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

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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.

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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.

A New Law That Will Make Assault Rifles Easier To Own.

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I want to make a suggestion to my friends in the gun violence prevention (GVP) community and it goes like this. I think that every year on the anniversary of Sandy Hook, or maybe on the Wear Orange day, or maybe on the Concert for America day, the GVP should get together and give an award to the public figure who has done the most that year to promote gun violence. Maybe the award would go to a President, maybe to a Detroit police chief, maybe to someone who heads a pro-gun advocacy group, the usual suspects list is obviously quite long.

AR2              But for the inaugural award I want to nominate Representative Rob Bishop (R-UT) who has just introduced a bill called – get this – the “Lawful Purpose and Self Defense Act,” which has to rank as the single most dangerous piece of federal legislation which has ever been crafted to increase the violence caused by guns.  The bill is H.R. 2060, and I’ll get serious now and tell GVP that they better get their sh*t together and start working against this measure right now. Because if GVP doesn’t shove this bill up you know where and it becomes law, what happened at Sandy Hook and The Pulse will look like child’s play compared to the violence that a statute like this could cause.

What this bill basically does is prohibit the ATF from determining what kinds of weapons can be imported from overseas based on whether any particular gun meets the criteria for being ‘sporting’ or not. And if the ATF determines that a gun isn’t a ‘sporting’ arm, then it doesn’t come in. And what this means is that AR-style rifles, a.k.a assault rifles, don’t come in. You can import some foreign parts and assemble the gun over here, but those weapons can only be sold if they also contain a certain number of US-made parts.  Here’s the bottom line: if this bill becomes law, we will be flooded with cheap AR-15s and AK-47s, along with any other type of gun that could be used for ‘self defense.’

Now you might think that the attempt by Gun-nut Nation to pass a national concealed-carry law is a more serious threat to community safety and peace. But I actually tend to agree with the Gun-nut gang that there really isn’t a connection between gun violence rates and the fact that someone who has a clean background record is walking around with a gun. The connection is a little more incidental than whether CCW-holders commit crimes, because what’s really behind the push to validate national CCW is the expectation that such a law would increase the overall sale of guns. And the more guns that are out there, the more that get stolen or lost, the more that wind up in the wrong hands, you know the drill.

Which is exactly what would happen if every Tom, Dick and Harry manufacturer of assault weapons anywhere in the world could ship their products over here. Domestic ‘black gun’ manufacturers like S&W, Rock River and Bushmaster would drop their prices even further, dealers would discount both the guns and the ammo (and by the way, the bill also prevents ATF from deciding whether imported ammunition is ‘sporting’ or not) and the idea that an AR-15 or an AK-47 is a ‘defensive’ weapon would gain the upper hand.

Leave it to my friends in Fairfax, of course, to push this terrible piece of legislation by saying something which simply isn’t true, namely, that the ‘core’ purpose of the 2nd Amendment, as stated in the 2008 Heller decision, is self defense. What Heller says is that Americans have the Constitutional ‘right’ to keep a handgun in their homes to defend themselves; there’s not a single word about keeping an AR around the house.

I meant what I said that H.R. 2060 is the worst piece of pro-gun legislation ever introduced. Let’s not wait until a bunch of NRA toadies in the People’s House put it up for a vote. It needs to be stopped now.

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.

If The ATF Believes That Gun Violence Is Caused By Thefts From Gun Shops, The Martians Have Landed At Area 51.

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The ATF, which is the responsible government agency for regulating firearms, has just released another report about its activities which actually obscures more than it explains. But that’s the usual state of affairs with the ATF, a group of bumblers who still haven’t explained how they managed to lose two thousand guns in a sting operation called Fast and Furious that was supposed to uncover a vast manufacturing enterprise to convert AK-47 semi-auto rifles into full-auto machine gun and didn’t turn up even one.

atf              This new ATF report, which covers guns stolen or missing each year, comes out of the same division within the ATF which claims to be “leading in the fight against violent crime and terrorism,” a.k.a. the vaunted National Tracing Center. Let me tell you right now that if the National Tracing Center is what’s protecting us against terrorism, I would strongly urge all the readers of this column to drop whatever else they are doing, immediately start building their underground bunkers and stock their bunkers with a generous assortment of Glenn Beck’s freeze-dried food. And don’t forget to load up the bunker with an AK-47 and a couple of thousand rounds.

The last thing the ATF is going to do with its tracing activities is protect us or themselves from anything, unless the ‘anything’ happens to be a cut to their operational budget. They can talk all they want about how hard it is to conduct those hundreds of thousands of traces they conduct on ‘crime guns’ each year, but in fact, less than 20% of the traces they conduct each year have anything to do with serious crimes. For that matter, all the ATF’s whining about how their hands are tied because they can’t go beyond the first transfer of a gun is simply not true at all, because most gun shops sell as many used as they sell new guns, which means that all the transfers of previously-sold guns can be traced as well.

But let’s go back to the stolen/missing report which the ATF has just issued for 2016. The data represents what is reported to the ATF by federally-licensed dealers, but the information comes from the ATF in two very different ways. The reports on guns that have been stolen are usually supplied by dealers themselves who are victims of some kind of criminal activity, usually a burglary, which results in a loss of guns. Occasionally there’s a really spectacular burglary event, like the idiot in Janesville, WI, who allegedly stole more than 30 guns out of a gun shop and then sent mailed a threat to President Trump. But most of these thefts are a gun here or a gun there, and are frequently the work of a gun shop employee who just can’t resist the temptation to make an extra bit of cash.

The guns that are reported ‘missing’ by dealers, on the other hand, are guns for which paperwork can’t be found when the ATF conducts the inspection of a shop.  This doesn’t mean that the guns were stolen or fell into the wrong hands, it just means that the paperwork examined by the ATF can’t be found for a particular transaction, even though the transfer of that particular gun was legal in every respect. My last ATF inspection covered more than 11,000 transfers which occurred in my shop between 2002 and 2013. Know how many transactions ended up being reported as missing? Exactly five.

If the ATF wants to do something about curbing the theft of guns, why don’t they figure out a strategy or at least some messaging to highlight the fact that every year two hundred thousand or more handguns get stolen from private homes? The ATF will immediately tell you that regulating private gun ownership isn’t their legal mandate or their organizational concern. Which is why the agency’s value as regards reducing gun violence is both overstated and misplaced – gun violence is caused by the existence of so many privately-owned guns.

Should The ATF Change How It Operates When It May Not Operate Very Well Now?

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Our good friends at The Trace have just mounted coverage of the Congressional hearing where an ATF official, Ron Turk, faced blowback from Democrats over a memo he sent around questioning the necessity to maintain various gun regulations, such things as keeping silencers on the NFA list, restricting the import of assault-style rifles, prohibiting dealers from one state from selling direct to customers in another state – you know, little things like that.

atf             The word around town is that Turk the Jerk is pimping to become ATF Director, a position vacant since the last Director, Todd Jones, abruptly quit after the agency was buried in an avalanche of pro-gun protests when they tried to restrict the sale of surplus military ammunition which was seen as yet another infringement of 2nd Amendment ‘rights.’  Turk the Jerk claimed that he wrote his memo without input from the NRA, but he admitted during the hearing that, uh, maybe he had ‘heard’ from people in the industry who, uh, told him that they, uh, supported what he said.

My purpose, however, is not to rehash what Turk the Jerk said about his memo; Ann Givens did a good job on that score. What caught my eye was a link to the very critical report of ATF’s oversight of its confidential informant program which, according to the Justice Department’s Inspector General, is managed about as well as the White House is currently managing the behavior of the Commander in Chief.

The audit was conducted to evaluate the practices “for the identification, approval and oversight of confidential informants,” which number more than 1,800 individuals and costs the agency more than $4 million each year. Confidential informants (CI) are a necessary and important tool for law-enforcement investigations, but their use obviously involves risks regarding the validity of the information which they provide, as well as their involvement in illicit activities. The report concluded that “ATF’s oversight of its CI Program required significant improvement,” which is bureaucrat-ese for saying that the program isn’t run very well.  Gee – what a surprise that when it comes to conducting detailed and complicated field investigations, the ATF keeps screwing it up.

This is the same agency which carried out an armed invasion of the Branch Davidian compound outside of Waco in 1993 because they believed that members of the sect were manufacturing machine guns that would be used in an Armageddon-type attack on the nearby town. The assault resulted in the deaths of 4 ATF agents and at least 80 men, women and children, even though not a single full-auto weapon was ever found.

Then under the administrations first of George W and then Barack, the ATF went looking for machine guns again and put together an operation called ‘Fast and Furious,’ in which gun dealers were encouraged to sell lots of AK-47s to Mexican gunrunners who, it was believed, were turning the semi-auto rifles into full-auto weapons before they were smuggled over the Rio Grande. This brilliant program resulted in the death of an ATF agent and the disappearance of more than 2,000 weapons before it was curtailed. How many machine guns were recovered? None, as in not one.

The ATF not only botches field investigations, they can’t even bring the technology they use for regulatory activities into the 20th Century, never mind the 21st. Know those 300,000 traces they conduct every year to figure out the initial sale of all those ‘crime’ guns? Forget that most of those traces have nothing to do with serious crimes at all, the ATF still sends trace requests to dealers by fax. Have these guys heard of email and pdf?

If Turk the Jerk really wants to modify regulations to, as he says, ‘free up resources to fight crime,’ why doesn’t he first look at the way in which the ATF operates day-to-day? Before the regulations are changed to make the job easier, perhaps we need to know whether the agency knows how to operate at all.

Does Anyone Ever Think About The Cost Of Regulating Guns? The NRA Does.

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If you listen to the media’s spin on the NRA, the first thing they always tell you is that the success of the gun lobby is due to the amount of cash they spread around.  And while it’s true that they give substantial amounts of money to this candidate and that, and they spent a ton of dough on television ads for he-who’s-name -shall-not-be-mentioned even though he’s soon to become 45th President of the United States, the fact is that the NRA’s real success on the legislative playing field is due not to what is spent, but what is not.

laws             At the Federal level, most of the NRA’s lobbying activity consists of shooting down gun bills promoted by the other side.  And the funny thing about increasing gun regulations, such as expanding background checks to cover private sales, for example, is that someone has to foot the bill.  The gun owner who wants to give a gun to his son or sell it to a neighbor or friend has to pay a gun dealer to do the requisite paperwork and background check; the FBI will have to hire more staff to respond to the increased volume of NICS calls; the ATF will want to increase the number of agents because the dealers whose stores they inspect will have lots more transactions on their books.

Like it or not, most schemes to regulate anything, not just guns, live or die based on the ability of the relevant government agencies to ensure through enforcement that the new regulations are being followed and kept.  When Nixon dropped the speed limit to 55 mph in 1974 it was estimated that gasoline consumption declined by a whole, big 1% because most states ignored the rule and drivers were rarely, if ever ticketed for exceeding the new limit on speed.  But guns are already a highly-regulated industry, so additional regulations would be enforced.

The real political clout of the NRA is felt at the state level because this is where the entire licensing procedure for gun ownership takes place.  Thirteen states require a pre-purchase permit requirement for hand guns, long guns or both which means finding the time and money to process such transactions; carrying a concealed weapon is now legal everywhere but requires some kind of permit in 44 of the 50 states.  Again, the issuing authority for these licenses needs to spend money to get the job done.

Take a look at laws which the NRA is promoting at the state level, again and again such laws would cost nothing at all.  Texas is now the eighth state to allow students to bring concealed guns onto college campuses, a law that might make a college administrator decide to hire some more security, but it won’t be at the taxpayer’s expense.  Back in 2014 Georgia passed a ‘guns everywhere’ law which opened bars, restaurants, churches and just about every other public place to those hardy souls who just can’t walk around without their guns. Did this law require an uptick in the state budget bottom line?  Not one bit.

A recent study from three researchers at the Harvard Business School tracked state legislative responses to mass shootings from 1999 through 2014. What they found was that after a mass shooting, laws that loosened gun restrictions increased in Republican-controlled state governments by 75%, no comparable activity for tightening gun restrictions in states with blue governments was found.  I’m not sure that I entirely buy their research because Connecticut, New York and Maryland all passed restrictive gun laws after Sandy Hook, but all three laws mandated new regulations which could only become effective with enforcement at every turn.

Going forward, Gun-sense Nation will have to tread carefully when it comes to advocating new gun regulations which bear any cost.  Because we are clearly entering a time when ‘tax relief’ and ‘downsizing government’ will be the orders of the day. And since most laws cost money to enforce, this puts Gun-nut Nation in the driver’s seat because they don’t want any gun laws at all.

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