Want To Stop Gun Trafficking? Just Enforce The Law.

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Like everyone else who is concerned about gun violence, I have been listening to the argument about expanding FBI-NICS background checks to secondary sales for more than twenty years. And much of the argument from the gun violence prevention (GVP) community falls back on the assumption that if all gun transactions could be traced, this would cut down, if not almost entirely eliminate ‘straw sales,’ i.e., the purchase of a gun by one person who knows he or she is really buying the gun for someone else.

laws             Now in fact we do not have a single study which compares gun violence rates in any state before and after universal background checks were put in place, and the oft-cited and excellent Hopkins study which shows a spike in Missouri gun homicides after mandatory background checks were abolished was based on permit-to-purchase (PTP) licensing, which is a much more thorough vetting process than running a background check through the FBI.

But when GVP advocates talk about straw sales, they are usually referring to organized efforts that connect straw purchases to gun trafficking, which involves someone buying a bunch of guns in a shop in one state, then stuffing them into the trunk of a car and delivering them to a street-seller somewhere else.  Back in February, the cops arrested 24 people who were buying guns in Virginia, then taking them up for resale in New York. One of the entrepreneurs told another confederate that he could take advantage of ‘weak’ laws in Virginia, walk into a gun store and buy 50 guns every day.

There’s only one little problem with this narrative, and the problem is something known as ATF Form 3310.  I’m willing to bet you that most of the people who read this column will have no idea what I am referring to because I have never seen it mentioned in any discussion about straw sales within the GVP.  But this form happens to be what every licensed dealer must fill out and immediately submit to the ATF if someone walks into their shop and purchases more than one handgun in any period of less than six days. A copy of the form also has to be sent to the police chief in the town where the gun shop is located, which means that within 24 hours after someone walks into a shop anywhere in the United States and walks out with more than one handgun, both the local police and the feds know the name and address of the purchaser, along with a description and serial number of each gun, and all the other relevant background information of the purchaser (DOB, race, ID, etc.) which is entered on the FBI-NICS background-check form known as the 4473.

So the idea that guns which are then ‘trafficked’ here and there are floating out the door of various gun shops without any controls over who buys them is simply not true. And the kid who bragged to his friend that he could easily buy 50 guns every day in Virginia may have thought he was describing a state with loose gun laws; in fact, what he was really describing was a state in which neither the local cops or the ATF are doing their job.

The ATF loves to give out all kinds of data on how many guns they trace, how many gun shops they inspect, blah, blah, blah and blah. But since the beginning of this year there have been slightly more than 100,000 background checks for the purchase of multiple guns, and I guarantee you that many of those transactions involved multiple handguns whose over-the-counter transfers aren’t tracked by the ATF at all.

I’m not saying that we should step back from the demand to institute background checks on all movement of guns. But there already exists a mechanism to make it more difficult for guns to get into the wrong hands and I don’t see why we shouldn’t be enforcing existing laws particularly when implementing stronger gun regulations probably won’t get done.

Where’s All The Crime That Guns Protect Us From?

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Once again Gun-nut Nation is celebrating the continued health of the gun industry by misstating the monthly FBI-NICS background check number to make it appear as though gun sales continue in Obama-like fashion even during the Age of Trump.  The Washington Times blared: “Gun purchase background checks hit record after terror attacks overseas,” even though what continues to go up are background checks for gun licenses, not purchase of guns.

sessions                On the other hand, even if folks are increasingly using the NICS system to become legally-qualified to own guns, this still means that many Americans remain convinced that having access to a gun is a good way to deal with their fears of terrorism and crime. So as long as such fears abound, and as long as the gun industry creates messaging that exploits those fears, the more that guns will be floating around.  And guess what? We suffer from an extraordinary level of gun violence for one reason and one reason only, namely, too many guns.

If we regulated gun ownership the way guns are controlled in other OECD countries, the total number of civilian-owned guns would probably be around 50 million, give or take a few million here or there. How do I come up with that number? Because 14 million Americans hold hunting licenses, and let’s say that each hunter owns three rifles and shotguns, throw in another 5 million for trap, skeet and sport shooters and you’re at 50 million guns; i.e., a per-100,000 rate of roughly 15.7, which is half the gun-ownership rate of countries like Canada, Austria and Sweden, which experience little, if any gun violence at all. But in fact our actual gun-ownership rate is seven times higher than the rate calculated above, and probably half are handguns, which is what accounts for nearly all the 125,000 gun deaths and injuries that we experience each and every year. Because when there are 150 million handguns sitting in glove compartments, closets and drawers, it’s not unlikely that 200,000 or more will disappear from their rightful owners every twelve months and wind up in the wrong hands.

Now you would think that in the only industrialized country which has given its citizens relatively free access to guns, that everyone would own a gun.  After all, if the polls show that nearly two-thirds of all Americans believe that having a gun in your home protects you better than if you don’t, then obviously a lot of people out there buy the gun-industry’s idea about the virtues and values of gun ownership but don’t go out and purchase a gun. Meanwhile, for the first time in 15 years, more than half of all Americans (according to Gallup) believe that violent crime is on the rise. But each year the U.S. Department of Justice asks 160,000 adults whether they have been victims of violent crimes, and last year the DOJ reported that there had been “no significant change in the rate of violent crime.”

Talking about the Justice Department, its current boss has a date today with the Senate Intelligence Committee where it’s expected he’ll deny that any conversations he ever had with anyone, not just some guys from Russia, could constitute a crime.  And Sessions is a real expert on crime, having stated that we are in the midst of a ‘criminal epidemic’ even though he also admitted that violent crime is at a 50-year low.  Sessions has a boss who thinks that murder is the ‘highest’ in nearly 50 years; his misstatements on crime are so glaring and stupid that CNN actually ran a major story in February when Trump actually said something about crime which happened to be true.

When people with power and media access say something frequently enough, it often becomes an accepted narrative whether it’s true or not. When the President talks endlessly about American ‘carnage’ I’m not surprised that the average person then believes that crime rates are going up. Maybe the next thing Trump will do is sign an Executive Order requiring that everyone must own a gun.

 

Why Don’t Doctors Worry About Dog Bites And Leave Guns Alone?

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One of these days, public health researchers will stop getting all hot and bothered about gun injuries and turn their attention to serious threats to health, like fatalities from dog bites (20-30 per year,) or deaths from bee stings (upwards of 100 per year,) or worst of all, getting strangled by a Python – it happened to a guy in 2006.  It really did.

md-counsel              But gun injuries, particularly injuries to kids?  Give me a break. Everyone knows that guns don’t hurt people. People hurt people. And this isn’t just a scientific fact. You can also find this evidence in Biblical texts. Don’t believe me? Just take a look at this survey conducted by the American Culture and Faith Institute conducted in 2012.

So why do these public health researchers and those meddlesome doctors keep bugging us about the so-called risks of guns to children’s health? Because, according to our friends at the NRA, what the medical profession really wants to do is “advocate for handgun bans/registration and licensing/storage restrictions.” In other words, get rid of our guns.

Now the fact that guns protect us from crime, the fact that every time we pick up one of our guns we are expressing and fulfilling our civil rights, that’s entirely beside the point. Everyone knows that Muslim Obama and his gun-grabbing friends have been trampling on the Constitution for the last eight years; everyone knows that disarming America is the first in a series of steps to spread Socialist controls. And don’t take my word for it – you can get all the true facts from Breitbart, Alex Jones or the American Renaissance.

This may come as a surprise to some of the more rational people who read my columns, but the NRA has lately become entrenched within the alt-right media universe to the point that some of their messaging is clearly moving beyond the fringe. I put this down to the drop-off in sales and interest in guns since Trump moved into the White House, the latest data from FBI-NICS shows a decline in background checks from April to May of 12%. To be honest, gun sales always slow down as we get into May because protecting ourselves from all those criminals and street thugs just isn’t as much fun as a day at the beach. But don’t expect Smith & Wesson to be hanging a ‘Help Wanted’ sign out front when Summer comes to an end.

Anyway, back to the pediatricians from Mt. Sinai Hospital in New York City who discovered again what we already know, namely, that if you put a loaded gun in the hands of a kid, someone’s going to get badly hurt. And what I love most of all about how the NRA responded to this remarkable state of medical affairs was their comment that the study is entirely bogus because anyone who knows anything about medicine knows that kids above the age of fifteen aren’t kids.  That’s right – the Mt. Sinai research covered everyone between the ages of zero to nineteen who was admitted to a hospital with an unintentional gun wound, and since more than 80% of the patients were between 16 and 19, this proves that guns aren’t dangerous at all to the younger set.

Let me say it as bluntly as I can: the attempt by the NRA to discredit medical concerns about gun violence is completely and totally a crock of you know what. First, pediatric practice always covers patients up to age 18, some practices go several years higher, but none go below. Second and more important, denying that guns hurt people panders to the same, alt-right stupidity which denies global warming or claims that Sandy Hook was a hoax.

Come to think about it, the NRA has been attacking medical science for at least twenty-five years. If anything, their recent descent into alt-right lunacy isn’t a case of catching up with the mob that follows Trump. When it comes to denigrating facts and scientific thinking, the NRA has been leading the charge.

 

 

 

 

How’s The Gun Business Doing? Lousy.

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Last week Gun-nut Nation once again celebrated the mistaken belief that gun sales have not slowed down under Trump. Here’s the headline from NRA-ILA: April Background Checks: Strong Numbers Continue. The story then goes on to say: “While some who write headlines for a living may want you to believe we’re in a “funk” in firearms sales since President Obama left the White House, that shortsighted view neglects to consider that April 2017 was the second busiest April ever for NICS and the 21st busiest month of all time. There were only about 100,000 fewer background checks last month than in April 2016.”

sales             So here’s the question: Does the NRA staff member who writes this nonsense ever bother to actually look at the data which he so wrongfully describes? Or does he assume that everyone who reads what he writes will take what he says on blind faith?  It must be the latter because the statement above gives an impression about the state of the gun industry under #45 which is simply not true.  And I don’t mean ‘not true’ in a vague sense as if I’m quibbling over the meaning of a word here or there; I mean ‘not true’ as totally and completely false.

Take the trouble to download the background check numbers (just scroll to the bottom of the linked page.)  You’ll discover that the only correct statement in the NRA-ILA story is the number of total checks conducted in April – 2,045,564 – which has little, if anything to do with gun sales at all.  Oops – turns out that even the number is wrong, because the actual bottom-line for the April report was 2,037,180, but I’m not going to quibble over 8,000 calls here or there.

On the other hand, to the extent that FBI-NICS background checks represent how many guns were added to the civilian arsenal, despite the fact that NICS doesn’t differentiate between new and used guns and most non-dealer transfers still aren’t covered by the NICS, the total number of guns whose ownership was first proceeded by a background check was 1,060,322.  That number represents half the background checks conducted by the FBI last month, the other half were license checks, pawn-shop redemptions and private transfers, a number that was averaging less than 2,000 monthly in 2016 and is now over 3,000 background checks every month.

Not only have more than half the total background checks conducted since January 1, 2017 been for something other than a gun purchased over the counter, but NRA brouhaha to the contrary, background checks for gun sales continue to slide down. Gun sales always slow a bit in April because the yard needs work and then sales drop off even more from May through August because guns can’t compete with the beach. But the March to April drop-off in 2016 was around 12%, this year sales from March to April slumped 22%.  For January-April, 2016, total NICS gun checks were 4,950,000 (I’m rounding off,) for the same period this year gun checks were 4,500,000, a drop of 10%, with handgun checks declining by 17%.

That’s the good news about gun sales. Now here’s the bad news. This market loss by the gun industry will no doubt result in a more aggressive campaign to make consumers believe they should all own guns. Which means more appeals to fear, more appeals to fake patriotism, more attempts to promote phony ideas about 2nd-Amendment ‘rights.’

If you think the attempt to remove silencers from Class 3 restrictions is something, you ain’t seen nothing yet. The NRA is running a message on how animal-rights ‘perverts’ have ‘declared war’ on anyone who wants to hunt. Wait until you see what they will pull out when it gets time to push the national concealed-carry bill.

But the scare tactics won’t work for the simple reason that most people still don’t believe they need to own a gun. Unless, of course, Trump blurts out something positive about controlling guns. Think that can’t happen? You don’t know Trump.

 

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

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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.

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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.

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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?’

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