Does It Matter Whether Hillary Is Wrong By Claiming That 40% Of Guns Are Sold At Gun Shows And Online Sites? No.

Glenn Kessler writes a column called Fact Checker for the Washington Post where he critiques statements made by politicians that don’t align with the facts.  Recently he reviewed a statement about gun violence made by Presidential candidate Clinton and judged her comment to have “significant factual error and/or obvious contradictions.”  The statement in question was made by Hillary last week when she said that “forty percent of guns are sold at gun shows, online sales.”  Kessler argues that the offending statement is based on “very stale” data collected in 1994 and not subsequently verified by anyone else.  But the 1994 figure refers to guns that individuals received without first undergoing a background check, which was the point of Hillary’s speech; i.e., the need to expand background checks to all transfers of guns

hillary                Hillary’s comment and my fifty-year experience in the gun business got me to thinking: is her statement about gun show and internet sales so far off the mark? Let’s try to build a little data.  There are probably around 500 gun shows held in the U.S. every year.  Some of these are mega-shows, like the Tulsa show, but most are local or regional affairs, usually hosting several hundred exhibitors with a few thousand gun nuts wandering around.  I have probably been to 200 shows and have had a dealer’s table at 20-30 such events.  Reflecting on that experience I would say that an average show might contain 10,000 guns available to be bought and sold, maybe half are on tables rented by people who do not have an FFL  Are there 2.5 million non-FFL guns on display at gun shows each year?  I’ll bet I’m not far off.

What about the internet?  I have sold guns on big auction sites like Guns America and Gun Broker, and I have also bought guns from listings on Armslist.  I belong to two private Facebook groups where members buy, sell and trade guns, there are also hundreds of gun blogs which allow registered members to buy and sell guns.  Every one of these sites contains very clear admonitions to the effect that everyone must conform to all applicable federal, state and local laws.  The only problem is that in most localities there are no state or local laws. And if two people who live in the same state want to transfer a gun, there’s no federal law requiring any paperwork at all.

Some of the guns sold on internet websites are posted by retail dealers who also sell guns on their own websites and at local shows.  A study of Armslist postings by Third Way found there were 15,768 listings by private sellers in 10 states, which might indicate that 75,000 privately-owned guns are listed for sale at any one time, which is roughly 75% of all the guns for sale on the Armslist site.  Gun Broker, the largest online gun auction site, claims to contain 500,000 listings at any given time, but probably half these listings are for ammo, optics and various non-gun crap.

Between the auction sites, the buyer-to-seller sites and the gun blogs, I’m probably not off by much in estimating that one million guns are available for sale on the internet, of which maybe 750,000 guns could be transferred without conducting a background check.  And despite the rush towards a totally digital marketplace, most communities still have print newspapers and most of these papers carry classified ads for guns.  I just took a random look at a local shopper, Thrifty Nickel, in Idaho Falls, and found ads to sell a Taurus revolver and a Para 45.

What Hillary meant to say was that 40% of all gun transfers occur without a background check and she may not be far off the mark. Kessler is concocting a straw horse by criticizing her for what was nothing other than a verbal slip.  What she knows is that more background checks equals less guns going to the ‘wrong hands.’ And Glenn Kessler loses all credibility by not pointing that out.

 

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Glenn Kessler Tries Writing About Guns. He Should Stick To What He Knows.

I certainly understand that any responsible journalistic enterprise needs to present a wide spectrum of opinion, so it’s no surprise when a liberal-leaning newspaper like the Washington Post publishes a commentary on guns from the pro-gun point of view.  But you would think that the editors would at least take the trouble to read what they publish, because in a recent column by Glenn Kessler, I’m not sure that beyond his own name I can find anything he says about Obama’s views on guns which happens to be true.

Kessler begins his litany of Obama’s “exaggerated” claims about guns by referencing the President’s remarks at Benedict College in South Carolina, on March 6, 2015.  Among other things, Obama stated that we had the “highest” homicide rate in the industrialized world which, according to Kessler, just isn’t true.  He’s right.  Of the 34 OECD countries that are usually considered to be the most economically-advanced, we rank second only behind Mexico, although ‘industrialized’ and OECD aren’t the same thing.  In fact, when we say ‘industrialized,’ we are usually referring to countries that experienced the classical industrial revolution between 1850 and 1890, which basically covers Western Europe and the United States.  Kessler pushes his dumb criticism to the edge of reality by noting that the U.S. homicide rate is only “above average,” which is a funny way of characterizing a number that is 5 to 20 times higher than the average of every other industrialized European state.

Best gun salesman ever!

Best gun salesman ever!

Kessler then goes on to score Obama for saying that there were neighborhoods where it was easier to buy a gun than to buy fresh vegetables, but his snarky, CYA attempt falls completely flat when he notes that nowhere in the United States are background checks required in order to buy fresh food. The point is that Obama got it right when he drew attention to endemic violence in inner-city neighborhoods by comparing the availability of guns to the non-availability of fresh vegetables and fruit.  It’s Kessler who’s doing his readers a disservice by pretending that the President’s verbal sleight-of-hand characterization of ghetto reality somehow calls into question the validity of his remarks.

I began reading Kessler’s column wondering why and how someone who usually writes about diplomacy and foreign policy all of a sudden gets interested in guns. Then a friend pointed out to me that none other than the gun industry’s most unabashed mouthpiece, John Lott, was taking credit for everything Kessler said.  On his website yesterday, Lott claimed that he was the “reader” who asked Kessler to examine Obama’s quotes.  Lott went on to add more ammunition to Kessler’s analysis, including challenging Obama’s call for comprehensive background checks by stating that “most gun purchases already go through background checks.”

I have to admit that the President and other NICS advocates create trouble for themselves by continuing to cite a 1994 study with a 40% NICS compliance rate when the entire NICS systems didn’t go operational until 1998.  But the truth is that the value of background checks as a process for reducing gun violence has absolutely nothing to do with whether 10% or 40% or 90% of individuals with guns submitted their acquisition of guns to the NICS.  The fact is that most people who commit serious crimes are legally ineligible to own a gun.  Lott’s comment about the near-universality of background checks has nothing to do with whether the NICS system deters crime, and if Kessler wanted to really make a contribution to the gun debate, he should devote a blog to checking the exaggerations and outright falsehoods of his new friend John Lott.

Know what?  I’m getting tired of digging up serious, peer-reviewed scholarship to refute the bromides of people like Kessler and Lott.  They aren’t interested in a forthright, honest discussion about guns.  Their only interest is in helping the gun industry sell more guns. And to show you how dumb they really are, I’ll bet that neither gets a commission from Smith&Wesson, Sturm, Ruger or Glock.