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

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.

 

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Center For American Progress Has Issued An Absolutely ‘Must Read’ Report On Gun Violence.

Our good friends at the Center for American Progress (CAP) have published a new study on the link between gun laws and gun violence which is a ‘must-read’ for everyone who is concerned about reducing gun violence.  Which means that nobody in Gun-nut Nation needs to read this report because Gun-nut Nation doesn’t believe that we need to regulate guns at all.  But notwithstanding the dwindling Trump supporters, for those who support the concept of reasonable discourse based on at least some attention to facts, the CAP report is a significant effort to figure out (I’m now quoting the report) “whether strong gun laws are effective at reducing gun violence.”
cap-logo2           What makes this report so important is not the fact that the authors attempt to answer the problem stated above about the effects of strong gun laws on rates of gun violence, but for the first time we have an attempt to connect the effect of gun laws to the totality of gun violence based on data covering 10 different categories of gun violence recorded in every, single state.  This is not the first time that scholars have attempted to link gun violence to the legal environment, the CAP study references the work of my good buddy Eric Fleegler and his colleagues, who found a clear link between gun laws and firearm-related deaths in a 2013 article which you can download here.

But there are two important differences between the Fleegler research and what CAP has now produced: first, the 2013 study only defined gun violence by combining state-level homicide and suicide rates, the CAP study breaks down gun violence into 10 separate categories covering every type of incident where the use of a gun creates physical harm; second, Fleegler’s group analyzed state-level gun law environments using the Brady CenterLaw Center reports from 2012, and it was after 2012 (following Sandy Hook) that many states changed their gun laws, in most cases making the legal environment less restrictive in terms of access to guns. So what we get from this CAP report is not only an updated analysis of the relative strength (and weakness) of gun regulations on a state-by-state basis, we also get a much deeper analysis of the different ways in which gun violence occurs.

And what is the result?  Same old, same old, namely, states with stronger gun laws suffer less gun violence, states with weaker gun laws suffer more.  Gee, what a surprise!  But don’t take my cynicism as in way a criticism of the CAP report. Because if you break gun violence down into its component parts, this at least gives you some leverage in trying to figure out not just whether gun laws work to reduce gun violence, but what kind of new gun laws might be implemented or current laws strengthened to address this issue in states where gun violence rates are simply out of control.

Montana is one of those mountain states which has a very high gun-suicide rate but very few gun homicides. It ranks 9th overall for gun violence, but 3rd for gun suicides and only 36th for gun homicides, which puts it below Massachusetts for gun homicides even though Massachusetts ranks dead last for gun violence overall.

But guess what? Montana goes back up to 16th for IPV female homicides, so gun violence in Montana isn’t just driven by suicides, it’s also a very deadly place for women involved in domestic disputes.  Which means that a safe storage law in Montana might have an effect on suicides, but you can be sure that a law which allowed cops to pull guns away from people engaged in domestics would save some lives in the Big Sky State.

By breaking down gun violence into its component parts, the CAP report gives us a realistic view of what gun violence numbers really mean. Which makes this report an inestimable resource for crafting proper laws.  But isn’t that what we expect from CAP in the areas of their concern?

A New Report On Guns And Hate Crimes That You Should Read.

The Center for American Progress has just issued a report on gun violence and hate crimes, and like all CAP reports, the authors have digested a wealth of data and given us important and arresting information about a serious aspect of gun violence, namely, the use of guns in crimes motivated by hate.  Actually, the report emphasizes two issues, because in addition to guns being used in disputes motivated by racial, gender, religious and other forms of hate expression, we also have the problem that individuals convicted of misdemeanor hate crimes can also continue to buy and own guns.

Hate crime misdemeanors are not the only misdemeanors which, even after sentencing, still allow an individual to maintain ownership of guns.  In fact, under federal law, the only misdemeanor which carries an outright prohibition on firearm ownership is domestic violence, and when we move from the federal level to the states, the laws on misdemeanor gun prohibitions are so diffuse, so different and so unlike one another that it’s not worth trying to summarize the situation at all.  Suffice it to say that there are lots of people walking around with guns who might be considered a threat to public safety in one place but in another locality they are not considered any kind of a risk.

The problem with hate crimes and guns is even more complicated by the fact that we simply don’t know how many such crimes actually occur.  First of all, hate crimes appear to be seriously underreported, with 60%-70% of all violent hate crimes which victims claim to have suffered each year never officially reported to the police.  And we aren’t talking about a rare event; according to the Bureau of Justice Statistics, more than 200,000 hate crimes are committed each year.  Between 2010 and 2014, according to the CAP study, there were 1.2 million hate crimes, of which roughly 43,000 involved the use of a gun.

This also gets us into a bit of an issue with the data, because according to the BJS, roughly one-quarter of all hate crimes involve the use of a weapon, which obviously includes things other than guns. And the inability of the BJS to come up with any kind of valid number for gun hate crimes forces the authors of the CAP report to base the numbers of guns used in hate crimes on what they admit is a rough estimate at best.  Which gets back to a very basic problem which pervades every aspect of the gun issue, namely, there is no mandated reporting system that captures criminal gun use in any comprehensive way.

On the other hand, we know from studies summarized by Wintemute that persons convicted of misdemeanor assaults other than domestics are not necessarily restricted from owning guns, ditto misdemeanor violence of other types, ditto misdemeanor offenses growing out of alcohol abuse.  And we also know that many misdemeanors should be classified as felonies but are plead down because it’s easier and faster to get a misdemeanor conviction than to run every criminal case through open court.

Which brings us back to the first issue raised in the CAP report, namely, the fact that misdemeanor convictions for hate crimes rarely involve a loss of guns.  Because the report points out that although 23 states have passed laws prohibiting persons convicted of certain violent misdemeanors from having access to guns, only 3 states have extended such prohibitions to include misdemeanor hate crimes.

We are now in a Presidential campaign which, among other things, appears to be turning on the extent to which Americans can be made to feel afraid of Muslims not only abroad but right here at home. The gun industry has always used fear to promote ownership of guns, so now Gun Nation has a new bogey-man whose existence can be used to ignite more gun sales. Maybe Obama won’t be the last President to deserve a Salesman of the Year award from Smith & Wesson or Glock.

Hey Mr. President, If You Want To Curb The Underground Gun Market, Here’s A Couple Of Ideas.

A few days ago, Everytown published a detailed and serious research report with recommendations to President Obama who wants to issue an Executive Order curtailing private gun sales by defining gun dealers in more realistic ways.  Until now, the definition of a gun dealer makes it quite easy for anyone to transfer lots of guns without holding a dealer’s license, hence, such transfers fall outside the regulatory system controlled by the ATF. By defining more realistically what really constitutes being in the business of selling guns, the intention is to close a major loophole which now exists both in face-to-face and internet sales.

There would be no need for such executive action if every gun transfer required a NICS background check and a Form 4473. But the possibility that such a law would be passed is a faint hope at best, hence Obama’s willingness to consider curbing some unlicensed sales by expanding the definition of gun dealer, hence the report by Everytown which follows a similar set of recommendations put forth by the Center for American Progress last month.

This report is a solid and convincing piece of work.  But the problem with recommending a more stringent definition of ‘gun dealer’ is that it will only make a difference if the regulatory environment in which all dealers have to operate is managed with aggressiveness and dedication by a regulatory agency – the ATF – which has shown a notable lack of diligent performance in the past.

But if the President is really serious about curbing the underground gun market as a way of keeping guns out of the wrong hands, I would like to make two very simple proposals that I believe would profoundly change the regulatory landscape without requiring the ATF to get off their collective rear ends and do anything at all.

First and most important, the ATF itself could simply issue a directive requiring all federally-licensed dealers to record acquisitions and dispositions of their firearm inventory in an online spreadsheet program such as Excel.  The ATF actually suggests that dealers follow this practice, because it makes it easier for them to conduct an inspection when they visit a store.  But it’s not required, although there’s nothing in the current regs that would prevent such an order from being carried out.  What this would allow the ATF to do is drop the nonsense they have been peddling for years about how they are ‘handcuffed’ from learning more about how guns move from legal to illegal hands because they can only trace up to the first sale.

everytown logo             That’s simply not true and it’s not true because the ATF has total authority to examine every notation in the Acquisition & Disposition book, whether it represents the first sale or the subsequent sale of a gun which a purchaser traded in or otherwise returned to the shop.  The average dealer sells 30-40% used guns; which means by definition there are multiple entries for that gun in his A&D book or the A&D of another dealer close by.  And since when was the ATF required only to send a trace request to the dealer who first sold the gun?  There is no such requirement, but in the absence of same, what the hell, make it up.

The President could also require that every law enforcement agency report lost or stolen guns to the ATF.  He issued such an Order after Sandy Hook, but it only applied to federal agencies when, in fact, just about every stolen or missing gun is reported by its owner to the local police.  The national missing/stolen list which the ATF claims is a valuable tool in the fight against crime is a joke, but it could make a difference if it was brought up to speed and combined with trace data which really showed who was the last person to legally buy a certain gun.

I don’t have any special or non-special entrée to the Oval Office.  Here’s hoping that someone better connected than me might pass these recommendations along.

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

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.

What Does The ATF Need To Do A Better Job? Everything.

Last week the Center for American Progress issued a lengthy and detailed report on the ATF recommending the agency be taken over by the FBI because the ATF has “struggled to define a coherent and manageable mission.”  The media immediately noted that the CAP, a Democratic-leaning operation, was now joining a Republican Congressman, Jim Sensenbrenner, who last year introduced a bill basically calling for the same thing.  Of course the NRA came out against any change in ATF’s status because the only problem with ATF is that it reports to you-know-who at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue which makes it more important to change his status than to make any changes in any Federal agency. Gee, what a surprise.

But getting back to the ATF, I not only read the entire CAP report and wrote a comment about it on this website; I also read the report issued by the Government Accounting Office in 2014 on which the Sensenbrenner bill was based.  And it was in this latter document that I found some extraordinary nuggets of information about the way in which ATF handles investigations of individuals who fail background checks, a situation for which, as a dealer, I have been personally involved.

atf                Among other things, the GAO report examined how ATF monitors investigations of NICS checks that are known as “delayed denials.”  As far as I know, this GAO report marks the first time that the issue of ‘delayed denials’ has ever been mentioned in public or in print.  You can search every piece of literature on the NICS system produced by ATF or FBI and you won’t find the issue of delayed denials discussed even once.  So let me first tell you what it means.

When a gun dealer transmits information on a sale to NICS, the latter responds either with a ‘proceed,’ a ‘deny’ or a ‘delay.’  The first two responses are obvious, either the sale goes forward or it does not.  The last response means that the FBI now has three additional days to investigate further, but if their investigation isn’t finished by the fourth day, the dealer at his discretion can release the gun.  But what if this investigation ultimately results in a gun being released to someone who turns out to a ‘prohibited person’ and therefore not allowed to own a gun?  Such cases are then referred to the ATF whose job it is to go out and take the gun away as well as to investigate whether the buyer lied on the 4473..

According to the FBI, the NICS system has resulted in more than 1,200,000 denials since the system went operational back in 1998. That’s all well and good except that we have no data on  how many of those denials were delayed and therefore would only result in the prohibited person losing the gun if the ATF went out, brought the gun back and investigated the person who obviously lied on the NICS 4473 background-check form.  The GAO discovered that not only doesn’t the ATF maintain reliable data on how many of these investigations have actually taken place, they also don’t know whether such investigations, if they occurred at all, resulted in the return of an otherwise-prohibited gun.  In my own experience as a dealer I recall three such instances of delayed denials, and in none of the cases did my ATF field office demonstrate the slightest interest or concern in tracking down the prohibited individual or the gun.

The ATF has gone out of its way to make spurious claims about the value of its regulatory efforts, but such self-congratulatory pronouncements begin to collapse in the wake of findings by the GAO and the CAP.   What saved the ATF after Fast and Furious was a stupid  and partisan decision by Rep. Darrell Issa (R-CA) to embarrass Obama rather than to focus on how to repair an agency which, according to Congressman Sensenbrenner, is now beyond repair. We’d probably all be better off if regulating the gun industry started over again from scratch.

For Guns, Red States Are Red, Blue States Are Still Blue

If this election said  anything about the politics of guns, it showed that the alignment between political ideology and gun ownership is just about as fixed as it can be.  If you are a pro-gun politician in a red state, the gun issue won’t help you win a close race because everyone in the red states tends to be pro-gun.  If you are a pro-gun politician in a blue state, however, try as you might, the pro-gun folks just can’t swing an election your way and gun control initiatives have a good chance to succeed.

Last year, right around the anniversary of Sandy Hook, the  New York Times ran a state-by-state analysis of new gun statutes that were passed and signed into law.  It turned out that more than 1,500 measures were introduced into state legislatures, of which 39 tightened laws tightened what the Times called “restrictions” and 70 loosened them.  The study showed, not surprisingly, that most of the more restrictive laws were passed where Democrats hold a majority of the legislative seats and the Governor’s Mansion or both, whereas the less-restrictive laws were passed in states that are politically red.

In last week’s election the alignment of red and blue states with looser or tighter gun laws continued its usual course.  Washington passed I-594 because going directly to the voters was a way of getting around a legislature which is more  blue than red but has some Democrats representing areas away from the Coast where gun ownership is supported on both sides.  On the other hand, Alabama passed an amendment to the State Constitution that gave every resident the right to bear arms and required any gun control laws to be subject to ‘strict scrutiny,’ which basically means that no gun control laws will ever be passed.  Could an amendment bringing back the poll tax pass a statewide vote in the Cotton State?  Probably.

malloy                The interesting twist in all of this came in a blue state – Connecticut – where the incumbent Governor held on to win by a thin margin in an election that many thought would go the other day.  The Governor, Dan Malloy, held on to beat Tom Foley, who was challenging him for the second time and Foley tried to remind the voters again and again that if elected, he would try to undo the tough, new gun law that Malloy pushed through the legislature after Sandy Hook.  After the bill went into effect stories circulated about how thousands and thousands of CT residents were refusing to register their assault rifles, but when all was said and done, nobody thought to call out the police to ransack homes and drag in all these alleged non-compliant owners of black guns.

Foley never actually said he would repeal Malloy’s gun law even though again and again he said it went “too far.” But criticizing the new law was one thing, taking credit for it was something else.  And a new poll commissioned by the Center for American Progress suggests that Malloy may actually owe his razor-thin victory, in part, to how voters, particularly female voters responded to his legislation on guns.  It turns out that 43% of nearly 700 voters said that the gun bill made them more likely to send the Governor back to office for another four years, while only 31% felt less likely to vote for him over the gun issue and support for universal background checks among women ran 50 to 19.

It will be interesting to see if the gun issue will play a significant role in the run-up to 2016.  It’s clearly still a “niche” issue, and niche issues can swing tight elections as the Foley campaign found out.  The NRA, whose own approval numbers appear to be slipping, has been trying to sell the idea for years that gun ownership is a basic civil right.  It might be a line that sells in Peoria, but it’s not working in parts of the country that still vote blue.

 

Guns And Millennials: Which Way Will It Go?

In February the Center for American Progress, which is Washington’s pre-eminent liberal think tank, jumped into the gun debate by holding a national conference attended by all the usual suspects (Bloomberg, Coalition Against Gun Violence, et. al.,) and issuing a report which described a “crisis” of youth gun violence.  The report is basically old wine in a new bottle and doesn’t really say anything that can’t be found in any number of other gun control reports, but since CAP often defines the issues that sooner or later end up spearheading the liberal legislative agenda, it’s worthwhile to take a look at the details, which I’m sure have also been read with interest at the headquarters of the NRA.

capAccording to the CAP report, of everyone killed by guns each year, one in five was 24 years old or younger, making gun death the second most common form of morbidity for this age group, surpassed only by motor vehicle accidents.  Actually, the number and rate of guns deaths has been pretty steady or declining slightly since 2000, while car accident deaths for people under age 25 has dropped by nearly 30% during the same period. On the other hand, vehicle deaths held steady and actually increased between 1990 and 2000, whereas young gun deaths declined more than 20% during that same period.  So first it was gun deaths that declined significantly for ten years and then stabilized, then car deaths dropped and likewise stabilized, with the two trends running very similar numbers since 2010.

Why was there such a significant decline in young gun deaths between 1994 and 1999?  The truth is, we don’t know.  Even though homicides usually account for less than 3% of all violent crimes, they tend to follow other crime trends and violent crime in the United States dropped significantly in every category between 1993 and 1999. Why did this happen?  There are lots of theories out there, from aggressive policing to increased jail populations, to removing lead from paint, less unwanted babies after Roe vs. Wade, and God knows what else.  Perhaps the decline in violent crime occurred for all those reasons, but the truth is that we simply don’t know.

One thing we do know is that the decline in gun violence before 2000 and its stabilization in the years since then occurred in the absence of any new gun control legislation at all.  The NICS background check system wasn’t operating in any comprehensive sense until 1998, which is when the decline in gun violence began to slow down.  For that matter, while the authors of the CAP report bemoan the fact that gun deaths are “failing to go down,” one could turn this completely around and wonder why gun deaths haven’t gone back up?  This is a particularly vexing question given the fact that gun violence remains stable at a time when more guns are being manufactured and sold than at any time in the history of American small arms.

Don’t get me wrong.  The fact that a group of Millennials came together to organize a grass-roots movement aimed at their peers, particularly the college-age population, is a wonderful antidote to the fear-mongering and glorification of the “armed citizen” that  the NRA cynically uses to promote gun sales.  And maybe the Millennials will be the first generation since my generation (I’m a pre-Boomer) to once again embrace the traditional notions of guns as necessary for hunting and sport but not much else.

On the other hand, I hope that the CAP and its legislative followers won’t just seize on this document to promote yet another round of political hand-wringing that will no doubt result in little, if anything, getting done.  I’m all for solutions to public health issues whose origins, incidence and impact we truly understand.  We know how many people are killed by guns every year, but I have yet to see a convincing study that explains why some people who have access to guns point them at themselves or others and pull the trigger, but most of the gun-owning population leaves the gun alone.  Like Walter Mosley says, “If you carry a gun, it’s bound to go off sooner or later.”