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.
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?