Can You Still Buy A Gun On Facebook? Yup, You Sure Can.

            Matt Drange has just published an article that should be required reading for everyone in GVP.  Because basically what Matt did was the follow up on Facebook’s decision to ban private gun sales from the perspective of wanting to see whether, in effect, the ban has made any difference at all.  And while it is virtually impossible to quantify how many Facebook pages were devoted to gun sales either pre or post the January ban, it is clear that many of the Facebook sellers have managed to continue selling internet guns either explicitly on Facebook or through other, somewhat disguised means.

 ar           I happen to be a member of a private Facebook gun group which I joined not because I wanted to buy or sell guns, but as one of many resources I use to check the ups and downs of the gun market as a whole.  I never felt all that comfortable using the monthly FBI-NICS numbers as a guide to overall gun sales, in particular because NICS obviously doesn’t catch many private transactions, plus the 4473 NICS form doesn’t distinguish between the sale of new and used guns.  But I find that a much more sensitive barometer for the ebb and flow of gun commerce (true of all commerce) is price, so when the selling price of AR-15 rifles dropped by more than 30% between 2013 and 2015 I knew that the tactical gun craze had come to an end.

            What Drange discovered by joining more than two dozen Facebook gun groups was that most of the groups are still doing business as usual simply by making it more difficult for Facebook viewers who aren’t members of the particular group to identify the group’s page.  And the easiest way to do this is to change the page’s name so that a search for pages using terms like ‘guns’ or ‘AR’ or something else relevant to Gun Nation won’t come up.  The administrator of my group simply took the name, replaced every other letter with a symbol and that was the end of that.

            The truth is that the only way internet gun sales can be effectively ended is by making it illegal to sell guns on the net.  But that creates a whole bunch of other issues because most internet gun sales are conducted on legitimate, online websites like Bud’s Gun Shop or Impact Guns, which ship to licensed dealers and do not offer space for private sales.  And even the notorious Armslist which encourages listings by private sellers, is actually utilized more by licensed-dealers who want to avoid the hassle of administering their own site. I can’t imagine any piece of legislation could be crafted that would satisfy all the different issues raised by pro-gun and anti-gun groups.

            But the bigger problem is the degree to which any legislation restricting legal commerce in guns will be effective given the fact that just about everyone in America can legally own a gun.  In that respect, a new study has just been published which evaluates the degree to which state-level laws impact levels of gun violence (homicide and suicide) and the resulting conclusions are somewhat confusing, to say the least.  On the one hand, there appears to be an association between lower gun violence rates and universal background checks both on guns and ammunition sales, but the state laws which appear to have the greatest impact on reducing gun violence are laws requiring ballistic fingerprinting or microstamping, otherwise known as firearms identification. 

            There’s only one little problem. The two states where firearm identification reduced gun violence rates, Florida and Alaska, have no firearm identification laws at all.  Which makes me wonder about any attempt to use regression analysis between laws and behavioral outcomes unless the law in question regulates the behavior itself.  And since the behavior that leads to gun violence is basically the ownership of guns, what difference will gun laws really make?

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It’s Official! According To The NRA Mike The Gun Guy Hates Lawful Gun Owners.

Last week I wrote a column about Amanda Gailey’s new button collection which, as I understand it, has sold out.  And it didn’t take long for the NRA to respond with a comment on one of their websites, which referred to my ‘hateful rhetoric against law-abiding gun owners’ and my hateful this and hateful that.  Which of course then spawned the usual torrent of literate and thoughtful emails from people who wanted me to know just how hateful I really am.

Here’s a couple of examples of the emails that I received:  “Letting all my friends and business associates know what a lying piece of crap you are.”  “Next time get your facts straight, asshole.” And from my Facebook page: “You must be a cowered [sic] and scared of guns. “What a dumbass you are.”  “Stupid ass racist” This last comment was posted against the column I wrote on Colion Noir.

hatred               I receive messages like this all the time.  They used to include some more threatening comments but the word has gotten around that the ATF and FBI routinely scan certain web venues looking for hints that someone is thinking of doing something stupid or dangerous with a gun.  But what I find most interesting about this correspondence, in a bizarre sort of way, is that allegedly I am receiving it because these folks are so offended by the ‘hateful’ rhetoric that I always employ.

Talking about hateful rhetoric, have you ever considered the fact that the only times you can listen to Rush doing a live radio broadcast anywhere in the United States is between 9 and 3? In other words, basically his audience consists of people who don’t work.  Oh yea, there are a couple of salesmen driving around in their cars and maybe an over-the-road trucker here and there, but I worked in corporate environments for years and you just didn’t sit at your desk with a radio that blared AM.

For all his talk about the virtues of hard work, free enterprise and profitable gains, the fact is that most of the people who listen to Rush are sitting on their rear ends at home.  And most of them are probably good and pissed off because they really have nothing to do.  My father spent the last ten years of his life sitting around getting increasingly angry about a world that he didn’t understand except the truth is that it was world that had passed him by. And if you listen to Rush, and I listen to him all the time because I like to keep my enemies closer than my friends, he’s always invoking a world that has somehow changed and no longer is a fit place for the kind of people who listen to his show.

The folks who send me those angry emails seem to be cut from the same cloth.  Let’s be honest. If you actually had time to sit down and email such nonsense to someone you don’t even know, isn’t this an indication that maybe, just maybe you have nothing better to do with your time? I once showed some of these messages on my Facebook page to a high-ranking official with the ATF who told me that I needed to consider some kind of personal protection; to which I told him that the odds of some jerk getting drunk and plowing his car into mine were much greater than getting shot by some guy who was upset by what I write.  First of all, in order to attack me, the guy would have to get dressed and come out of his house.

The NRA can accuse me of being an enemy of law-abiding gun owners, but what I am really opposed to is an organization that used to promote gun ownership for hunting, collecting and sport but now justifies its existence through appeals to fear.  What I’m saying is true, and if you need proof just take a look at the comments about me that crop up every time I say it again.

 

Molly Ann Wymer Talks About Guns And Hits The Nail On The Head.

Two days ago Molly Ann Wymer uploaded a video to her Facebook page, where she has been posting videos for the past year or so, and the last time I looked, it had received over `16 million views in less than three full days!  Now I don’t know if Facebook keeps records on how many views any particular page receives, but I can tell you that this is by far and away the largest audience to ever watch a social media post about guns.  What has made this effort so resoundingly successful is the fact that Molly Ann has obviously found a way to talk about guns to the widest possible audience imaginable, and both sides in the gun debate better figure out what she’s doing that none of them are doing, because otherwise she’s going to end up owning the public debate all by herself.

wymer               Wymer has a disarming way of talking about guns as if it’s just another, simple problem that can be solved if we would all just get along.  She talks about going into a gun shop where the salesman greets her by calling her “ma’am,” which is a traditional Southern-ism that used to mean that women were somehow not quite the equal of men.  They were treated differently, they were expected to act differently, there was a whole sub-culture of deference and politesse which, in fact, did nothing more than to put women in a traditional, subservient class. The look on Wymer’s face and the way she rolls her eyes as she describes the gun shop conversation is enough, in and of itself, to tell you that this lady is no subservient gal.

Anyway, she goes on to say that she loves being single but sometimes feels afraid, which is why she wanted to buy what she calls a “protection gun.”  Now the use of the word ‘protection’ is the tip-off that something new and different is about to take place in a digital space, because the gun industry has spent a gazillion dollars trying to sell the false idea that guns are the best means of self-defense, but no gun maker has ever produced a product called a ‘protection gun.’  And of course Molly Ann goes on to say that the gun shop guy then rushed to assure her that, “Ma’am (which pissed her off again) all guns are the same.”

And this is the point at which the video takes a brilliant turn.  Because after a few additional Ma’ams, Molly says to the storekeep, “I watch the news, and I know there are guns that attack people and guns that protect people and I would like the protection kind of gun.”  She then goes on to say that she bought a “pink one” because that was more “feminine” and here’s the kicker: “If we can just figure out how to get all the murder guns and the attack guns and not keep selling them and just sell protection guns, I think that would be great and solve a lot of problems.”

Now I’ve been following the gun debate for more than forty years, and this is the first time I have heard the two sides of that debate referred to simply in terms of what a gun can do.  Of course a gun can be used for self-defense, but the same gun can also be used to inflict great harm against someone who isn’t a risk or threat to the gun owner at all. And by verbally juxtaposing the words ‘attack’ and ‘protection’ with the idea that we are talking about different kinds of guns, what Molly Ann has done is reduce the whole argument about guns to what it really is: a dispute about what a gun represents in its most finite form. Because what protection means to the pro-gun community is what attack means to people who want to regulate guns.  And Molly Ann Wymer has expressed this better than anyone else.

 

Why Do People Like Guns? Ask GroupOn.

Back in July, 2012, I received a call from GroupOn who wanted to sign me up to offer their subscribers a “shooting experience” in the gun range that is located beneath the retail level of my store.  I use the range primarily in conjunction with the safety course that I offer which is required by my state if you want to apply for a license to own or carry a gun.  The state doesn’t require live fire, you can buy and walk around with a concealed weapon without ever having actually fired a gun, but I require it for reasons that are too obvious to even discuss.

Ultimately what GroupOn and I worked out was a 30-minute session that would involve a brief safety lesson, then shooting at stationery targets with a 22-caliber pistol and a 9mm Beretta or Glock.  The sessions were limited at my request to two shooters at a time, with each shooter supervised closely by myself and only one person shooting at a time.  GroupOn did not set a minimal age for participation and neither did I.  With all due respect to the memory of Charlie Vacca, the instructor is always supposed to stand behind the pupil, never alongside.

GroupOn told me that since my range was connected to a retail gun shop, I could expect to see a substantial increase in retail sales as a spill-over from the shooting sessions on my range.  They couldn’t have been more wrong.  Of the more than 300 GroupOn customers who redeemed their coupons between July and December of 2012, only one had a license that was required to buy a gun, and maybe one or two others bought some little crap.  The typical profile of the average gun owner is a blue-collar, married White male, age 30-50, driving a truck.  Want to know who came in for a shooting session courtesy of Groupon?

gallery                To begin, the GroupOn crowd was more female than male.  They were mostly between the ages of 20 and 30, more often than not unmarried, often living with a partner of the same sex.  Almost all had college degrees, a majority had gone beyond college to graduate or professional schools, and the most popular occupational categories were medical technology, finance and IT.  A young surgical resident and his wife stand out because they had such a good time; ditto two women married to each other who serviced and repaired those machines that you get hooked up to for your annual EKG.

I started every session by asking the Groupon coupon-holders why they had plunked down fifty bucks apiece to come out to my range.  And the responses were almost uniformly the same: they had no prior experience with guns, had seen countless guns being shot in movies and on TV and always wanted to “see what it’s really like” to hold a Glock in their hands and fire away.  I don’t recall a single GroupOn customer who, following the session, expressed any interest in buying a gun.  What they all wanted was to get a picture of themselves holding the guns that they could post on their Facebook page or some other social media site.

When I was a kid living in New York City my parents took me to Coney Island where I always went to the shooting gallery and shot a 22-rifle at some metal targets that moved by.  The guy who ran the gallery wasn’t promoting the gun industry and the folks who came to my range thanks to GroupOn couldn’t have cared less about the corporate fortunes of Smith & Wesson or Glock.  What GroupOn was selling was a chance to do in real life what they had all grown up watching TV.  That’s not going to change just because GroupOn stops sending their customers to people like me.

The Gun Debate: Who’s Really Talking?

The last time we engaged in a gun debate that was as loud and time-consuming as what erupted after Sandy Hook was when the assault-weapons ban was enacted in 1994.  But there was no internet in 1994 so it’s impossible to compare what happened then to what is going on now.  The fact that a large number of “grass roots” gun control organizations have suddenly sprung into existence doesn’t necessarily mean that the country is more or less supportive of gun restrictions versus gun rights than it was twenty years ago.  There’s simply no way to compare the noise levels from one communication environment to the other.

What we can compare is the volume of pro-gun versus anti-gun sentiment through an analysis of social media to get some idea of which side might be outshouting the other.  Everybody has a Facebook page these days and people who “like” a particular page can receive content each time the page is updated or changed. The NRA has 2,463,000 ‘likes,’ the Sandy Hook Promise organization has 60,000. Glock’s Facebook page is liked by 567,000, Mayor Bloomberg with his billions has found some way to register a whopping 18,000,  Remington has 870,000 and the Brady Campaign, which has been around since before the 1994 debate, has amassed a grand total of 57,000.  If we use Facebook to estimate grass-roots support for pro versus anti-gun positions, the gun folks outnumber their opponents by 10 to 1.

The Facebook connections made by gun people are so much higher than the anti-gun Facebook connections that we appear to be playing in different arenas. Perhaps we are. What usually goes unmentioned when we talk about guns is understanding the real motivation of gun owners.  Maybe they are hunters, maybe they are target shooters, or maybe they really believe that a gun will protect them from crime.  But in most cases gun owners are hobbyists and their hobby is guns.  They think about guns, they buy guns, they trade guns.  Don’t believe me?  Walk around a gun show and you could be walking around a ham radio show, a model train show, or a computer show.

Guns are a lot more important to people who own them than to people who don’t.  That’s why people who don’t own guns join gun control Facebook pages in much smaller numbers because the passion and the interest just isn’t there.  They’ll tell a telephone pollster that they support background checks, but they’re not going to lose any sleep if the law isn’t changed.  The fact that some young kids get murdered by a “nut” who gets his hands on a gun just doesn’t support the idea that a lawful hobby should all of a sudden become more difficult to pursue.

In the age of digital communication it doesn’t take much to secure a presence in the public debate.  All you need is a URL, a website, Facebook page and Twitter account and you’re good to go. An organization called Moms Rising recently brought 5 groups together on their blog to issue statements about gun violence, including the Children’s Defense Fund whose President, Marian Wright Edelman, is one of my personal heroes.  Together the Facebook pages of these 5 groups total slightly more than 100,000 supporters and this number probably represents numerous duplicates. The NRA is just shy of 2.5 million.  That’s a joke, and not a funny joke.

People who want to see less gun violence aren’t going to get there by reminding gun owners to lock away their guns.  It’s not about websites or t-shirts or leading a seminar at the Aspen Institute.  It’s the tough, hard job of going into one inner-city classroom again and again to talk to 30 kids about staying away from guns.  I’m going to start doing it in September and if I can save one life by making these 30 kids think about gun violence every time I stand in front of the class, then I’ve done something that all the talk, all the organizational activity and all the world’s great opinion-makers and influencers have been unable to do.