Do Background Checks Equal Gun Sales? Not By A Long Shot.

2 Comments

Like most of us, I’m sick and tired of the alt-right’s attack on mainstream media by calling it ‘fake news.’ Talk about the pot calling the kettle black, or worse. But every once in a while our friends in the real news media get it wrong, and this seems to happen frequently when the issue involves guns. Which is not surprising given the fact that liberals and educated folks in general are usually not that versant with guns or gun cultures, which is all the more reason they should be extra careful when they wander onto the gun-owning/using turf.

An example of this lack of knowledge about guns came out today in an NPR story about background checks in which the writer, Uri Berliner, used the latest FBI-NICS check numbers to craft an article about the post-Trump decline in gun sales.  Now young man Berliner has some impressive journalistic creds; according to the NPR website, he is part of the Planet Money team and previously worked as a reporter for the San Diego Union-Tribune. All of which I am sure has given him lots of experience in how to research a story before he sends it out. But this particular story, unfortunately, shows little, if any understanding about trends in the gun business at all.

What Berliner has done is taken the most recent news release from the FBI which gives the overall number of background checks for the previous month, and then assumed without bothering to look at the actual data, that each background check equals the transfer of at least one gun.  His story contains a neat little graphic which shows that monthly background checks have declined from 2.8 million in December to 2.2 million last month, numbers that are far below comparable monthly numbers for 2015. I reproduce the graphic here:

berliner

There’s only one little problem. Berliner is using overall background check numbers (which is what the FBI uses in its press releases because it would like you to know how hard they are working down in West Virginia) which do not distinguish between background checks for gun transfers as opposed to background checks for gun license applications, concealed-carry permits and guns taken out of pawn. You see, the FBI-NICS system isn’t just utilized to make sure that a dealer isn’t putting a gun into the ‘wrong hands.’ It’s also used by law enforcement agencies who don’t have the ability to determine whether a resident of their state applying for a gun or CCW license hasn’t committed a disqualifying crime in some other state.

Had Berliner taken the trouble to look at the actual FBI-NICS data which can be seen here, he would have discovered that of those 2.2 million background checks processed in February, more than half had nothing to do with gun transfers at all. In fact, February, 2017 was the first month that background checks for something other than gun transfers actually exceeded background checks on guns since the FBI started breaking out their numbers back in 1998. And when you examine the background check data in detail, what jumps out is the degree to which the sale of guns (using NICS as a proxy) has declined much more than what the NPR story would lead us to believe.

I’m not saying that Berliner is incorrect when he claims that the gun industry is in the midst of a post-Trump slump. But let’s remember that the whole background check issue is the Numero Uno issue being discussed and debated among organizations that seek to reduce gun violence and believe that expanding background checks is a proper way to proceed.

You would think that NPR would at least understand the necessity of verifying the data which they use to construct a story based on background checks. You would think that the gun violence prevention (GVP) community would want to understand what the data actually means.

You would think….

Want To Buy Another Gun? There Are Plenty Lying Around.

1 Comment

Now that America’s greatest all-time gun salesman has departed from 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, leave it to the NRA to try and pretend that #45 is filling his shoes.  Because after ponying up $30 million for Trump television campaign ads, the last thing the boys in Fairfax will admit is that the result of spending all that dough given by their loyal members (like me) will result in the gun industry going down the tubes. And I guarantee you that as the purchase of new guns continues to slide, the NRA will push out this phony argument and those phony numbers again and again to pretend that Americans still want more guns.

bomber             The fact is that the gun industry has always been a boom-and-bust industry, sales trends driven by fears that guns might be taken away. There simply is no truth to the argument I hear from various Gun-nut Nation mouthpieces that all kinds of new demographics – women, minorities, millennials – are into guns. The percentage of American households that report legal gun ownership has declined by nearly half over the last twenty years, and the explosion of gun sales during the Obama ‘regime’ (at least we won’t hear Limbaugh ratcheting up that disgusting remark for the next four years) basically represented people who owned guns buying more guns.

But leave it to the NRA to come up with a post-election narrative on gun sales which twists the facts in a way to prove that the gun industry will remain alive and well even when nobody needs to be worried about whether they can buy another gun.  Here’s the headline from the NRA-ILA blog: “‘Trump Slump’ Proved False By Strong Background Check Numbers,” a response to articles in the financial press predicting that gun sales in 2017 will decline by 20 percent.

Actually it should only be that background checks on over-the-counter sales in January and February dropped by 20 percent.  In fact, the 2017 drop so far is more like 50% from the monthly totals in November-December, 2016, with the NRA trying to claim that the February, 2017 sales were the ‘third-best’ February sales of all time. And the NRA also skimmed over the fact that since the FBI-NICS background check system went online in 1999, that checks for license applications and renewals last month exceeded background checks for gun transfers for the very first time.

There’s a reason why Smith & Wesson recently changed its corporate name and stock listing to something called American Outdoor Brands.  Never mind the fact that the company has never successfully sold anything except guns; back in 2005 they even tried to hondle bath towels, blankets, bed sheets, pots and pans. But as the Motley Fool politely noted, “The rugged outdoors business can help smooth out the peaks and valleys of the gun business.”

Peaks and valleys – I love it. How about peaks and ravines? Remember when you couldn’t find a Smith & Wesson AR-15 ‘modern sporting rifle’ for less than a grand?  You can buy them online now for $600 and change. Or how about the Model 637, the lightweight version of the little, snub-nose revolver which first rolled out when the factory was still located in downtown Springfield on Stockbridge Street? The company lists the MSRP at $469 but I can buy the gun right now for $359. When was the last time you could buy a new Honda for more than 20% under MSRP?  I’ll tell you when: never, as in not ever, okay?

The good news about the gun business is that, all the nonsense about the ‘armed citizen’ to the contrary, most of the customers are hobbyists and if a gun maker comes out with a new product there will always be some sales.  But designing and manufacturing a new product means investing profits from the sale of current products and right now those profits aren’t there. Sorry folks, but the NRA make-believe isn’t a substitute for hard cash.

 

 

What A Surprise! Gun Sales Hit The Skids Under Trump.

5 Comments

Want to make a million in the gun business? Start with two million.  It’s an old joke but it has a ring of truth to it because even though guns have been selling like hot cakes since you-know-who moved into the White House in 2009, now that he’s moved out, everyone’s predicting that the gun business will slow down.  And the problem with the gun business is that it’s always been boom-or-bust, driven primarily by the possibility that we won’t be able to get our hands on any more guns.

gun-sales        So when Trump pulled off the unthinkable on November 8th, given the fact that he had made gun-control (or I should say, less gun control) a central feature of his campaign, it was clear that the mad rush to stockpile guns during the Obama regime would come to an end. How much of an end?  The numbers so far are much worse than what people thought might occur.

Before I get into the bad news (or the good news, depending on your point of view,) I have to explain how to figure out how many guns are actually sold. Since more than 90% of the guns sold in the U.S. come from companies that are privately owned, we can’t get any kind of valid numbers from the gun makers themselves, but the FBI-NICS background check is extremely reliable for telling us how many new guns have been sold.

In that regard, a funny thing happened to new gun sales in January – they didn’t go down, they collapsed.  The drop in sales from December wasn’t in the nature of 20%, which is what the experts are saying will be the story for 2017; it was more like a drop of 50%, and I don’t ever recall something like that ever happening before. In that regard, Breitbart’s gun ‘expert,’ AWR Hawkins, got it all wrong when he said that background checks needed to be viewed with caution because since every purchase could represent multiple guns, 3 million checks could mean that 6 million new guns were purchased. Except that the monthly NICS report contains a separate category for multiple guns covered by the same call.

In December, 2016 the NICS call center logged 2,763,115 calls.  In January, 2017 total calls were 2,032,108.  Hold on you say, that’s only a decline of 26%, which happens to be, by the way, the biggest month-to-month drop since December-January, 2015-2016. But there’s only one little problem: of the slightly more than 2 million calls in January, more than one million were calls for license checks, pawn redemptions and private sales.  In fact, January 2017 marked the first time that calls for background checks on over-the-counter purchases were less than half the total calls handled by NICS. Gun sale checks were 976,341, which meant the month-to-month calls for background checks on gun sales dropped by nearly 55%.

Neither the NRA nor the NSSF has let out a peep about the January NICS numbers, as opposed to previous months when they couldn‘t wait to let everyone know that background checks for gun sales kept going up. If this trend continues, gun sales are to go back to where they were at the beginning of 2012, before Sandy Hook and before Obama got on his high horse about regulating guns.

No wonder Wayne-o went to CPAC and pledged that the NRA would become the first line of defense against violent, left-wing thugs. After all, if Trump gets his way with immigration, we won’t have all those undocumented, criminally-disposed ‘illegals’ top kick around any more. And unless Gun-nut Nation can come up with a new threat to hearth and home, it may not be long until the shrunken January gun numbers will be a pleasant memory compared to what gun sales might really become.

Wouldn’t it be funny if the NRA is secretly funding Obama’s ‘secret coup?’

The NRA Wins A Big One Which Doesn’t Mean Anything At All.

1 Comment

In return for helping to secure the nomination of Neil Gorsuch to the Supreme Court, the NRA had its Congressional toadies undo a Presidential Executive Action which mandated removing guns from people receiving disability benefits for mental disorders.  The NRA has been braying about the need to ‘fix’ the mental health system in lieu of expanding background checks to secondary gun transfers, but this didn’t stop America’s ‘oldest civil rights organization’ from leading the charge to protect mentally-disabled gun owners who otherwise might have been separated from their guns.

bomber             As usual, the NRA’s statement about this issue was nothing short of a complete and total fabrication as to whether Obama’s action was based on anything other than the former President’s hatred of guns.  The action said that people who receive Social Security Administration (SSA) disability payments for mental disorders and, more important, have an ‘assigned representative’ who manages their financial affairs, would be reported to FBI-NICS and therefore could not purchase or own guns.  Did this new procedure spring from the deranged brain of our 44th President as the NRA would like everyone to believe?  In fact, it is found in the criteria for legal gun ownership as defined by the ATF, and the ATF has been using this criteria for years.

Remember a little ATF form known as the 4473?  This is the form that everyone must fill out when purchasing a gun from a federally-licensed gun dealer, and it is the form which the gun dealer then uses to conduct the instant background check by contacting FBI-NICS. And here’s the relevant text from Question 11f: “Have you ever been adjudicated a mental defective OR have you ever been committed to a mental institution?” And this question is then explained in a footnote to the 4473 form which says that such an individual has been found by a ‘lawful authority’ to lack the mental capacity “to contract or manage his own affairs.”

Now between 2001 and 2014 I sold more than 12,000 guns in my retail store, and every, single sale required the purchaser to fill out a 4473.  And not a single person who ever bought a gun in my shop ever answered Question 11f by saying ‘yes.’  So when the NRA Congressional toadies rolled back Obama’s Order which required that the Social Security Administration simply comply with what the ATF has been requiring for many years, I decided to take a look at how the SSA actually defines these mental disabilities which would prevent such folks from owning guns.

The definitions of mental disability employed by the SSA, which then allow an individual to receive disability benefits, are found in an SSA publication, ‘Disability Evaluation Under Social Security,’ which can be read here. These mental disabilities are divided into 11 separate categories (neurocognitive, schizophrenic, depressive, etc.) but in every category, a determining factor is whether the individual can ‘function independently,’ which certainly precludes anyone who can’t manage their own financial affairs.

When the SSA initially issued this ruling on May 5, 2016, and invited everyone and anyone to submit comments which were summarized when the rule was finalized on December 19, 2016.  The SSA received 91,000 comments of which 86,000 were identical statements sent in by members of ‘one advocacy group’ whose identity you can use to test if you or anyone you know is mentally impaired.

I’m not a mental health professional so I’m not going to get into the question about whether people who are mentally impaired are threats to themselves or others if they own guns.  If you want to understand this issue, try reading an important collection of scholarly articles edited by Robert Simon and Liza Gold. But what I find interesting is the NRA’s ability to mount a successful campaign about this issue and generate a huge public outcry even though their position simply isn’t true. But the NRA now has a friend in the White House whose public statements and policies also appear to scrupulously avoid any connection to facts or the truth. So we’ll see what we see.

Guess What? The FBI Is Now Reporting Background Checks on Private Sales!

1 Comment

I’m not one to go around patting government bureaucracies on the back, but I have to admit that one such bureaucracy of which I have been less than positive in the past has made an important change in the way it conducts its regulatory activity, and it’s a change that’s positive in every respect.  I am referring to the new 4473 background check form which the ATF released in 2016 but it now required for every FFL-transaction beginning January 1st of the current year. And what this change amounts to is an additional data field on the form that describes the transaction as a sale, a pawn redemption or – and here’s the dooda – a transaction to ‘facilitate a private transfer.’

atf            What this means is that, for the first time, the FBI-NICS data, which is published monthly on a state-by-state basis, will be able to show how many private transactions are now going through the same background-check process that is required for all dealer sales.  According to the Law Center, there are 10 states (plus DC) that currently require background checks on all private sales.  There’s also an additional eight states that require background checks on handguns or transactions conducted at gun shows, so we still have a long way to go. But the year-end FBI-NICS report for 2016 should be looked at in detail, because it tells a different story about the whole regulatory environment than what Gun-nut Nation would like to believe.

Back in October, Fox trumpeted that the background check numbers indicated that 2016 would set another record for gun sales, a claim that was joyously validated by the Washington Examiner when year-end NICS totals were released. And while it’s true that background checks for gun sales did go up 11% year-over-year, calls to the FBI-NICS phone bank to validate or check license and permits jumped by one-third! Of the 27.4 million NICS calls that set the all-time record in 2016, almost half of the telephone traffic (including pawn redemptions) were calls that had nothing to do with gun sales at all.  Of course if you’re a gun manufacturer, being in an industry that sold more than 14 million guns isn’t chopped liver, but 14 million guns ain’t 27 million guns, which is what the intrepid reporters at Fox and other pro-gun outlets would like you to believe.

The year-end NICS number for private transactions was 26,641, of which 14,561 were handguns, 11,042 were long guns and 1,038 were ‘other’ guns which, in case you were wondering, normally means serialized AR receivers and other junk like that.  But while this is a tiny number when compared to background checks on primary sales, it’s interesting to note that dealers in only 8 states reported no private transactions at all. Which means that FBI-NICS checks on private transfers are taking place in many more states than the 18 states where private-sale background checks are required by law.  Remember when Hot Air Queen Laura Ingraham scoffed at the surveys which showed that a majority of gun owners favored private-sale NICS checks?

Obviously the states that require universal checks registered most of the private sales in 2016 – New York, for example, had almost 25% of the year-end total for all 50 states; tiny little Delaware added 3%, Massachusetts chipped in another 6%, and so on down the line. But let’s remember that until 2017 numbers start coming in for background checks, we really won’t know how many gun owners really use the NICS system since the new 4473 was optional until this current year.

On the other hand, it’s interesting to note that of the 26,000 private transactions captured by NICS in 2016, almost 54% involved the transfer of handguns, which is where the whole issue of unregulated gun transfers really lies.  Because when Grandpa’s old shotgun is sold at a tag sale for ten bucks, this transaction really won’t change gun violence numbers one bit. But 14,000 private handgun transfers that required NICS checks is a good thing.

 

A New Record For Yearly FBI-NICS Calls? Not So Fast.

Leave a comment

The results for 2016 are finally in! We now know, according to the FBI, that their NICS-FBI phone center handled more than 27 million calls last year, by far the highest annual total since NICS started operating at the end of 1998. Leading up to 2016 the FBI had logged an average of 18 million calls every year since Obama showed up in DC, so no wonder that Gun-nut Nation is rejoicing with the number for 2016.

nics             There’s only one little problem with this number.  It doesn’t really tell you anything about how many new guns were sold. And that’s the only number which really means anything to the gun industry because when one person sells a used gun to someone else, the size of the civilian arsenal doesn’t increase one little bit. And when you start breaking down the FBI-NICS numbers into their component parts based on the reason for the call, things change in very interesting ways.

Let’s go back to 2009, the first year that a certified gun-grabber moved into the Big House.  Okay, he wasn’t such a gun-grabber in 2009, that didn’t really get going until after Sandy Hook.  But 2009 can serve as a point of comparison because the nearly 14 million NICS-checks were still the highest for any year up until that point in time. Of those calls, 600,000 were pawn redemptions and 4.4 million were background checks run for issuing permits; hence, actual background checks on gun sales was roughly 9 million calls.

Now we move to 2011 and total calls are 16.3 million; 700,000 from pawn shops and 5.5 million for licenses; so now gun checks are around 12 million calls, a jump of one-third.  Of course the 2013 total calls were now almost 21 million given the noise in DC after Sandy Hook, of which 14 million were gun checks with pawn redemptions and license applications eating up the rest.

Which brings us to the banner year of 2016: 11.6 million license applications, slightly less than 800,000 pawns and 14.8 million calls for gun purchased over the counter, basically the same number of gun sales as occurred in 2013.  Notice that from 2009 to 2016, calls for validating gun transfers conducted by FFL dealers increased by 55%.  Notice that pawn redemptions stayed about the same.  Notice that checks on backgrounds for gun licenses and permits increased by 160%!

Here’s the bottom line: there’s no doubt that year-to-year increases in gun sales have occurred.  Compare what happened under Obama to what happened under George W. Bush where total NICS calls went up by less than 20% over the entire eight years.  But what really drove telephone traffic to the FBI call center the last few years wasn’t any kind of skyrocketing demand for guns; it was the increase in background checks being conducted just to see if someone could own a gun.

Of the record 27 million calls received by the FBI in 2016, roughly 52% involved the purchase of a gun.  In 2015, gun checks were 57% of all calls, in 2014 it was 60% -every year while the total number of NICS calls goes up, an increasing percentage of the calls has to do with regulating gun ownership, not expanding the actual number of guns that are owned.

Believe me, I don’t think that gun makers need to sit around crying into their beer.  The gun industry is alive and well, and 14.8 million FFL gun transfers to customers in one year is still a s**tload of guns. But for those who believe that the key to reducing gun violence is through using background checks to keep guns out of the wrong hands, the FBI-NICS data clearly indicates that the background check process has grown more steadily than the sale of guns themselves. Gee, who would have thought that could happen?

That Old NICS-Background Check Number Just Keeps Floating Around.

7 Comments

My friends at Harvard and Northeastern have just given us another tantalizing bit of data from their new survey on gun-owning Americans, in this case an estimate of how many guns are transferred from one person to another without a background check. And what they claim is that roughly one out of every five guns that were acquired over the last two years moved between one person and another without a NICS check. Which is roughly half the percentage of unchecked sales from the figure provided by Philip Cook who is given credit in today’s Trace for stating that “as many as 40 percent of gun sales are conducted without a background check” in 1994.

nicsExcept there’s one little problem.  This 40% estimate has been floating around and repeated by every gun-control advocacy organization lo these many years, but that’s not what Professor Cook actually said.  What Phil Cook actually said was, “We conclude that approximately 60 percent of gun acquisitions involved an FFL and hence were subject to Federal regulations on such matters as out-of-State sales, criminal history checks, and recordkeeping.” And he couldn’t have said it because there was no background check system in 1994.  The current FBI-NICS system wasn’t up and running until late 1998.  Which is why the background check data published by the FBI begins in 1999.  Oh well, what’s the difference?  A year here, a year there – no big deal, right?

I bought my first gun from an FFL-dealer in 1976.  I had just moved from New Jersey to South Carolina, arrived on a Tuesday, traded my Jersey driver’s license for a South Carolina license on Wednesday, and bought a Ruger Mark I on Thursday.  I filled out the federal form, showed the dealer my driver’s license, gave him a hundred bucks and got the gun. All the dealer knew was that I said I had not committed a serious crime.  He didn’t even know whether I was a South Carolina resident because I could have moved to another state and not yet exchanged for a license somewhere else. So like Phil Cook said, I was ‘subject to Federal regulations’ when I bought that gun.  Big friggin’ deal.

And this is how allegedly reliable information floats around the gun world; a reputable scholar (if they gave a Nobel Prize in gun research I would nominate Phil Cook) is misquoted, what he said is then used to justify God knows how many attempts – some successful, some not – to widen the scope of background checks, and now we have the next, serious attempt to figure out how many gun transfers are caught by the background-check system, using what Phil Cook actually didn’t say to compare the progress we’ve made over the last twenty years.

To Professor Cook’s credit, he admits that he never directly asked participants about background checks, so we have actually no way of figuring out whether the new published data from Miller, Hepburn and Azrael should be a cause for rejoicing or not.  But before everyone jumps on the bandwagon and starts the New Year off by celebrating this bit of hopeful news, let me break it to you gently.

If you think the NRA’s ability to cast doubt on serious gun research was a factor in convincing a majority of Americans that having a gun lying around the house is a good thing, you ain’t seen nothing yet.  Because it’s one thing when the argument is made by an organization like the NRA which is in business to help gun makers sell guns.  The first policy statement that (ugh) Donald Trump ever made on the campaign trail was a statement backing gun ‘rights’ and denying the need for expanded background checks.

The Gun-sense community isn’t going up against a former Congressional aide who sits in Fairfax, VA and tapes a video now and again.  The opposition is now be led by the Commander in Chief, who would just love to tweet that gun-control advocates don’t know the facts.  So what we say better be right.

CORRECTION:  The article in The Trace did not identify Professor Cook by name as the individual who first stated that 40% of gun transfers did not involve a background check. The article referred to ‘experts’ which I assumed were Cook and his co-author Jens Ludwig since they published their work, referred to above, in 1994.

Older Entries

%d bloggers like this: