh…my…Gawd.

Well, we dropped the tailgate but the bullshit didn’t stop. First, the ATF does not disclose how many traces end up being done by a gun dealer, as opposed to the ATF gang down at the National Tracing Center (NTC.) Since the point of a trace is to determine the identity of the person who bought the gun, without knowing the percentage of traces conducted at NTC, just giving out the total number of traces says nothing about how hard all those patriots are working on all those paper files. The ATF also doesn’t disclose how many traces are ‘urgent’ and must be completed within 24 -48 hours, as opposed to ‘routine’ searches for which the deadline is 10 days. So to pretend that the NTC is deluged every day with traces that must be answered immediately, is simply not true.

Our friends at Johns Hopkins have just published a new study (which I will write about next week) which basically finds no connection between background checks and gun violence rates, even in states which require all transfers to be checked. Huh? I thought that the purpose of tracing, at least according to the ATF, was to give law enforcement agencies ‘critical information’ to help solve gun crimes.

Whether it’s Waco, or Fast & Furious, or Sandy Hook, the ATF has never shown itself capable of conducting a serious investigation that would help us figure out what we really need to do to reduce gun violence. If The Trace wants to really shine a light on gun violence, it might turn a strong beam on the patriots who work for the ATF.

 

traffic book   My take on the ATF. Buy it from Amazon.

 

What The ATF Doesn’t Tell You About Gun Dealers.

Now that The New York Times has pronounced that gun dealers are getting away with murder because the ATF lets all these rogue dealers stay in business no matter how many crime guns they sell, and now that the oracle of gun violence prevention, our friend Daniel Webster from Johns Hopkins has further declared that this article is a ‘must read’ because, after all, the NRA makes sure that all gun regulations are weaker than they should be, perhaps we might take a few minutes to set the record straight.

shop             I’m not saying that the article by Ali Watkins is wrong. But the headline, which I’m sure was stuck on to her interesting reportage came out of whatever department tries to attract readers to the NYT site.  The headline says: ‘When Guns Are Sold Illegally, A.T.F. Is Lenient On Punishment.’  No wonder Webster says this is a ‘must read.’ After all, he has been a leading proponent of the need to strengthen licensing at the counter-top through extending background checks to secondary sales.

There’s only one problem with Webster’s promotion of this article. If you actually read the whole thing, Ms. Watkins is saying much more than just that the ATF is letting all these bad-guy gun dealers off the hook. In fact, the whole idea of leniency on the part of the how the ATF regulates gun shops has to be seen in a much broader context which is discussed by Ali Watkins in detail. Maybe Webster doesn’t read details.

The article is based on ATF gun-shop inspection reports which Brady received from the ATF. For obvious reasons, some of the fields in the reports are redacted out, nor does the report necessarily contain all the information that would allow someone to determine the degree to which the ATF is actually letting dealers stay in business whose behavior should really get them shut down. What really comes out from these reports, however, is that conducting an inspection of a gun shop under the rules and regulations of GCA68 (the federal law which set up the entire regulatory system and placed it under the purview of the ATF) often requires judgements to be made for which the law either gives vague guidelines on how to proceed or no guidelines at all.

Watkins gives an example of a gun shop which was cited for releasing several guns without conducting a background check, and even though the shop had evidently failed to conduct a background check on another transfer at some point in time, thus making the second failure a ‘willful’ violation of the law, what this means is that the 4473 background check form did not contain information about when the background check took place (the requisite field on the form was blank) hence, it is assumed that no background check actually occurred.

Under law, the FBI cannot retain NICS information for more than 24 hours after a background check occurs. But if the requisite data is missing from the form, the ATF inspector has to cite this as a violation because absent the data, it is assumed that the check didn’t occur. And you wonder how, at the review level, a dealer can remain in business after committing such a serious offense? Give me a break, okay?

There isn’t a retail gun dealer in the United States who doesn’t know how to build a nice stash of guns and sell them illegally without involving himself in regulatory procedures at all. Whenever someone sells you a gun, and most gun shops have at least 40% used guns, all the dealer has to do is neglect to enter the gun into his acquisition list, which means that from a regulatory perspective, the gun doesn’t exist at all.

The ATF would like you to believe that the only thing which stands between all those rogue dealers and safety and security throughout the United States is the inspections they perform, albeit without enough manpower to do a proper job. Anyone who actually buys that nonsense has never stood behind a counter and sold guns.

How Come Gun Sales Haven’t Shown A Parkland ‘Spike?’

Whenever a mass shooting occurred under the Obama ‘regime,’ the President would deliver a teary speech, the usual suspects in Congress and the gun violence prevention (GVP) community would call for a new gun-control law and gun sales would go through the roof.  This was the scenario after Aurora, after the shooting of Gabby, after Sandy Hook.

march              Parkland has been different because the gun-control organizations won’t be getting their marching orders from the liberal political establishment and Draft Dodging Trump; this time the whole shebang is being led by a bunch of kids. And if you don’t think that Emma Gonzalez and David Hogg haven’t pushed the whole issue of gun control into a totally different context, just ask Laura Ingraham how she’s doing getting new sponsors for her television show.

What has also changed since Parkland is the degree to which the gun industry can no longer live off of panic buying generated by fears that guns will no longer be around. The FBI has just released its NICS numbers for March, an event which used to be greeted by Gun-nut Nation with paroxysms of joy, but the numbers for last month landed with a dull thud.

Here are the relevant numbers:  Handgun checks in March 2018 were 781,452; the number for March 2017 was 751,866, which is basically the same. Overall month-to-month NICS checks did increase from 1,274,419 in 2017 to 1,417,463 this year, a gain of 11%, but checks in February 2013, when Obama was ramping up his post-Newtown gun bill were more than 1.5 million, a number that won’t happen again.

One interesting caveat is that the number of NICS checks for the category known as ‘other’ doubled from 38,684 in 2017 to 68,192 this year.  For the most part, a background check classified as ‘other’ is used when someone buys a serialized receiver which isn’t connected to a barrel or a stock. The transaction still requires a background check but the owner has to then add various components so that he actually can fire the gun, which is increasingly how AR-15 rifles are now sold. One of the reasons the AR-15 is so popular is that the polymer frame can easily be adapted to all kinds of accessories and do-it-yourself parts; this also reduces the price of the gun by as much as half.

I truly believe that the Parkland kids have accomplished what none of the organizations which comprise the GVP community have ever done before; namely, they have shifted the argument about gun violence away from the political arena to where it really belongs, namely, as an issue which ultimately needs to be decided by the people who own guns. Because either the gun-owning community will realize that they simply don’t need to own any more of the damn things or people who don’t own guns will decide that they don’t need to own them at all. If Gun-nut Nation stops registering its fears about losing their guns by stampeding into gun shops every time a liberal politician says something about needing more gun control, passing sensible and effective gun laws will be a piece of cake.

In the interests of full disclosure, however, I must add a note about the current regulatory environment itself. I am not particularly sanguine about enhancing gun regulations if it means granting more power or authority to the ATF.  The ATF lab is probably the best forensic lab in the world, but the regulatory division contains the biggest bunch of liars, inept fools and misfits who could ever be put together in any federal agency at all. This is the bunch that violated countless laws because they thought that a repair garage in Arizona was converting semi-auto AK rifles into full-auto jobs. This is also the bunch which convinced themselves that David Koresh was making machine guns in his compound outside of Waco, a totally-mistaken belief which cost 75 lives.

I am really happy that a bunch of kids are leading the effort rather than a bunch of GVP organizations taking their cues from on high. But give the ATF more authority to regulate guns?  Please.

 

 

 

Don’t Just Fix NICS, Fix The ATF.

Every time rational and realistic folks try to expand background checks to secondary transfers or sales, the Congressional NRA Caucus jumps up and says,’before we change anything in the NICS system, we need to fix what currently exists.’ Which for a long time was convenient dodge to prevent any expansion of background checks at all. But after it came out that the Sutherland Springs shooter was able to legally buy guns because the Air Force never notified NICS that the guy served stockade-time for beating up his wife, the fix-NICS bandwagon has started rolling along, pushed in part by Senator Tom Cornyn, who happens to be one of the NRA’s best friends.

ATF logoNow it appears that the sudden concern about fixing NICS on the part of the NRA congressional delegation has morphed itself into a bill that will also let every red-blooded American walk around from here to high heaven carrying a gun. I suspect this national concealed-carry will die a natural death when it reaches the Senate, ditto any change in NICS. But if and when some NICS fix actually takes place, I’m hoping that my friends in the gun violence prevention (GVP) community will put some pressure on Congress to fix not just who has to send data to the FBI call center, but how the ATF uses the NICS system as well. Because it really doesn’t matter how much data we stick into the NICS system if the regulatory agency which allegedly uses that data to deal with gun violence doesn’t do what it’s supposed to do.

For 50 years the ATF has been saying that their hands are ‘tied’ because they can only get information from the initial transfer of a gun. Which means that once a gun leaves the shop after the purchaser passes a NICS background check, the ATF can’t figure out what happened between the time the gun was first purchased and when it was picked up in a crime. And since the average time between the initial transfer and when a gun is picked up at a crime scene is more than 10 years (what the ATF calls Time To Crime or TTC) God knows who owned the gun or how it got from a gun shop to where it was used in the commission of a crime.

There’s only one little problem with this scenario – it’s not true.  When the ATF says it can only look at the information which tells them who first bought the gun, they are simply lying, which means they know something to be true and consciously choose to say something else. Why is the ATF lying? Because if you walk into the average gun shop, you’ll discover that 30% to 40% of the inventory consists of used guns. I know a retail dealer whose shops is 10 miles from my shop. He only sells consignment guns; his entire inventory doesn’t cost him one red cent. Which means that every gun he sells has been sold over the counter at least one other time, and it’s not unusual for a gun to come in and out of a gun shop multiple times.

Here’s the point: every time a used gun comes back to a gun shop and is sold to someone else, the dealer creates two records of the gun’s in-and-out movement in documentation which is owned by the ATF.  That’s right – I have to keep an up-to-date listing of each gun in my Acquisition and Disposition list, and when the gun is sold I also have to create a maintain the background check form known as the Form 4473. The ATF can come into my shop at any time without any notice at all and inspect every, single entry in the A&D book as well as every 4473 form.

Could the ATF ask me to look up the particulars on any gun whether I sold it once or multiple times? Of course they can but they don’t because, after all, why put everyone through the hassle of looking up a gun transaction when you’re not sure of when that transaction actually took place?  The ATF knows the date when a gun was initially shipped from a wholesaler to me. But they don’t necessarily know when the first buyer of that gun brought it back or took it to another shop and sold it or traded it for a different gun.

The ATF can pat itself on the back all it wants about the great job the National Tracing Center performs in helping law enforcement agencies deal with crime. But the truth is they do a half-ass job at best and fixing NICS without fixing ATF is nothing other than closing the barn door after the animals have gotten out.

 

Khalil Spencer – A Few Things I Would Say To An Open-minded Gun Owner.

Like Mike, I find myself straddling the gun violence prevention/gun enthusiast line. Actually, I don’t see this as a line in the sand at all. The battleground, sadly, seems to be between many gun violence prevention folks who want additional controls on guns and gun rights absolutists who see every attempt at the control of gun violence as a slippery slope to loss of gun rights. So here are a few comments I would make to anyone who would ask me how I think about this.

trafficFirst, the matter of firearms themselves. These are intrinsically hazardous objects whose purpose is to shoot holes in things. Firearms evolved as warfighting tools and as sporting arms second. Their main purpose, my Zen-like moments at the range notwithstanding, is to kill, whether it is human beings on opposing sides of a battlefield, an intruder threatening a family, or this winter’s meat. In a civil society that has evolved from a few million people in a rural environment to a largely urban landscape of over three hundred million people, the roles and influence of guns on society has obviously changed. Indeed, although the Second Amendment and historical cultural values have provided Americans a much broader range of gun rights and widespread ownership than in most developed countries, an interest balance between rights and responsibilities, including government oversight of the keeping and bearing of privately owned firearms, is reasonable. There is a wide divergence of opinion on where to draw the line on government oversight, i.e., the notion of what constitutes “infringement” but I’ll leave that elaboration to anyone who wants to read Heller v District of Columbia or Adam Winkler’s compelling read “Gunfight”. Briefly, gun control has always existed in America. Heller provides broad latitude, based on historical analysis as well as the Second Amendment, for it to continue.

Secondly, as arms are by their nature dangerous, if not unusual, government has a compelling interest in their oversight. Historically, we have regulated handguns, especially concealed public carry (see Gunfight), and dangerous and unusual weapons such as sawed off shotguns or fully automatic rifles. Because auto rifles were heavily regulated by the 1934 National Firearms Act before everyone and their dog owned one, you rarely hear of full auto rifles being used in crimes. They are relatively rare and owned legally by a few people willing to deal with the BATF’s requirements as enthusiasts. Meanwhile, increasingly lethal arms such as so-called “assault rifles” were sold on an equal basis to more traditional semiauto and manually-operated rifles since the middle of the last century. The argument that these are no different than traditional sporting rifles as far as their risk to society rings hollow as high capacity, rapid firing rifles were introduced to the military because of their superior firepower.  The WW II soldiers carrying full auto weapons such as the BAR were far more likely to use them to control the battlefield than the soldier with even an M-1, or as James Fallows said in a June, 1981 Atlantic, “…The BAR man, by contrast, had the sense that he could dominate a certain area—“hose it down,” in the military slang—and destroy anyone who happens to be there.”

Why the civilian market should have unfettered access to weapons barely different from those designed to “hose down” a battlefield, without rigorous strings attached, is a good question worth public debate. As I have said on my own North Mesa Mutts blog, I think semiauto vs. selective-fire is a distinction without a difference in this discussion. Millions of these weapons are in private hands and most owned safely (including, presumably, my own Mini-14) but if these weapons continue to be used to mow down people in theatres, schools, and public events, some sort of regulation is inevitable on public safety grounds. Perhaps, since so many are out there, some sort of retrospective controls on ownership, midway between full auto rifles and low-capacity rifles, rather than a retroactive ban, could be seen as a compromise. In my world, we think carefully about low frequency, high consequence events. Frankly, mass shootings are becoming high frequency/high consequence events. How many more Sutherland and Las Vegas shootings do we need to endure before we re-think ARs and their handgun bretheren? Just as we wouldn’t really want Homer Simpson as the operator of a nuclear power plant, there are a few people I would prefer not having the power of mass carnage over the public.

For those GVP advocates who think the usual gun control proposals will drastically reduce gun deaths, I say keep dreaming. We heavily control auto use via competency licensing of drivers, registration of vehicles, laws regulating motor vehicle safety (such as air bags and structural crumple zones), and laws regulating traffic operation. We still kill about thirty to forty thousand Americans per year. That’s because with hundreds of millions of Americans driving about three hundred million cars, some small fraction will be mishandled or deliberately misused. I think the same would hold true for guns as long as there are so many out there. As Mike likes to say, if you own a gun, sooner or later it will go bang. If we want to seriously reduce gun deaths and injury, we need to seriously reduce guns. My own quick analysis of the Center for American Progress’s news release a couple years ago was that the most basic correlation was between suicides and gun ownership. Since that is the case, it doesn’t matter what guns we regulate since all it has to do is go bang once. Nonetheless, we need to have gun laws for the same reason we need traffic laws: to provide consensus guidance for safe operation and penalties for misuse.

My two most compelling gun violence prevention laws would be universal background checks (except to people who know each other well and can vouch for each other) and safe storage laws. Selling to a stranger without a background check is rolling the dice. Straw purchases, as recounted in a 15 Nov. Washington Post Story by Peter Hermann, Ann Marimow, and Clarence Williams (“One Illegal Gun: 12 Weeks. A Dozen Criminal Acts. The Rapid Cycle of Gun Violence”), can rapidly result in multiple cases of armed carnage.  Indeed, I think the most compelling hypothesis for the posited link between permissive right to carry and higher gun crime rate recently asserted by Prof. John Donohue et al is not necessarily that more hotheads are obtaining carry permits but that simply more guns are being bought and carried about or stored carelessly and therefore available to be stolen. Ensuring that someone else, whether it be a family member, house guest, or a stranger doesn’t get their hands on your banger is critical. As Albuquerque Police Chief Gordon Eden recently recounted to me, theft is his best estimate of the principle source of guns used in crime in that city.

The bigger picture of violence in America obviously goes far beyond gun ownership and involves drug laws, poverty, income inequality, a disastrous loss of blue collar jobs, and social divisions. But as Philip Cook et al recently stated, most economically developed nations have crime problems. Ours are more lethal since there are far more guns involved. We gun owners certainly are not to blame for the larger social context of violence, except insofar as we may, as individuals, tolerate social injustice. But as firearms owners and enthusiasts we have a moral obligation to do our part to reduce gun violence. Simply saying it is someone else’s problem means that sooner or later, the bigger problems will land on our doorstep, whether in blood spilled or regulation.

Who Owns All The Guns? We Don’t Really Know.

One of the long-standing issues in the gun debate has been to calculate the number of guns actually floating around the United States.  This is an important number, if only because public health researchers have published very credible research which indicates that our elevated gun-violence numbers are directly related to a civilian gun arsenal which may now number more than 300 million guns.

traffic            We have a pretty good idea about the number of guns added to the civilian stash over the last 25 years thanks to the manufacturing reports published by the ATF.  And while this report is based on the number of guns made, not the number which the gun makers actually sell, it’s not necessarily an accurate number, but for purposes of this column it will do.  Since 1998 we also know more or less exactly how many new guns move into private hands thanks to the monthly background check numbers published by the FBI.

The real problem in coming up with a valid number for the total stock of guns is twofold: first, we have no idea how many guns that were manufactured between 1900 and 1990 were actually sold, and we also don’t know how many guns that were sold between 1900 and today are still floating around. Guns last a long time, that’s for sure. But they also break, they get lost, they get thrown away after Grandpa dies and Grandma moves into the nursing home; counting the civilian ‘gun stock’ is an inexact science at best.

Our friends at Harvard and Northeastern have recently come up with a pretty solid number based on the survey they conducted which at some point will be published by Russell Sage. Their current number is 265 million, which they derived by estimating overall totals from answers to their survey, then deducting a percentage for loss, wear and tear. Until some research group comes up with a new approach to figuring out the size of America’s gun arsenal, I’m content to stick with what the Harvard-Northeastern group would like to believe.

On the other hand, believe or not, if we are trying to understand the cause and effect relationship between the number of guns that are privately owned and the 115,000+ deaths and injuries caused by guns every year, I am yet to be persuaded that figuring out the number of guns in civilian hands is the right way to go. Because although 115,000 gun deaths and injuries is a shockingly-high number, it happens to represent a tiny fraction of the number of people who either own guns or put guns to the wrong use. And moreover, at least 80% of those deaths and injuries occur because someone shoots a handgun at themselves or someone else.

In addition to trying to figure out handgun ownership as opposed to ownership of all guns, there’s another problem which makes any attempt to develop public policies based on restricting or diminishing the number of privately-owned guns a risky business at best. At least two-thirds of the gun deaths and injuries that occur every year are criminal events, and even with our elevated gun-suicide rates, if gun crimes didn’t occur, our overall gun-violence rate would be no higher than the rest of the OECD.

How many of these 75,000 or more homicides and aggravated assaults are committed with ‘illegal’ guns? How many people possess a gun even though they cannot, under law, put their hands on a gun?  We have absolutely no idea. The NRA doesn’t miss an opportunity to consign all gun violence to ‘street thugs,’ but the truth is that we have no evidence-based research which necessarily proves the Boys from Fairfax to be wrong.

We have a pretty good idea about how many guns are legally owned – the information is found in all those FBI-NICS forms that everyone who buys a gun from a dealer has to fill out. But if we want to reduce gun violence, shouldn’t we try and learn something about the gun owners who don’t fill out those forms?

 

What Happened In Las Vegas? Nobody Knows And Nobody Cares.

Our man Shaun Dakin sent me a note the other day expressing profound grief at the degree to which the Las Vegas shooting has slipped from public view. And there’s no question that he’s correct. The issue of bump-stocks is now morphing into a regulatory problem for the ATF and I notice that bump-stock manufacturers are no longer pretending that they’ve shut down and left town. As for any new gun laws, those are just as dead post-Las Vegas as they were dead prior to the rampage event. Shaun also asked me to come up with a theory as to why this event has had such a brief media shelf-life, so here goes.

LV2    You would think that the worst mass shooting not just in U.S. history but in the entire history of small-arms would still be making some media noise. But the only media mention in the last few days has been a story about how off-duty cops from California who were in the concert crowd and performed heroic, life-saving efforts have been temporarily denied workmen’s comp so that they can spend some time off the job nursing both physical and mental wounds. The problem may eventually be sorted out but the story has already disappeared.

Talk about disappearing, it now turns out that the shooter, Stephen Paddock, is presumed to have removed a hard drive from his laptop computer before ending his own life. But the hard drive evidently can’t be found. Which raises two interesting questions: How do investigators know that it was Paddock who removed the drive; and where the hell is the drive? Computer memories tend to be a basic piece in evidence when law enforcement attempts to figure out motives, or movements of someone being investigated, particularly if the suspect happens to be dead. I’m still waiting for the Las Vegas Police to announce the results of the ‘internal’ investigation which was going to tell us which cop walked into Paddock’s hotel room and took pictures of him lying there dead. Now we can add another reason for this investigation never to be done.

Getting back to Shaun’s question about how come nobody’s interested in what happened at the Mandalay Bay, I think the quick way in which the whole thing has simmered down is basically a reflection of how the issue was handled by the man at the top. I’m referring here to Trump who made his first statement on Monday which sounded like either someone had put part of Obama’s brain into his head or at least doped him up to the point that he sounded restrained and dignified for the first time in his entire public life. Then he went out to Vegas and not only was quiet and respectful again, but even said words like ‘gun laws,’ a nomenclature which has never previously slipped out of his mouth.

This is the same Trump who bowed and scraped every time Gun-nut Nation accused Hillary of ‘politicizing’ the gun issue whenever she talked about gun violence during the campaign. This is the same Trump who continues to wax eloquent about how mass shooters are just really ‘sick’ guys even though most mass shooters do not present any symptoms of mental illness prior to engaging in a rampage-shooting event.

The afternoon that 28 people were killed at Sandy Hook, Obama went on television and mentioned other mass shootings, said that such events had occurred too many times, and promised to work for a political solution to keep such events from happening again. Two days later he appeared at a prayer vigil at Sandy and promised to “use whatever power this office holds” to stop mass violence caused by guns.

Know what? It’s not mass shootings that have stopped – it’s the attempt to regulate the use of guns which produce mass violence that has come to an end. Which is why Las Vegas is no longer an issue of  media concern. Which is why Shaun Dakin’s grief will continue to be profound.

 

 

Does FBI-NICS Tell Us How Many Guns Are Sold By Gun Dealers? I’m Not Sure.

What’s that about you learn something new every day? Well I just learned something from the NRA about the NICS-FBI background check system and if I didn’t know about this before today, I guarantee you that maybe nobody else in the GVP community knows it either.  And what I learned today is particularly important because I learned it just after reading the new Pew gun report which claims that both gun owners and non-gun owners support FBI-NICS background checks for ‘secondary,’ i.e., personal transfers of guns.

nics             It’s all well and good that 87% of non-gun owners and 77% of gun owners favor more comprehensive background checks. But if you live in one of 26 states on an official list published by the ATF and possess either a concealed-carry license or, in some cases, a gun license, you don’t have to undergo a FBI-NICS background check when you buy any gun at all. Think I’m making it up?  Click here.

I never knew this because my gun shop happens to be located in one of the 24 states which doesn’t exempt any over-the-counter purchase from going through NICS. And in fact my state not only requires dealers to get a NICS approval before the gun is transferred, but also requires the dealer to verify through a website link that the customer’s state-issued gun license is also valid at the time the transfer is made. Do many other states which exempt license-holders from NICS have a system which requires real-time verification of the state license when a gun is sold?  I doubt it.  That’s about the last expense that a legislature in Georgia or West Virginia is going to add to the state budget.

Right now there are somewhere between 12 and 14 million active concealed-carry permits in the United States. Florida leads the list with over a million but the Gunshine State does not exempt any gun purchase from NICS.  On the other hand, states like Kentucky and Louisiana do exempt CCW-holders from NICS, and together these two states alone have issued over 300,000 concealed-carry permits.  Kentucky’s an interesting state because they use the NICS system every month to check whether any resident who has a gun license shows up as a ‘bad boy’ in any state. Last month the NICS system ran almost 375,000 such checks for Kentucky, but state residents also purchased almost 8,700 handguns. And since CCW-holders are exempted from NICS checks in Kentucky, even if someone’s name showed up on the NICS state license check, how would a gun shop owner know that the guy standing in front of him couldn’t legally buy a gun? Last month more than 10,000 handguns were sold in Louisiana and there’s no indication that NICS checked the validity of the 136,000 active Louisiana CCW permits at all.

I just did a quick eyeball on the number of concealed-carry permits issued by states which exempt the holders of those permits from undergoing NICS background checks, and the total is somewhere between 5.6 and 5.7 million, give or take a few.  How many handguns were purchased last month in these same states with background checks? Somewhere around 185,000, give or take a few thousand here or there (sorry, but I’m not going to waste time adding up every single one.)

The folks who go to the trouble of getting a concealed-carry license in many cases also tend to be the folks who buy lots of guns. Kind of goes with the territory, if you know what I mean. Is there a chance that the numbers for NICS checks in these exempt states may undercount the actual number of guns sold in those states by as much as half? Yup, there is.

I’m not saying that CCW-license holders are a threat to safety, I’ll let the Violence Policy Center make that argument with their ‘concealed killers’ report. What I am saying is that there may be a lot more guns being added to the civilian arsenal each month, and the one thing we know for sure about gun violence is that more guns equals more gun violence, period, the end.

 

 

Want To Stop Gun Trafficking? Just Enforce The Law.

Like everyone else who is concerned about gun violence, I have been listening to the argument about expanding FBI-NICS background checks to secondary sales for more than twenty years. And much of the argument from the gun violence prevention (GVP) community falls back on the assumption that if all gun transactions could be traced, this would cut down, if not almost entirely eliminate ‘straw sales,’ i.e., the purchase of a gun by one person who knows he or she is really buying the gun for someone else.

laws             Now in fact we do not have a single study which compares gun violence rates in any state before and after universal background checks were put in place, and the oft-cited and excellent Hopkins study which shows a spike in Missouri gun homicides after mandatory background checks were abolished was based on permit-to-purchase (PTP) licensing, which is a much more thorough vetting process than running a background check through the FBI.

But when GVP advocates talk about straw sales, they are usually referring to organized efforts that connect straw purchases to gun trafficking, which involves someone buying a bunch of guns in a shop in one state, then stuffing them into the trunk of a car and delivering them to a street-seller somewhere else.  Back in February, the cops arrested 24 people who were buying guns in Virginia, then taking them up for resale in New York. One of the entrepreneurs told another confederate that he could take advantage of ‘weak’ laws in Virginia, walk into a gun store and buy 50 guns every day.

There’s only one little problem with this narrative, and the problem is something known as ATF Form 3310.  I’m willing to bet you that most of the people who read this column will have no idea what I am referring to because I have never seen it mentioned in any discussion about straw sales within the GVP.  But this form happens to be what every licensed dealer must fill out and immediately submit to the ATF if someone walks into their shop and purchases more than one handgun in any period of less than six days. A copy of the form also has to be sent to the police chief in the town where the gun shop is located, which means that within 24 hours after someone walks into a shop anywhere in the United States and walks out with more than one handgun, both the local police and the feds know the name and address of the purchaser, along with a description and serial number of each gun, and all the other relevant background information of the purchaser (DOB, race, ID, etc.) which is entered on the FBI-NICS background-check form known as the 4473.

So the idea that guns which are then ‘trafficked’ here and there are floating out the door of various gun shops without any controls over who buys them is simply not true. And the kid who bragged to his friend that he could easily buy 50 guns every day in Virginia may have thought he was describing a state with loose gun laws; in fact, what he was really describing was a state in which neither the local cops or the ATF are doing their job.

The ATF loves to give out all kinds of data on how many guns they trace, how many gun shops they inspect, blah, blah, blah and blah. But since the beginning of this year there have been slightly more than 100,000 background checks for the purchase of multiple guns, and I guarantee you that many of those transactions involved multiple handguns whose over-the-counter transfers aren’t tracked by the ATF at all.

I’m not saying that we should step back from the demand to institute background checks on all movement of guns. But there already exists a mechanism to make it more difficult for guns to get into the wrong hands and I don’t see why we shouldn’t be enforcing existing laws particularly when implementing stronger gun regulations probably won’t get done.