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.

 

Advertisements

Don’t Worry – The NRA Isn’t Losing Any Sleep Over ‘Fix NICS.’

Want to start your day off with a good laugh? Take a look at Wayne-o LaPierre blasting off into outer space in 2016 with a video message about the FBI-NICS background check system which came out two years before last week’s Fix-NICS bill was introduced by Senators Chris Murphy (D-CT), a long-time ‘enemy’ of the 2nd Amendment and John Cornyn (R-TX), one of the NRA’s best friends.

wayne              Everyone loves this bill.  The NRA and the NSSF jumped on board; ditto Gabby Giffords and Everytown – Moms.  Well, almost everyone. The group which claims it’s the only group standing between freedom and fascism, a.k.a. Gun Owners of America, told its members to demand that we stop trying to ‘fix an unconstitutional system’ because background checks of any kind are an ‘infringement on 2nd-Amendment ‘rights.’

But back to Wayne-o patting himself on the back for being a champion of FBI-NICS.  Ultimately the NRA had no choice but to support the Brady bill because the idea of an instant background check enjoyed wide public support back then, just as an extension of background checks to secondary transfers appears to enjoy the same degree of public support now.  But as a detailed report from the Brady Campaign points out, the moment that the Brady bill became law, the NRA began attacking its constitutional validity even before the system went online.

So when Wayne-o states that the NRA has ‘fought for 20 years’ to put the records of persons adjudicated to be mentally incompetent into the NICS system, what he should have said is that America’s oldest civil-rights organization has fought to keep the FBI-NICS system as far away from being an effective tool for reducing gun violence as it can. But when you watch this video and the phrase ‘the truth about background checks’ flashes across the screen, you can be sure that ol’ Wayne is getting ready to blast off into outer space.

But now that Congress appears ready to do exactly what the NRA claims should have always been done, namely, to make sure that the data sent to NICS really includes the names of every individual whose background, under current law, does not allow them to own a gun, what should the boys from Fairfax be doing to prove their commitment to 2nd-Amendment ‘rights?’ Because if this bill gets a positive vote and the Trumpster signs it into law, the NRA’s rationale for not expanding background checks to secondary sales disappears.

I’m not saying that the process of widening background check procedures to go beyond over-the-counter sales would be a walk in the park or a day at the beach. But the good news is that the NRA has been forced to support the idea that only ‘law-abiding citizens’ should be able to own guns. And if NICS is fixed to everyone’s satisfaction in a way that really prevents the criminals, the drug abusers and the mentally ill from walking into a gun shop and buying a gun, the idea that private gun transfers requiring background checks is a violation of the 2nd Amendment wouldn’t pass muster in any court.

When all is said and done, the NRA’s opposition to background checks boils down to one, simple thing; namely, that government regulation of the gun industry is a bad and unnecessary thing. In that respect, the gun industry’s opposition to regulation is no different from every other industry – banks, financial services, energy, you-name-it – who want to lessen the regulatory burden because one way or another, regulations drive up costs.

The NRA, the 2nd-Amendment Foundation, Sean Hannity and every other pro-gun noisemaker can talk about gun ownership as a Constitutional ‘right’ all they want. But it’s simply a convenient catch-phrase for obscuring a basic truth. And that truth happens to be the unalterable fact that if someone aims a loaded gun at themselves or someone else and then pulls the trigger, the damage can be immense.  And only government has the resources and the authority to prevent such acts from taking place.

FIX NICS? Not A Bad Idea.

              The Mountain Shakes and Out Comes A Mouse ~ AESOP’S FABLES.

Is this how we should view the ‘FIX NICS’ bill introduced in the Senate today sponsored by Senators Murphy (D-CT) and John Cornyn (R-TX), the latter who’s also shepherding the national CCW-reciprocity bill through Congress and onto Trump’s Oval Office desk?

NICS

Or perhaps we should refer to this bill as ‘Better Late Than Never’ because it plugs some holes in a process which is only twenty-five years old.

Figures that the Wise Men and Women of the U.S. Senate would come up with something after the recent spate of mass shootings which seem to be breaking out with almost weekly regularity after almost a year’s peace and quiet following the inauguration of You-Know-Who. And by the way, don’t think for one second that John Cornyn didn’t get his marching orders from the folks he represents who work in Fairfax, VA even though he’s supposedly the senior senator from the Lone Star State. Because what the NRA doesn’t want their Faithful to know is that they have quietly supported laws which strip domestic abusers of their guns in Oregon, South Carolina, Wisconsin and several other states.

In short, what the Cornyn-Murphy bill creates is a process that will providing funding to states which develop and implement a better fail-safe system for sending relevant information to FBI-NICS, and also require the Justice Department to evaluate the extent to which every federal agency (read: Department of Defense), and state meets the compliance goals.  It also creates a new program which (I quote from the Press Release which accompanied the bill makes sure that, “states have adequate resources and incentives to share all relevant information with NICS showing that a felon or domestic abuser is excluded from purchasing firearms under current law.”

The phrase, ‘under current law’ obviously refers to the questions which must be answered prior to a background check by everyone who walks into a gun store and buys a gun. If you reply in the affirmative to any of these questions about your legal background, you fall into what is called a ‘prohibited category’ and in theory, the FBI will find you in their database and the purchase or transfer will be denied.  The whole point of the FIX-NICS law is to make sure that every jurisdiction sends forward all the information in their possession to keep the names of all ‘prohibited person’ accurate and up to date.

Generally speaking, you cannot get a gun if you are “under indictment or have ever been convicted in any court for a felony, or any other crime for which a judge could imprison you for more than one year.  You also are a ‘prohibited person’ if you have been convicted of a misdemeanor crime of domestic violence.  But here’s where things get tricky. The NICS approval goes through if you were convicted of a misdemeanor other than domestic violence punishable by ‘’two years or less.”  And how many state felonies are plea bargained down to misdemeanors?  Plenty.

The good news about this bill is that any time the word gets around Gun Land that the government is ‘cracking down,’ don’t ask me how, don’t ask me why, but people become more serious about complying with the law.  I’m not saying that gun owners aren’t law-abiding. Of course they are. But if you live in state which doesn’t require a background check for a private gun sale, all of a sudden the number of such checks starts going up. If you have lots of guns lying around the house, maybe you buy a safe and start locking the bangers away.

The FIX-NICS won’t put the fear of God into anyone who wants to use a gun in an illegal or improper way. But it does bring government back into the issue of gun safety, and that is exactly where the government belongs.

 

Are We Finally Getting Sick Of Guns?

Thanks to a note from Mark Bryant, who founded and runs the awesome Gun Violence Archive, I remembered this morning to go and look at the monthly report from FBI-NICS, which details the number of background checks for every gun transferred over the counter by a federally-licensed dealer anywhere in the United States. I know, I know, background checks still don’t cover most private gun transfers, but since NICS does cover every sale of a new gun, the month-to-month comparison is a very exact way to understand the state of the gun industry and, by extension, the degree to which Americans want to own guns.

texas             The NICS numbers for October are probably the most important monthly numbers of the entire year because the hunting season gets going in the Fall and even though a majority of American gun-owners don’t engage in hunting, this is when big-box stores like Cabela’s start running sales, this is when the Outdoor Channel starts showing hunters trekking through the Great Outdoors (although most of them go out to their blind in an ATV) so this is when the talk about guns is in the air.  Bottom line: if you are a gun dealer and you don’t have a good monthly sales in October, you can kiss the year goodbye.

Ready for the October numbers? Hold on to the seat of your pants. Not only do the numbers for October show a remarkable lack of gun sales, the drop is much greater than what has been going on throughout the year. Everybody assumed that gun sales under Trump would never match what went on under the Kenyan, but to the great surprise of Gun-nut Nation, the drop-off following Trump’s inauguration was only about 10 percent. And given the extent to which sales during the Obama ‘regime’ were somewhat inflated due to the irrational fears pumped up by the boys in Fairfax about how all guns were going to disappear, dropping back to 90% of sales levels recorded in pre-Trump years wasn’t seen as all that bad.

On January 22, Smith & Wesson’s stock price was $20 bucks a share, yesterday it closed at $13.65.  The old joke is that if you want to make a million in the gun business, start with two million. The joke seems to be coming back – this time in spades!

Now here are the actual numbers from NICS. Total background checks in October 2016 were 1,267,000.  Background checks for last month were 1,037,628.  For the nine months ending September 30, 2017 the overall drop in NICS was somewhere around 10 percent.  For October it’s more like 20 percent!  And remember that October is the beginning of the gun season; yea, some season.  And by the way, the decline was greater in handguns than in long guns, and it’s handguns which now determine the health of the gun industry because everyone is supposed to be walking around armed, remember?

What the NICS numbers tell us is not just that the bloom is off the rose for the gun industry, but more important, that the attempt to promote gun sales by appealing to fears about crime and violence may be falling flat.  And I have to assume until someone tells me otherwise, that what happened in Las Vegas last month and in Sutherland Springs this week may have finally been a game-changer when it comes to believing that someone, anyone is safer if they’re walking around with a gun.

Gun-nut Nation can celebrate all they want about the ‘good guy’ in Texas who stood outside the First Baptist Church, put a couple of slugs into Kelley as he was driving away. What about inside the Church which, by the way, certainly wasn’t a gun-free zone? As horrible as it seems, it may take deaths and injuries to hundreds of people in Vegas and Texas to finally convince Americans that ‘good guys with guns’ don’t offer any real protection against violence or crime. Is this worth the lives that have just been lost?

Thanks again Mark.

Everyone Supports Universal Background Checks. So What?

As a member of the NRA (I’m actually an endowment member so they can’t throw me out no matter what I say) I get emails from the NRA-ILA alerting me to state and federal gun laws which either weaken or strengthen gun ‘rights’ and the NRA’s response to such laws on both sides. The NRA has never bumped into a law which might make it more difficult for red-blooded Americans to exercise those precious 2nd-Amendment ‘rights,’ but as a follower of don Corleone’s admonition to Michael about keeping friends close but enemies closer, I always read what the NRA-ILA has to say.

NICS   The last missive I received contained a summary of laws recently introduced in Congress which represent “longstanding proposals that would burden innocent Americans at every turn.”  Chief among these proposals is the old bugaboo about ‘universal’ background checks which the NRA characterizes as a “perennial favorite of the gun control crowd,” because it “seeks to interpose the government (and expensive fees) into every exchange of firearms, including between trusted neighbors, close friends, and even family members,”  This warning is then followed by the NRA’s coup de grace statement about all GVP-backed legislation, namely, that it will “chip away at the right to keep and bear arms until it becomes out of reach to the average American.” The same, old, slippery-slope argument which is used against ‘responsible’ gun regulations every, single time.

The gun violence prevention (GVP) community always cites the endless public surveys which allegedly show that a solid majority of Americans, even gun-owning Americans, even NRA, gun-owning Americans, are in favor of some extension of background checks beyond the initial, over-the-counter sale. I don’t believe these polls not just because the NRA is totally against such an idea, but because those survey results don’t square with anything I ever experienced in selling more than 12,000 rifles, shotguns and handguns in my own retail gun store.

I can guarantee you that every time I sold a gun in my shop, the purchaser filled out an ATF Form 4473 which I then used to contact the FBI-NICS examiners in West Virginia in order to get an approval for the sale.  When the ATF audited my shop in 2013, they couldn’t find one, single instances in which we failed to get FBI-NICS approval before completing a sale. But I can tell you that at least half the customers made overt and nasty comments about the ‘goddamn government,’ or the ‘goddamn Kennedys,’ or the ‘goddamn Clintons’ while they were filling out the 4473 form.  And I can also say without fear of contradiction that had the instant FBI-NICS check been voluntary, those same customers would have turned it down.

Nobody likes the government when it comes to be told what we must do.  We pay taxes because we have to pay them, we (usually) drive at the speed limit because otherwise we might end up adding points to our license, paying a fine and seeing our insurance rates go up. In fact, many of us wouldn’t even bother to buy automobile insurance except we don’t have a choice. So why would anyone believe that just because people say that FBI-NICS is a ‘good thing,’ that those same folks can’t wait for the imposition of universal background checks?

Last month more than 26,000 guns were purchased in New York. How many private gun transfers took place? Less than 700. In New York State every gun transfer now requires a NICS background check, and it is simply not possible that in a state as big as New York that less than 3% of all gun transfers go between private hands. And yet many of the same folks who can’t be bothered to walk into a gun shop to give a gun to someone else will say they support universal NICS checks.

Know why the NRA opposes NICS checks? Because they know how gun owners really think, which is still something of a mystery for the GVP.

Do We Really All Support Background Checks?

If I had a nickel for every gun violence prevention (GVP) advocate and/or gun violence researchers who believes that the American public is not so polarized about controlling guns, I would be somewhere at my golf club and not sitting in my office writing, doing emails, answering the phone and doing all the things I do in order to keep my checkbook occasionally in balance. And this GVP belief in the ability to work with the ‘other side’ stems primarily from endless surveys which show that even gun owners and/or Republicans (usually the same thing) support comprehensive background checks.

polls2             The latest pronouncement in this respect comes from one of our leading gun researchers, Garen Wintemute, who is now overseeing a $5 million grant from the State of California to fund research that has been left undone since the CDC stopped funding gun violence research back in 1998. As ‘proof’ that we are not so divided over the issue of background checks, I quote Wintemute from a recent interview in the Los Angeles Times: “90% of the general population supports (background checks for all firearms purchases), 80% of gun owners support it and 70% of self-reported NRA members support it. Things are not as polarized as they seem.”

I’m assuming that Wintemute took these numbers from the Pew poll published back in June which found, among other things, that 19% of all gun owners were members of the NRA. If this were true, the $165 million they pulled in from dues in 2015 would be chump change compared to what they would really rack if the 19% ‘NRA members’ were paying annual dues. Try about $250 million, okay?

But since the Pew researchers made no effort to ask people why they said they were members of America’s oldest civil rights organization, for the moment let’s accept the number as true even if it’s not. Here’s a bigger truth. The NRA has come out officially and publicly against any expansion of background checks. Period. No compromise whatsoever. So what the Pew researchers should have asked, and perhaps one of Wintemute’s research colleagues will get around to asking at some point is this: ‘If you favor background checks, would you drop your NRA membership because the organization is opposed to background checks?’  Or perhaps instead of that question, the researchers would ask something along the lines like this: ‘Would you vote for someone whose stance on issues included expanding background checks?’

Remember a political candidate named Hillary Clinton? She used a very strong GVP argument to knock Bernie out of the box. The only problem is that the same argument didn’t work in the general election worth a damn. I’m not saying that Trump won the election only because of his stance on 2nd-Amendment ‘rights.’ What I am saying is that asking the average person if they favor expanded background checks doesn’t really tell you very much about how that individual will really line up and be counted when a new gun law is being debated in the jurisdiction where that individual happens to live.

I’m also not saying that gun owners are ignorant of the importance of background checks for the transfer a gun from one set of hands to another set of hands. Nor am I saying they are lying when they tell a survey-taker that they support expanded background checks. But asking someone to respond to a specific question about guns doesn’t really tell you how the answer to that question lines up with other thoughts the same person holds about guns and how best to use public policies to diminish the violence caused by guns.

The same gun owners who told Pew they favored comprehensive background checks also said they wanted teachers to carry guns in schools and in case you don’t remember, arming teachers was the NRA’s response following the massacre at Sandy Hook.

If only the gap between ‘us’ and ‘them’ could be measured by responses to a single question in a poll.

The NRA Tilts Loony Right Or Nobody Will Buy Guns.

I received an email yesterday from someone who read my Huffington column on the NRA and white supremacists and he wanted to know why the NRA leadership continues to tilt further and further not just to the Right, but to the loony Right. And a quick glance at the latest FBI-NICS background checks might contain an answer that both he and the gun violence prevention (GVP) community should consider with interest and care.

wayne             While obviously background checks can’t give totals for all transfers of guns, what they can give is an indication of the trend of new guns coming into the market each year. And when all is said and done, this is really the most important number which needs to be followed because there is simply no getting away from the fact that the more guns out there, the more people get hurt with guns. And please, please don’t send me an email telling me that it’s bot the gun, it’s the person holding the gun, okay?

Back in March, some gun-sellers were reporting that sales were still strong, others said sales were off – it was a mixed bag and nobody was sure which way the gun market would eventually go. But that was March and this is now August, and if this month turns out to be as lousy as last month, the fall-off in demand for guns may turn out to be much worse than even the most pessimistic analysts have projected to date.

For July 2016, the FBI-NICS phone bank racked up 1,143,824 calls covering gun transfers, including 628,725 handgun transfers, which from the perspective of gun violence is the most important category of all. Last month, July 2017, the total gun transfer number was 845,007, with handguns comprising 480,124 of the total calls. That’s a month-to-month drop of 26%, with handguns sales dropping slightly less by 24%.

Historically, July and August are always the slowest months in the gun business because despite the necessity to always have that gun around to protect yourself from thugs, terrorists and God knows what else, guns just can’t compete with the beach. Which is why a same-month comparison from one year to the next is a potent indicator of the overall health and outlook of the industry as a whole.

Let’s take a somewhat longer view.  From January 1, 2016 through July 31, 2016 the FBI rang up 4,712,334 calls for background checks on handguns; for the same period in 2017 the total was 4,257,132, a decline of roughly 10%. As for long guns, the slippage was also 10%, from 2,913,489 to 2,607,137. In the last two months, the drop in handguns sales year-to-year was nearly 20%.

If the more recent trends continue, the bloom is not only off the rose, the whole rose bush might be starting to dry up and wither away. Which means that not only will revenues within the gun industry collapse, but revenues for gun organizations like the NRA will also begin to decline.

The little secret which the NRA doesn’t want you to know is that for all their recent forays into television and video, the truth is that most people come into contact with America’s ‘oldest civil rights organization’ only when they walk into a place that sells guns. Ask yourself this question: ever seen an advertisement or logo for the NRA in the local convenience store, Walmart or CVS?

The problem for the NRA is simply this: in order to augment or even maintain their financial base the only thing that really works is to keep people buying guns. They can peddle concealed-carry insurance or holsters that fit inside bras or t-shirts which proclaim your 2nd-Amendment ‘rights,’ but nobody’s going to buy any of that crap unless they already own a gun. And how do you get more people to buy guns when no matter what you say, a gun simply doesn’t represent a necessary part of everyday existence like your car keys or your droid?