It’s Not Guns That Cause Gun Violence. It’s Handguns.

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By the time I went to bed last night, the ether was filled with reactions to the Alexandria shootings, most of them reflecting the alt-right view of things about guns and violence, namely, that if there had been more good guys at the ballfield with guns, the bad guy wouldn’t have shot anyone at all. But at least one sane voice emerged belonging to Chelsea Parsons and her colleagues at the Center for American Progress (CAP) who put up a podcast, ‘Too Many Guns in America,’ and discussed the event.

cap-logo1CAP has been a mainstay in the effort to strengthen gun regulations, and much of their approach can be found in their report, America Under Fire, which makes a persuasive argument that gun violence and laws regulating gun ownership and access go hand-in-hand; i.e., more laws equal less injuries caused by guns. You can download the report right here.

Much of yesterday’s podcast was devoted to talking about the efficacy of different gun laws which exist in a minority of states, which also happen to be the states where less gun violence occurs.  In particular, the podcast mentioned universal background checks, regulating assault rifles and hi-cap mags, and preventing domestic violence abusers from getting their hands on guns. Chelsea and her colleagues made a point of saying that all three strategies enlist wide, public support, although you wouldn’t know that from the GOP-alt-right chorus that was braying last night.

I want to make it clear that I am four-square in favor of government regulation of guns. I don’t believe anyone should be walking around armed who isn’t either required to carry as part of a job, or can’t demonstrate skilled, appropriate and continuous proficiency. And that means real, live shooting evaluated by the public authority that issues the license for carrying a gun.

The problem which comes up again and again whenever the gun violence prevention (GVP) community talks about gun violence, is not how they define ‘violence’ caused by guns, which should include suicide because self-violence happens to be part of the definition of violence used by the World Health Organization; rather, how GVP defines a ‘gun.’  Because when it comes to the ten ‘indicators’ of gun violence cited by CAP to create the America Under Fire report, nine of those ten indicators contribute to the annual gun-death toll not because of the existence of guns per se, but the existence of handguns, which poses all sorts of different issues than the existence of guns overall.

Take gun trafficking for example.  Ever notice that when the cops bust a bunch of dopes for bringing guns from down South into New York that most of the guns are small, concealable pistols, Glocks and stuff like that?  Sure, there’s a rifle here and there, but what sells in the street are the little bangers – the shooter in Alexandria, the shooter at the Pulse, the shooter at Aurora, the shooter at Sandy Hook – they used assault rifles that were all legally owned.

What frustrated me about the CAP podcast was that neither Chelsea, Igor or Michele said one word about the discussion’s title, namely, the existence of too many guns.  And with all due respect to the work that has been done linking gun violence to lax gun laws, it’s the number of weapons floating around which is the numero uno reason why so many Americans get shot with guns. But even noted scholars like our friend David Hemenway gets it wrong when he says that our rate of gun violence compared to other ‘advanced’ countries is so much higher because we have so many more guns, because if he compared per capita ownership of handguns rather than all guns, the disparities between our level of gun violence and the gun violence suffered by other societies would be two or three times worse.

Sorry to repeat what I have said so many times, but we will continue to suffer an extraordinary level of gun violence until we get rid of the guns. The little ones. Those guns.

 

An Important Survey That Sheds Some Light On How Voters Thought About Guns.

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Our friends at the Center for American Progress (CAP) have just released a post-election poll which gets right down to the details about how and why folks voted the way they did.  I’m going to leave the discussion about the overall poll results to the experts in politics, but I would like to discuss the results of several poll questions which related specifically to the issue of guns.

cap-logo2           The CAP press release which accompanied the survey found that in most areas, a majority of voters for both candidates preferred a middle-of-the-road approach to legislative issues and priorities, as well as a “notable alignment between Trump and Clinton voters on progressive issue priorities such as equal pay, money in politics, gun violence, and criminal justice reform.”  But when I examined the answers to specific questions about gun violence, with all due respect, this ‘notable alignment’ does not appear to be all that notable or all that aligned.

The survey contains a reference to gun issues in three questions:  Question #65 asks participants to rate the degree to which the candidates’ stance on ‘ensuring no infringements on the 2nd Amendment’ was important in determining how they voted; question #89 asks participants to rate the importance of ‘ensuring no infringements on the 2nd Amendment’ as a priority of the next Administration and Congress; question #102 asks participants whether they would support or oppose “legislation requiring background checks on all gun sales, including those sold online or at gun shows.”

And here’s how it went down.  Three-quarters of Trump’s supporters said that protecting the 2nd Amendment was ‘important’ or ‘very important’ in determining their decision to vote for him; less than half the Clinton supporters used the same 2nd-Amendment criteria for supporting HRC.  In other words, Clinton’s call for more gun regulations motivated her voters considerably less than Trump supporters were motivated by his defense of 2nd-Amendment ‘rights.’  Gun-sense Nation was rightfully exultant that we finally had a national candidate who was willing to take on the NRA, but it wasn’t a strategy that appeared to have swayed votes.

Now things get a little sticky, because the next question asked participants to indicate the degree to which they expect Trump and the Congress to act on different priorities, one of them being protecting 2nd-Amendment ‘rights.’  And on this one, the views of Trump versus HRC supporters didn’t align at all.  Again, nearly three-quarters of the Trumpsters expect Trump to make good on his campaign claims to bolster 2nd-Amendment guarantees; again less than half of HRC’s supporters want to see the 2nd Amendment strengthened, a division of opinion that was exceeded only by views on keeping the ACA and building s Mexican wall.

Finally, and here’s the hot-button issue, namely, the question of comprehensive background checks.  Trump voters split about 70-30 on extending background checks; HRC voters, not surprisingly, came down more than 8 out of 10 in favor of comprehensive checks.  I didn’t mention a fourth gun question (#58 and #82) because asking people if they support efforts to reduce gun ‘crime’ and gun violence is really a two-edged sword.  This was the only gun question where both sides more or less agreed, but I guarantee you that had the question been broken down to its two component parts – gun violence versus gun crimes – one side would have been much more concerned with reducing gun violence, the other side much more concerned with doing something about gun ‘crimes.’  And if you need to be told which side is which on that one, you didn’t pay much attention to the HRC-Trump argument on guns during the campaign.

I’ll always stand up and applaud CAP for the really great work they do; work which is much more important right now as we look for ways to check the behavior of the lunatics who want to turn the government into their private asylum.  But in opposing the craziness, we have to understand it for what it is and not look for silver linings which may or may not exist.

 

The Center For American Progress Has Some Good Ideas To Help Obama Define Who’s Really Dealing In Guns.

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This week the Center for American Progress issued a report recommending changes in the definition of being engaged in the business of selling guns. Clarifying what constitutes dealing in firearms would bring more gun transactions under the purview of the ATF and thus create more barriers to guns moving from one person to another without a NICS-background check.  The CAP report is a response to President Obama’s announcement after Roseburg that he might invoke executive authority to redefine how many gun transactions would demonstrate an ongoing business activity, as opposed to simply owning or collecting guns.

cap logo                Gun dealers have been regulated by the Federal Government since 1938 when a law was passed that required dealers to purchase a Treasury license for one dollar and follow some simple rules whenever they transferred a gun, namely, verifying that the individual to whom they delivered the gun lived in the same state where the dealer was located.

The 1938 law was completely revamped and the scope of government gun regulation widened to an unprecedented degree by the Gun Control Act of 1968.  Now dealers were not only required to verify the age and address of the customer, but also to verify that the prospective gun owner was not a member of various prohibited categories; i.e., felon, drug addict, fugitive, mental defective, and so forth. A gun dealer had no way of checking the veracity of such information, but at least there was a document on file for every over-the-counter sale.

Verifying whether an individual was telling the truth about his fitness to own a gun was what lay behind the Brady Bill passed in 1994.  In lieu of a national waiting-period on all gun purchases was a provision that required every federally-licensed dealer to contact the FBI who then verified that the customer was telling the truth.  But in order to access the FBI examiners, you had to be a federally-licensed dealer.  No federal dealer’s license, no contact with NICS.  Which is where the whole notion of ‘loopholes’ in the gun-licensing system came from; which is what Obama would like to close. And the easiest way to close the loophole, or at least make it smaller, is to define the word ‘dealer’ in a way that requires more people to become FFL-holders if they want to buy or sell guns.

The CAP report is a judicious and careful attempt to set out some criteria that could be used to determine who is really engaged in the business of selling guns.  It does not recommend any specific amounts of guns that might be transferred nor how much money someone needs to earn over any given period of time.  Rather, it looks at how various states define commercial enterprises and whether such definitions would be a useful guide to creating a more realistic way to establish that someone is going beyond just collecting or owning guns.

What the report doesn’t mention is that if the FFL imposes some sort of uniformity over dealers at the federal level, when we look at how states license gun dealers, there’s no uniformity at all.  Every state collects sales taxes, every state imposes and enforces other business regulations, but when it comes to guns, most states simply place the entire regulatory burden on the Feds and the ATF.  In order to receive an FFL, the prospective dealer must send a copy of the license application to the local cops, but if the particular locality doesn’t have any local laws covering gun dealers, the local gendarmerie could care less.

I hope the CAP report will be taken seriously by the President before he issues an Executive Order that more clearly defines what it means to engage in the commerce of guns.  I also hope he won’t publish an Executive Order that places more unfulfilled regulatory responsibilities on the ATF and provokes the usual ‘I told you so’ from the pro-gun gang. If it were up to that bunch, there would be no gun regulations at all.

Should ATF Become Part Of The FBI? The Center For American Progress Says “Yes.’

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The Center for American Progress just released a lengthy, detailed and fully-documented study on the organization and functions of the ATF, concluding that the agency be merged and managed by the FBI.  The report argues that the lack of a defined mission, coupled with budget shortfalls, operational impediments and intensely negative public scrutiny have combined to create what the CAP calls an “identity crisis” that can only be resolved through a major change in where the agency is placed.  Moving ATF under the FBI would not only allow the nation’s premier law enforcement agency to take over primary enforcement of gun laws, but would also give ATF access to the management and personnel resources that it currently lacks.

I have no quarrel with the Center’s recognition of the organizational and operational shortcomings of the ATF, nor would I disagree with their idea that moving primary responsibility for enforcing gun laws to the FBI would elevate the importance of solving crimes involving guns and therefore help diminish gun crimes and gun violence as a whole.  My problem with the report however, is that it is based on some of the assumptions about the relationship between guns, crime and enforcement which have defined the role and activities of the ATF, notwithstanding the fact that these assumptions have yet to be proven true.

cap logo                Take, for example, the whole notion of gun trafficking, whose elimination is the cornerstone of the entire ATF regulatory and enforcement edifice.  Gun trafficking is discussed in the CAP report, which notes that a majority of crime guns picked up in states with tough gun laws, like New York, come from states with weak gun laws, particularly states in the South. But I have never seen any study about the interstate movement of crime guns which differentiates between guns that move into criminal commerce because of ‘straw sales’ in retail shops and guns that are simply stolen and then end up somewhere else.  The DOJ-BJS says that 200,000 guns are stolen each year; Brady claims the number might be twice as high.  Why does the ATF assume that all those crime guns got into the ‘wrong hands’ only because someone lied on a NICS Form 4473?

They make this assumption because one of the agency’s primary missions is to “accurately and efficiently conduct firearms tracing and related programs to provide investigative leads for federal, state, local and foreign law enforcement agencies.”  In 2014 the ATF conducted more than 360,000 traces and the CAP report states that “the tracing of crime guns recovered by local law enforcement has provided a significant benefit to law enforcement efforts to respond to gun crimes.” With all due respect to the ATF’s self-congratulatory description of its tracing activities, less than 20% of all traces involve guns linked to serious crimes. The ATF may believe that its current staffing level is far too low, but this could easily be addressed by relieving some of the National Tracing Center staff from tracking down the origin of guns used in such violent crimes as election laws, gambling, fraud, immigration, invasion of privacy and sex crimes, to name a few of the more than 60 categories for which ‘crime guns’ are traced.

The ATF’s real identity crisis stems from the fact that there isn’t a single federal or state statute that outlaws a crime known as ‘gun trafficking,’ so the ATF ends trying to enforce laws that don’t actually exist.  Antonin Scalia got it right in the Abramski decision when he noted the extremely thin line which exists between a bone-fide straw sale, as opposed to the guy who buys a gun, walks away from the gun shop and decides to resell it to someone else before he gets into his car. If the ATF is ever going to become an effective agency for dealing with gun crimes, whether it ends up under the FBI or anywhere else, then the statutory vacuum in which it now operates has to be eliminated or filled in.

 

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