The NRA Tilts Loony Right Or Nobody Will Buy Guns.

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I received an email yesterday from someone who read my Huffington column on the NRA and white supremacists and he wanted to know why the NRA leadership continues to tilt further and further not just to the Right, but to the loony Right. And a quick glance at the latest FBI-NICS background checks might contain an answer that both he and the gun violence prevention (GVP) community should consider with interest and care.

wayne             While obviously background checks can’t give totals for all transfers of guns, what they can give is an indication of the trend of new guns coming into the market each year. And when all is said and done, this is really the most important number which needs to be followed because there is simply no getting away from the fact that the more guns out there, the more people get hurt with guns. And please, please don’t send me an email telling me that it’s bot the gun, it’s the person holding the gun, okay?

Back in March, some gun-sellers were reporting that sales were still strong, others said sales were off – it was a mixed bag and nobody was sure which way the gun market would eventually go. But that was March and this is now August, and if this month turns out to be as lousy as last month, the fall-off in demand for guns may turn out to be much worse than even the most pessimistic analysts have projected to date.

For July 2016, the FBI-NICS phone bank racked up 1,143,824 calls covering gun transfers, including 628,725 handgun transfers, which from the perspective of gun violence is the most important category of all. Last month, July 2017, the total gun transfer number was 845,007, with handguns comprising 480,124 of the total calls. That’s a month-to-month drop of 26%, with handguns sales dropping slightly less by 24%.

Historically, July and August are always the slowest months in the gun business because despite the necessity to always have that gun around to protect yourself from thugs, terrorists and God knows what else, guns just can’t compete with the beach. Which is why a same-month comparison from one year to the next is a potent indicator of the overall health and outlook of the industry as a whole.

Let’s take a somewhat longer view.  From January 1, 2016 through July 31, 2016 the FBI rang up 4,712,334 calls for background checks on handguns; for the same period in 2017 the total was 4,257,132, a decline of roughly 10%. As for long guns, the slippage was also 10%, from 2,913,489 to 2,607,137. In the last two months, the drop in handguns sales year-to-year was nearly 20%.

If the more recent trends continue, the bloom is not only off the rose, the whole rose bush might be starting to dry up and wither away. Which means that not only will revenues within the gun industry collapse, but revenues for gun organizations like the NRA will also begin to decline.

The little secret which the NRA doesn’t want you to know is that for all their recent forays into television and video, the truth is that most people come into contact with America’s ‘oldest civil rights organization’ only when they walk into a place that sells guns. Ask yourself this question: ever seen an advertisement or logo for the NRA in the local convenience store, Walmart or CVS?

The problem for the NRA is simply this: in order to augment or even maintain their financial base the only thing that really works is to keep people buying guns. They can peddle concealed-carry insurance or holsters that fit inside bras or t-shirts which proclaim your 2nd-Amendment ‘rights,’ but nobody’s going to buy any of that crap unless they already own a gun. And how do you get more people to buy guns when no matter what you say, a gun simply doesn’t represent a necessary part of everyday existence like your car keys or your droid?

A New Monthly Chart On NICS Background Checks.

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I have decided to keep a running record of FBI-NICS checks to help keep our friends in Gun-nut Nation at least somewhat honest, although as John Feinblatt has just reminded us, keeping that bunch honest is about as easy as keeping me on a diet. But be that as it may, with certain caveats that I am going to quickly list, the monthly background check numbers published by the FBI are still an effective measurement of the health and welfare of the gun industry, which usually stands in direct opposition to the health and welfare of the general population.

The caveats about using the NICS numbers as an industry measurement are as follows:

  • Only a handful of states require that all gun transfers go through NICS, so a large number of guns move from one person to another without any paper trail being created at all.
  • On the other hand, what NICS does indicate is the number of new guns that are added to the civilian arsenal each month, and that’s the most important number of all.
  • Of course NICS doesn’t capture the new gun transfers in any universal sense, because many states opt out of the NICS system when a resident holding a concealed-carry license buys a gun.

nicsBut the bottom line is that what we do get from NICS is a very clear trend of the degree to which America is or isn’t arming up. And basically this is the trend which is most important for determining the extent to which America will continue to suffer from gun violence, because without guns, there is no gun violence – it’s as simple as that. And please, please don’t give me the bromide about all we have to do is keep the guns out of the ‘wrong hands.’ Enough already, okay?

The total NICS number for each month is comprised of 24 different categories, of which only 4 categories – handguns, long guns, other guns, multiple sales – represent contacts with the FBI call center to get authorization to sell or transfer a gun. The other categories represent either checking the validity of gun licenses, or redeeming previously-pawned guns, or transfers between individuals rather than between a dealer and a customer; in other words, background checks which don’t represent any new guns being added to the civilian arsenal at all.

I am going to start publishing a monthly NICS chart which will compare numbers over time and will cover the following categories: handguns, other guns and personal transfers of hand guns. Why only handguns and other guns? Because these are the guns we need to worry about since handguns are usually what are used in gun violence of all kinds, and other guns are assault-rifle receivers to which the owner then attaches a bolt and a barrel and he’s got a very lethal gun.

Here’s our very first chart:

Jun-17 Jun-16 2017 to date 2016 to date.
Handguns 569,149 582,821 3,777,008 4,083,589
Other Guns 29,730 49,220 195,537 218,023
Private transfers 1,884 1,198 11,845 8,231

 

These are some interesting numbers, and they fly in the face of comments from various Gun-nut noisemakers that there hasn’t been any ‘Trump slump’ on guns.  Well, I guess a drop of more than 306,000 new handguns hitting the market between January and June isn’t anything to worry about, and a 30% increase in background checks between private buyers and sellers clearly indicates that gun owners just won’t go along with private NICS checks. Incidentally, I’m not going to track long gun transfers, but you should know that long gun checks dropped from 2.5 million in 2016 to 2.3 million so far this year. As handguns go so does the whole gun market, oh well, oh well.

If I had to estimate, I would say that a drop in handgun and long gun sales of roughly 500,000 units means a loss of revenue for the gun industry of somewhere around $150 million bucks. I don’t think that really makes up for Wayne-o going to the White House for the Easter Egg roll.

Does FBI-NICS Tell Us How Many Guns Are Sold By Gun Dealers? I’m Not Sure.

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What’s that about you learn something new every day? Well I just learned something from the NRA about the NICS-FBI background check system and if I didn’t know about this before today, I guarantee you that maybe nobody else in the GVP community knows it either.  And what I learned today is particularly important because I learned it just after reading the new Pew gun report which claims that both gun owners and non-gun owners support FBI-NICS background checks for ‘secondary,’ i.e., personal transfers of guns.

nics             It’s all well and good that 87% of non-gun owners and 77% of gun owners favor more comprehensive background checks. But if you live in one of 26 states on an official list published by the ATF and possess either a concealed-carry license or, in some cases, a gun license, you don’t have to undergo a FBI-NICS background check when you buy any gun at all. Think I’m making it up?  Click here.

I never knew this because my gun shop happens to be located in one of the 24 states which doesn’t exempt any over-the-counter purchase from going through NICS. And in fact my state not only requires dealers to get a NICS approval before the gun is transferred, but also requires the dealer to verify through a website link that the customer’s state-issued gun license is also valid at the time the transfer is made. Do many other states which exempt license-holders from NICS have a system which requires real-time verification of the state license when a gun is sold?  I doubt it.  That’s about the last expense that a legislature in Georgia or West Virginia is going to add to the state budget.

Right now there are somewhere between 12 and 14 million active concealed-carry permits in the United States. Florida leads the list with over a million but the Gunshine State does not exempt any gun purchase from NICS.  On the other hand, states like Kentucky and Louisiana do exempt CCW-holders from NICS, and together these two states alone have issued over 300,000 concealed-carry permits.  Kentucky’s an interesting state because they use the NICS system every month to check whether any resident who has a gun license shows up as a ‘bad boy’ in any state. Last month the NICS system ran almost 375,000 such checks for Kentucky, but state residents also purchased almost 8,700 handguns. And since CCW-holders are exempted from NICS checks in Kentucky, even if someone’s name showed up on the NICS state license check, how would a gun shop owner know that the guy standing in front of him couldn’t legally buy a gun? Last month more than 10,000 handguns were sold in Louisiana and there’s no indication that NICS checked the validity of the 136,000 active Louisiana CCW permits at all.

I just did a quick eyeball on the number of concealed-carry permits issued by states which exempt the holders of those permits from undergoing NICS background checks, and the total is somewhere between 5.6 and 5.7 million, give or take a few.  How many handguns were purchased last month in these same states with background checks? Somewhere around 185,000, give or take a few thousand here or there (sorry, but I’m not going to waste time adding up every single one.)

The folks who go to the trouble of getting a concealed-carry license in many cases also tend to be the folks who buy lots of guns. Kind of goes with the territory, if you know what I mean. Is there a chance that the numbers for NICS checks in these exempt states may undercount the actual number of guns sold in those states by as much as half? Yup, there is.

I’m not saying that CCW-license holders are a threat to safety, I’ll let the Violence Policy Center make that argument with their ‘concealed killers’ report. What I am saying is that there may be a lot more guns being added to the civilian arsenal each month, and the one thing we know for sure about gun violence is that more guns equals more gun violence, period, the end.

 

 

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.

 

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