What Should We Do About The National Concealed-Carry Bill?

Now that H.R. 38, the national concealed-carry (CCW) bill, has come out of a House committee and appears headed for a positive vote on the floor, let’s put all the yelling and shouting aside and discuss what this law will and won’t do.  The NRA has been pushing national CCW reciprocity since Senator Larry Craig introduced the first measure in 1997 before he was found groping beneath the public toilet stall, and for the first time the bill may get the necessary votes in both chambers to be sent up to the Oval Office for a signing ceremony organized by Herr Goebbels – oops! – I mean Trump.

CCW1The bill basically says that anyone with a CCW license from their state of residence, or a legal gun owner in a state which does not require specific CCW licensing, can carry a gun with them as they move anywhere within the United States. Incidentally, if this bill is signed into law, it will immediately put to rest a whole scam industry known as ‘non-resident’ concealed-carry licensing which creates revenue for gun trainers and public treasuries in states that offer CCW to residents of other states. On the other hand, this bill doesn’t quite open the floodgates to a horde of legal concealed-carrying killers moving from state to state. And here are the reasons why.

First, the bill does not open gun-free zones in any state to non-residents carrying guns. In other words, if you own or manage a property and have decided that guns aren’t allowed, this decision cannot be challenged by anyone just because they happen to be walking around armed. More important, the law does not challenge a 4th Circuit decision handed down this past January, which affirmed the conviction of a West Virginia resident who was searched after the cops got a tip that he was carrying a gun and decided that he was therefore ‘armed and dangerous’ even though state law did not prohibit him from carrying a gun.

The conviction was upheld because the Court ruled that the police had ‘probable cause’ to conduct a search which then resulted in an arrest.  And what was the probable cause? It was, according to the Court, the fact that even if the armed individual was carrying a legal gun, there was still the possibility that being armed made this person dangerous as well.  The national CCW bill does contain language that imposes sanctions on any local or state government which arrests someone whose carrying of a gun doesn’t conform with concealed-carry laws in the non-resident state, but it also clearly suspends the right of non-resident CCW in cases of ‘probable cause.’

Right now it’s estimated that 14 million Americans possess a license which allows them to walk around their state of residence with a gun. There are also 12 states which have some form of ‘constitutional carry,’ which means no special permit is required in order to walk around armed.  These states probably have about 10 million adults, and if we assume a per-capita gun ownership in these states at or above 50%, this means that altogether maybe 20 million legal gun owners will be able to move with a concealed weapon from state to state. Perhaps one out of five gun owners actually walks around with a concealed gun; my own experience is that the ratio is closer to one out of 10.  Either way, opening up every state to CCW-carriers from other states won’t result in a tidal wave of armed travelers crossing state lines.

The problem with H.R. 38 is not that it will unleash a horde of CCW-killers going from state to state. Rather, the bill reinforces the mistaken notion that guns are an effective and necessary device to protect society from crime. This is a view now held by a majority of Americans, gun owners or not. The GVP movement needs to confront this issue head on, not by simply trying to keep people from walking around with a gun.

 

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Don’t Just Fix NICS, Fix The ATF.

Every time rational and realistic folks try to expand background checks to secondary transfers or sales, the Congressional NRA Caucus jumps up and says,’before we change anything in the NICS system, we need to fix what currently exists.’ Which for a long time was convenient dodge to prevent any expansion of background checks at all. But after it came out that the Sutherland Springs shooter was able to legally buy guns because the Air Force never notified NICS that the guy served stockade-time for beating up his wife, the fix-NICS bandwagon has started rolling along, pushed in part by Senator Tom Cornyn, who happens to be one of the NRA’s best friends.

ATF logoNow it appears that the sudden concern about fixing NICS on the part of the NRA congressional delegation has morphed itself into a bill that will also let every red-blooded American walk around from here to high heaven carrying a gun. I suspect this national concealed-carry will die a natural death when it reaches the Senate, ditto any change in NICS. But if and when some NICS fix actually takes place, I’m hoping that my friends in the gun violence prevention (GVP) community will put some pressure on Congress to fix not just who has to send data to the FBI call center, but how the ATF uses the NICS system as well. Because it really doesn’t matter how much data we stick into the NICS system if the regulatory agency which allegedly uses that data to deal with gun violence doesn’t do what it’s supposed to do.

For 50 years the ATF has been saying that their hands are ‘tied’ because they can only get information from the initial transfer of a gun. Which means that once a gun leaves the shop after the purchaser passes a NICS background check, the ATF can’t figure out what happened between the time the gun was first purchased and when it was picked up in a crime. And since the average time between the initial transfer and when a gun is picked up at a crime scene is more than 10 years (what the ATF calls Time To Crime or TTC) God knows who owned the gun or how it got from a gun shop to where it was used in the commission of a crime.

There’s only one little problem with this scenario – it’s not true.  When the ATF says it can only look at the information which tells them who first bought the gun, they are simply lying, which means they know something to be true and consciously choose to say something else. Why is the ATF lying? Because if you walk into the average gun shop, you’ll discover that 30% to 40% of the inventory consists of used guns. I know a retail dealer whose shops is 10 miles from my shop. He only sells consignment guns; his entire inventory doesn’t cost him one red cent. Which means that every gun he sells has been sold over the counter at least one other time, and it’s not unusual for a gun to come in and out of a gun shop multiple times.

Here’s the point: every time a used gun comes back to a gun shop and is sold to someone else, the dealer creates two records of the gun’s in-and-out movement in documentation which is owned by the ATF.  That’s right – I have to keep an up-to-date listing of each gun in my Acquisition and Disposition list, and when the gun is sold I also have to create a maintain the background check form known as the Form 4473. The ATF can come into my shop at any time without any notice at all and inspect every, single entry in the A&D book as well as every 4473 form.

Could the ATF ask me to look up the particulars on any gun whether I sold it once or multiple times? Of course they can but they don’t because, after all, why put everyone through the hassle of looking up a gun transaction when you’re not sure of when that transaction actually took place?  The ATF knows the date when a gun was initially shipped from a wholesaler to me. But they don’t necessarily know when the first buyer of that gun brought it back or took it to another shop and sold it or traded it for a different gun.

The ATF can pat itself on the back all it wants about the great job the National Tracing Center performs in helping law enforcement agencies deal with crime. But the truth is they do a half-ass job at best and fixing NICS without fixing ATF is nothing other than closing the barn door after the animals have gotten out.

 

How Come You Have To Be Pro-Gun To Enjoy Shopping?

I would say that I get about 30 weekly emails asking me for money.  The Wilderness Society is pretty aggressive, ditto Brady and MOMS, a local charity that feeds the homeless also sends something out every week and let’s not forget the Democratic Senate Committee to whom I recently some dough because of the mess in Alabama, which unfortunately now appears to be tilting back towards harm’s way.

NRA certs crop2

But the Numero Uno when it comes to pestering me for cash is America’s ‘oldest civil rights organization,’ to which I have belonged since 1955.  And to prove that I’m not just a regular member, the pic above are several of the diplomas that I have been awarded by the NRA, the Defender of Freedom certificate containing not only the signature of Wayne-o, but also the signature of a real freedom defender, none other than Ollie North.

These little wall decorations come to me because I’m still of the belief that at some point in time the NRA will stop trying to convince Americans that guns aren’t a risk and get back to doing what it used to do, namely, helping sports-minded shooters enjoy the ownership of their guns. The truth is that I find all this blabber about ‘2nd-Amendment rights,’ ‘protecting our freedoms,’ and ‘keeping us safe’ not only total nonsense but boring and silly at best. Every time I pick up one of my guns, it’s like petting Leonard the Cat; makes me feel good to know that an old friend is still around. But it’s nothing more than that and I wish more gun nuts would stop taking themselves so damn seriously. I mean, give me a break.

On the other hand, maybe the gun violence prevention (GVP) community would also think of lowering the decibels a tiny bit.  Nobody’s saying that we should accept, justify or excuse 30,000+ gun deaths and 75,000 gun injuries each and every year, a number which lately appears to be creeping up. On the other hand, when I send money to the GVP groups, which I do on a regular basis, I get back an email acknowledging the donation and that’s it. When I donated to Obama’s campaigns, I got a nice picture of Barack and Michelle, and at the end of the year I received a pretty Christmas photo of the parents and the kids. The photos have become wall decorations stuck right next to the certificates from the NRA.

This may sound kind of corny and stupid, but I like to feel that I’m part of something, that somehow I’m in a group which, for a certain kind of issue, believes the way I believe. I’m not saying that GVP organizations should or could ever attempt to become merchandising operations like the Fairfax boys. About the only thing you can’t buy on the NRA website these days is a gun or a truck. But sportswear, gifts, accessories and gear abounds.

On the other hand, I go to the Brady Campaign store and what do I see? A bunch of coffee mugs, a tote bag, the usual t-shirts with slogans – hey, there’s got to be some more interesting consumer items out there which can make me feel more excited about supporting the GVP campaign.  I’m not saying that gun violence isn’t serious, but why can’t I enjoy giving money to a good cause?

I wouldn’t be diluting my commitment to reducing gun violence just because I can do a little online shopping on the same website which reminds me that I’m supposed to make a donation to a good cause. Consumerism and advocacy go hand-in-hand. If anything, a nice online shopping consumer experience might tempt me to donate a little more dough. It sure seems to work for the NRA.

Do We Suffer From Gun Violence Or From Violence Itself?

If there is one argument which has carried gun violence prevention (GVP) efforts forward over the last twenty years, it is the idea that the USA is not necessarily more violent than other advanced countries, but that our violence results in a much higher mortality rate because of our access to guns.  The connection between guns and mortality rates was first noticed by Frank Zimring back in the 1970’s, it was validated by our friend David Hemenway in 2004, findings which Hemenway updated in an extensive article published last year.

 

hemenway

David Hemenway

Updating the data, Hemenway and the co-author Erin Grinshteyn concluded that, “Violent death is a serious problem in the United States.” Why? Because of our “enormous firearm problem compared with other high-income countries, with higher rates of homicide and firearm-related suicide.” And these conclusions continue to find their way into the literature, the public-policy strategies and the fundraising campaigns of every GVP organizations, all of whom shape their messaging based on gun-violence research by scholars in public health.

There’s only one little problem, however, and the problem arises from something known as the ‘substitution effect.’ What this means in plain English is that comparing outcomes from different types of violent behavior forces us to assume that if the way in which the violence was committed was the same, the outcomes would be similar as well.  For example, the latest research on guns and suicide states that access to guns increases the suicide rate. Therefore, if 1 out of 10 people who used guns to commit suicides had chosen instead to end their lives by cutting themselves or taking pills, there would have been 1,900 less suicide deaths. But what if suicidal individuals chose hanging or asphyxiation (where successful suicides run above 60%) instead of slashing themselves or swallowing medicines, the latter behaviors being much more a symptom of distress than a determined suicide attempt? Since we cannot answer such a question with any degree of certainty, how can we figure out the real effect on suicide rates if there were no access to guns? In fact, the number of non-firearm suicides in both gun-rich and gun-poor states is exactly the same.

The issue of substituting gun violence for overall violence becomes even more problematic when we consider homicides with or without the use of guns.  Grinshteyn and Hemenway find that the US gun-homicide rate is 3.6 compared to Germany, Hungary and Spain at 0.1, Australia, Austria, France and Netherlands at 0.2 (comparing to the lowest nation-states in the OECD.) But the disparity between the United States and these other countries for non-gun homicides is substantial as well.  The United States rate is 1.7, the average for the former group of OECD countries being 0.8, for the latter being 0.6.  In other words, even without using guns, Americans tend to murder each other at a rate which is two to three times higher than what occurs throughout the OECD.

Would the murder differential between the United States and other Western countries disappear if Americans couldn’t get their hands on guns? To the contrary, the differential would probably be greater precisely because of the ‘substitution effect;’ namely, Americans who tried killing other Americans would find a way to accomplish this act without using guns.

I am not trying to ignore the degree to which open access to guns, particularly handguns, creates issues of public safety and public health in the United States which do not exist in any other country within the OECD. Nor am I trying to dismiss or denigrate the efforts of the GVP community to focus public attention and promote sound public policies that would reduce every category of gun injuries, fatal or not. What concerns me are scholarly attempts to understand our elevated rates of gun violence while ignoring our elevated rate of violence with or without the use of guns. To end on a rather hackneyed note: are gun-violence researchers looking at the forest or the trees?

The New Poster-Girl For Concealed Carry.

     I knew it was only a matter of time until Sarah Palin would try to salvage what’s left of her tattered political career by stooping to the lowest common denominator and appealing to the concealed-carry crowd.  And when you stop top think about it, what better way to make a headline then by combining the idea of armed, self-defense with the current media frenzy about sexual harassment in the workplace, the public park and just about everywhere else?

palin     Palin shot her wad yesterday in an interview with a reporter from MSNBC following a meeting in the U.S. Capitol with Rand Paul.  God knows what those two jerks are cooking up; probably an alt-right/white national ticket for 2020 now that Trump appears to have lost whatever claims he once had to represent the populist-nationalist-racist rantings of Sean Hannity, Rush Limbaugh and Roy Moore.

There’s no way that Palin’s comment, “a whole lot of people know I’m probably packing so I don’t think there’s a whole lot of people who would necessarily mess with me,” wasn’t rehearsed over the last couple of weeks. Because her PR firm knew that sooner or later the media would be so desperate to continue pushing the sexual harassment angle that they would get around to her. And notice how she repeats the phrase ‘whole lot of people’ just to make sure that: a) everyone knows how dumb she pretends to be; and, b) everyone else who is ‘packing’ can feel a real kinship with her.

This attempt to build some kind of special, personal relationship based on concealed-carry has been the stock-in-trade of every huckster and merchandiser who wants to promote some kind of product or service to the population that really believes they are protecting themselves by walking around with a gun.  It’s called ‘tribal marketing,’ and it’s based on the idea that consumers are linked together because of a shared belief about a particular brand. And in this case the brand is the ‘armed citizen,’ a phrase actually trademarked by the NRA, which has now been spun off into insurance, clothing, and of course, guns.

Take a look at Palin’s website. Prominently displayed is an ad for the Concealed Carry Association of America along with a ‘Free Guide To Choosing Your Best Concealed Carry Handgun,’ also courtesy of the CCAA.  Her website drew slightly less than 2 million visits over the last 30 days, so it’s not like her jumbled message about love, faith, God, and everything else is reaching any kind of a big crowd. All the more reason why she’s run the concealed-carry message up the media flagpole and hoping for a big response.

Here’s the real problem with using a celebrity like Palin to promote concealed-carry as a lifestyle kind of brand. You can’t carry a gun around unless you actually own a gun. And as gun sales continue to slide under Trump and the number of households containing a gun also seems to be on a steady decline, convincing more Americans that a gun may protect them may work in terms of public opinion, but it won’t help gun makers sell more guns.

WISHING EVERYONE A WONDERFUL AND SAFE HOLIDAY!

 

 

An Old-Fashioned Approach To Gun Control.

When I lived in South Carolina, round about mid-August I would get in my car, ride on over to pick up my deer-hunting buddy Sherrill Smith and drive up yonder to see Sheriff Hogg.

deerSheriff Hogg was the sheriff of Fairfield County, SC and his office was at the county seat in Winnsboro. But if you really needed to talk to the Sheriff about something important, you ran over to the Biscuit House where you could find him most mornings washing down biscuits and grits with a coke.

And what was important in mid-August was getting a good spot to hunt deer. Because the deer season in Carolina ran from mid-August until the end of the year, and the best dang place in whole Palmetto State was Fairfield County, particularly around the town of Rion because most of the cleared land in those parts went for planting beans. Deer love soybeans, they come out the woods late afternoon and can munch their ways through a bushel or two every night. So the farmers want guys like Sherrill and me to put up a stand on t’other side of the field, a clear shot at 200 yards and we keep things even – know what I mean?

Sheriff Hogg was the person you wanted to see because ol’ boy knew which farmers would give out permissions to hunt their land. After chatting with the Sheriff a bit he told us to go outside and tell his driver to direct us to a proper field. The driver was an older Black man named Page, who was serving a life sentence for having killed someone back some time ago. He slept on a cot in the back of the Sheriff’s office, drew a bit of pay as Sheriff Hogg’s trustee, but what he really did was open and go through the mail each day because Sheriff Hogg couldn’t read or write. Maybe he could sign his name but that was it. So it was up to Page to make sure that no important documents didn’t end up except where they supposing to go. Think I’m making this up? That’s because you didn’t live in rural South Carolina in 1976.

Sherrill and I ended up hunting that year on some bean fields worked by two Black sharecroppers named Rabbit and Love. They were joyous when we showed up because they knew that if Sherrill Clement Smith sat alongside one of their bean fields they would end up with a full harvest along with plenty of meat.  They got half of whatever we shot, and by mid-October they had meat for the families and whole lot more to sell from behind the church. In rural counties like Fairfield it was estimated that half the consumer meat came from the Piggly Wiggly supermarket chain, the other half thanks to people like Sherrill and me.

Late October I brought down a handsome, 12-point buck, loaded it into Sherill’s truck, run on into Winnsboro and make Sheriff Hogg a gift. He come out to the truck, give a quick ‘yip,’ smacked his hands together and yelled, ‘Page, c’mon and pull this critter ‘round back!’ Then he invited us into his office, thanked me profusely for relinquishing such a prize, yanked open a drawer in his desk and said, ‘Here, take one of these.’

One of these happened to be a beautiful, K-38 Smith & Wesson revolver which the Sheriff had picked up God only knows. Had a whole mess of confiscated guns he usually sold, stuck the cash in the Rainy Day fund.

I can state without fear of contradiction that this was common practice in most smaller towns in the South. And maybe Sheriff Hogg couldn’t read or write, but he knew he wasn’t creating any kind of threat to public safety by giving me that K-38. With all our technology, data and everything else, have we yet developed a better way of figuring out who should be able to own a gun?

Don’t Worry – The NRA Isn’t Losing Any Sleep Over ‘Fix NICS.’

Want to start your day off with a good laugh? Take a look at Wayne-o LaPierre blasting off into outer space in 2016 with a video message about the FBI-NICS background check system which came out two years before last week’s Fix-NICS bill was introduced by Senators Chris Murphy (D-CT), a long-time ‘enemy’ of the 2nd Amendment and John Cornyn (R-TX), one of the NRA’s best friends.

wayne              Everyone loves this bill.  The NRA and the NSSF jumped on board; ditto Gabby Giffords and Everytown – Moms.  Well, almost everyone. The group which claims it’s the only group standing between freedom and fascism, a.k.a. Gun Owners of America, told its members to demand that we stop trying to ‘fix an unconstitutional system’ because background checks of any kind are an ‘infringement on 2nd-Amendment ‘rights.’

But back to Wayne-o patting himself on the back for being a champion of FBI-NICS.  Ultimately the NRA had no choice but to support the Brady bill because the idea of an instant background check enjoyed wide public support back then, just as an extension of background checks to secondary transfers appears to enjoy the same degree of public support now.  But as a detailed report from the Brady Campaign points out, the moment that the Brady bill became law, the NRA began attacking its constitutional validity even before the system went online.

So when Wayne-o states that the NRA has ‘fought for 20 years’ to put the records of persons adjudicated to be mentally incompetent into the NICS system, what he should have said is that America’s oldest civil-rights organization has fought to keep the FBI-NICS system as far away from being an effective tool for reducing gun violence as it can. But when you watch this video and the phrase ‘the truth about background checks’ flashes across the screen, you can be sure that ol’ Wayne is getting ready to blast off into outer space.

But now that Congress appears ready to do exactly what the NRA claims should have always been done, namely, to make sure that the data sent to NICS really includes the names of every individual whose background, under current law, does not allow them to own a gun, what should the boys from Fairfax be doing to prove their commitment to 2nd-Amendment ‘rights?’ Because if this bill gets a positive vote and the Trumpster signs it into law, the NRA’s rationale for not expanding background checks to secondary sales disappears.

I’m not saying that the process of widening background check procedures to go beyond over-the-counter sales would be a walk in the park or a day at the beach. But the good news is that the NRA has been forced to support the idea that only ‘law-abiding citizens’ should be able to own guns. And if NICS is fixed to everyone’s satisfaction in a way that really prevents the criminals, the drug abusers and the mentally ill from walking into a gun shop and buying a gun, the idea that private gun transfers requiring background checks is a violation of the 2nd Amendment wouldn’t pass muster in any court.

When all is said and done, the NRA’s opposition to background checks boils down to one, simple thing; namely, that government regulation of the gun industry is a bad and unnecessary thing. In that respect, the gun industry’s opposition to regulation is no different from every other industry – banks, financial services, energy, you-name-it – who want to lessen the regulatory burden because one way or another, regulations drive up costs.

The NRA, the 2nd-Amendment Foundation, Sean Hannity and every other pro-gun noisemaker can talk about gun ownership as a Constitutional ‘right’ all they want. But it’s simply a convenient catch-phrase for obscuring a basic truth. And that truth happens to be the unalterable fact that if someone aims a loaded gun at themselves or someone else and then pulls the trigger, the damage can be immense.  And only government has the resources and the authority to prevent such acts from taking place.