What The ATF Doesn’t Tell You About Gun Dealers.

Now that The New York Times has pronounced that gun dealers are getting away with murder because the ATF lets all these rogue dealers stay in business no matter how many crime guns they sell, and now that the oracle of gun violence prevention, our friend Daniel Webster from Johns Hopkins has further declared that this article is a ‘must read’ because, after all, the NRA makes sure that all gun regulations are weaker than they should be, perhaps we might take a few minutes to set the record straight.

shop             I’m not saying that the article by Ali Watkins is wrong. But the headline, which I’m sure was stuck on to her interesting reportage came out of whatever department tries to attract readers to the NYT site.  The headline says: ‘When Guns Are Sold Illegally, A.T.F. Is Lenient On Punishment.’  No wonder Webster says this is a ‘must read.’ After all, he has been a leading proponent of the need to strengthen licensing at the counter-top through extending background checks to secondary sales.

There’s only one problem with Webster’s promotion of this article. If you actually read the whole thing, Ms. Watkins is saying much more than just that the ATF is letting all these bad-guy gun dealers off the hook. In fact, the whole idea of leniency on the part of the how the ATF regulates gun shops has to be seen in a much broader context which is discussed by Ali Watkins in detail. Maybe Webster doesn’t read details.

The article is based on ATF gun-shop inspection reports which Brady received from the ATF. For obvious reasons, some of the fields in the reports are redacted out, nor does the report necessarily contain all the information that would allow someone to determine the degree to which the ATF is actually letting dealers stay in business whose behavior should really get them shut down. What really comes out from these reports, however, is that conducting an inspection of a gun shop under the rules and regulations of GCA68 (the federal law which set up the entire regulatory system and placed it under the purview of the ATF) often requires judgements to be made for which the law either gives vague guidelines on how to proceed or no guidelines at all.

Watkins gives an example of a gun shop which was cited for releasing several guns without conducting a background check, and even though the shop had evidently failed to conduct a background check on another transfer at some point in time, thus making the second failure a ‘willful’ violation of the law, what this means is that the 4473 background check form did not contain information about when the background check took place (the requisite field on the form was blank) hence, it is assumed that no background check actually occurred.

Under law, the FBI cannot retain NICS information for more than 24 hours after a background check occurs. But if the requisite data is missing from the form, the ATF inspector has to cite this as a violation because absent the data, it is assumed that the check didn’t occur. And you wonder how, at the review level, a dealer can remain in business after committing such a serious offense? Give me a break, okay?

There isn’t a retail gun dealer in the United States who doesn’t know how to build a nice stash of guns and sell them illegally without involving himself in regulatory procedures at all. Whenever someone sells you a gun, and most gun shops have at least 40% used guns, all the dealer has to do is neglect to enter the gun into his acquisition list, which means that from a regulatory perspective, the gun doesn’t exist at all.

The ATF would like you to believe that the only thing which stands between all those rogue dealers and safety and security throughout the United States is the inspections they perform, albeit without enough manpower to do a proper job. Anyone who actually buys that nonsense has never stood behind a counter and sold guns.

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An Idea For Regulating Gun Dealers That Would Really Get Results.

I received an interesting email today from the Illinois Council against Handgun Violence (ICHV) with a link to a new website which compares regulations and laws governing the manufacture of teddy bears with the regulations and laws covering the manufacture of guns. To sell a new teddy bear at a retail store or anywhere else, for that matter, the toy must meet more than 20 separate laws and regulations, including whether the teddy has sharp points, contains lead or could result in choking or some other health hazard from too-small parts. As for guns, all you need is a federal firearms license which basically says that you’ve never been in jail, and with this license you’re good to go.

ICHV             The point of the website, of course, is to draw attention to the fact that guns are the most unregulated consumer product around, largely because the gun lobby succeeded in getting guns exempted from regulation when the Consumer Product Safety Commission was created back in the 1970’s, and the exemption has remained in force up through today. There are a handful of states which set safety standards for new handguns and require that any new gun sold in those states must first be tested to meet certain design standards such as trigger pull, drop test and multiple safeties for pistols; there are no safety design requirements for long guns imposed by any state.

What drew my attention to the ICHV website, however, was not just the eye-catching graphic comparing consumer regulations of teddy bears versus guns; what I also read with interest was the notice of a new law that was initially introduced in 2015 but has not yet seen the light of day.  The law, known as the Gun Dealer and Ammunition Seller Act, would for the first time create a state gun dealer licensing procedure which currently only exists in 16 states. Every gun dealer of course has to obtain a federal license from the ATF, but on average the ATF gets around to inspect less than 10% of all dealers, and less than half the licensed dealers have been inspected within the last five years.

Even in gun shops which have been identified as sources of large numbers of crime guns it’s really not clear whether guns were purchased for immediate (and illegal) resale or whether the guns were simply stolen and then at some later date ended up in the street. The average time-to-crime for all traced firearms, according to the ATF, is over 11 years, and while there are shops where lots of crime guns show up in the wrong hands within two years or less after they are first purchased, this is the extreme exception and hardly the rule.

The bottom line, however, is that if gun dealers had to abide not just by federal law but also local regulations, there’s no doubt that gun retailers would be less of a factor in being the source of crime guns, if only because the bad guys would know that using a local store for getting their hands on guns would have the local cops chasing them, not just the faraway feds.

In this regard, I found a part of the Illinois law very interesting because it mandates as part of the licensing requirement that every dealer install a functioning video system that would capture the identity of every person who actually purchases a gun. This law also requires that dealers post a sign which warns that a video system is in use – you would be amazed at the extent to which active video serves as a real deterrent to criminal behavior in a public place.

I think the new ICVH website is a really good job; I’m sending them a donation to support their Teddy Bear campaign and I hope their effort to get a state dealer licensing law bears fruit. Asking dealers to protect themselves and their law-abiding customers is no violation of anyone’s 2nd-Amendment rights.

That Old NICS-Background Check Number Just Keeps Floating Around.

My friends at Harvard and Northeastern have just given us another tantalizing bit of data from their new survey on gun-owning Americans, in this case an estimate of how many guns are transferred from one person to another without a background check. And what they claim is that roughly one out of every five guns that were acquired over the last two years moved between one person and another without a NICS check. Which is roughly half the percentage of unchecked sales from the figure provided by Philip Cook who is given credit in today’s Trace for stating that “as many as 40 percent of gun sales are conducted without a background check” in 1994.

nicsExcept there’s one little problem.  This 40% estimate has been floating around and repeated by every gun-control advocacy organization lo these many years, but that’s not what Professor Cook actually said.  What Phil Cook actually said was, “We conclude that approximately 60 percent of gun acquisitions involved an FFL and hence were subject to Federal regulations on such matters as out-of-State sales, criminal history checks, and recordkeeping.” And he couldn’t have said it because there was no background check system in 1994.  The current FBI-NICS system wasn’t up and running until late 1998.  Which is why the background check data published by the FBI begins in 1999.  Oh well, what’s the difference?  A year here, a year there – no big deal, right?

I bought my first gun from an FFL-dealer in 1976.  I had just moved from New Jersey to South Carolina, arrived on a Tuesday, traded my Jersey driver’s license for a South Carolina license on Wednesday, and bought a Ruger Mark I on Thursday.  I filled out the federal form, showed the dealer my driver’s license, gave him a hundred bucks and got the gun. All the dealer knew was that I said I had not committed a serious crime.  He didn’t even know whether I was a South Carolina resident because I could have moved to another state and not yet exchanged for a license somewhere else. So like Phil Cook said, I was ‘subject to Federal regulations’ when I bought that gun.  Big friggin’ deal.

And this is how allegedly reliable information floats around the gun world; a reputable scholar (if they gave a Nobel Prize in gun research I would nominate Phil Cook) is misquoted, what he said is then used to justify God knows how many attempts – some successful, some not – to widen the scope of background checks, and now we have the next, serious attempt to figure out how many gun transfers are caught by the background-check system, using what Phil Cook actually didn’t say to compare the progress we’ve made over the last twenty years.

To Professor Cook’s credit, he admits that he never directly asked participants about background checks, so we have actually no way of figuring out whether the new published data from Miller, Hepburn and Azrael should be a cause for rejoicing or not.  But before everyone jumps on the bandwagon and starts the New Year off by celebrating this bit of hopeful news, let me break it to you gently.

If you think the NRA’s ability to cast doubt on serious gun research was a factor in convincing a majority of Americans that having a gun lying around the house is a good thing, you ain’t seen nothing yet.  Because it’s one thing when the argument is made by an organization like the NRA which is in business to help gun makers sell guns.  The first policy statement that (ugh) Donald Trump ever made on the campaign trail was a statement backing gun ‘rights’ and denying the need for expanded background checks.

The Gun-sense community isn’t going up against a former Congressional aide who sits in Fairfax, VA and tapes a video now and again.  The opposition is now be led by the Commander in Chief, who would just love to tweet that gun-control advocates don’t know the facts.  So what we say better be right.

CORRECTION:  The article in The Trace did not identify Professor Cook by name as the individual who first stated that 40% of gun transfers did not involve a background check. The article referred to ‘experts’ which I assumed were Cook and his co-author Jens Ludwig since they published their work, referred to above, in 1994.

Has The Number Of Gun Dealers Declined? Not Lately.

Our friends at the Violence Policy Center (VPC) have just released a new report which details a 77% decline in federal gun dealers since 1994, which they believe reduces the number of dealers who might be “a known source of weapons for criminal gun traffickers.”  Exactly how large a role FFL-dealers actually play in pushing guns into the ‘wrong hands’ has never been adequately analyzed or explained, but looking for any piece of silver lining when it comes to regulating guns in the Age of Trump isn’t a bad thing.

vpc             The only problem with this particular piece of silver lining, however, is that the data actually gives a somewhat different perspective on the whole issue of FFL-dealers than what the VPC would like us to believe. Because while it is true that the number of FFL licenses has declined by more than two-thirds over the past twenty years, the number has actually increased by more than ten percent in the last nine years.

And why has there been an increase in FFL dealers after the drop in license-holders after 1994?  Remember this guy named Obama and a doubling in gun sales beginning in 2008? Remember an even greater sales increase after the 2012 tragedy at Sandy Hook and an abortive attempt to widen NICS-FBI background checks to cover secondary sales?  Between 2007 and 2016 the number of gun dealers increased in 38 of the 50 states.  North Carolina dropped from 6,486 dealers in 1994 to 1,327 in 2007, but FFLs in the Tar Heel State are back up to 1,921, an increase of 45%!  In South Carolina the numbers went from 2,332 in 1994 down to 529 in 2007 and now back up to 886, not a bad jump in just nine years.

The real reason that FFLs dropped so steeply after 1994 (mentioned in the VPC report) was the cost of the license went up from $30 to $200, which meant that many of the pre-94 dealers were not really in business so a 700% increase for the license fee was just too steep. But it’s not as if the Treasury Department lost any money when all those guys buying guns for themselves at wholesale prices gave up the ghost. The license fees under the pre-94 regime would have generated around 7 million bucks.  When the fee went to $200 the revenue from the 56,000 current dealers amounted to 11 million and change.

The fact that there are roughly one-quarter the number of FFL-holders today as compared to 1994 says absolutely nothing about the relationship between the number of dealers who actually sell guns to consumers as opposed to selling guns to themselves or to a few friends.  Even with the ATF’s backslapping about their vaunted programs to keep dealers in line, probably no more than 5,000 dealers are actually bringing new inventory to the civilian market and thus might be contributing to the spread of crime guns.

Where do I get that number?  It’s simple – just go to the website of Smith & Wesson or Glock or one of the other gun manufacturers and do a search for their stocking dealers in any particular state.  Gun makers go out of their way to promote product sales by listing every dealer who stocks and sells their wares.  Glock lists 272 dealers in North Carolina and the ATF says there are 1,921 FFL-holders in the state.  Smith & Wesson has about 50 dealers in its home state of Massachusetts and there are 386 active FFLs in the Bay State.

If you want to write about regulating any industry you need to know how to figure out how to understand the industry itself.  And you’re not going to get a complete view by using information created outside the industry by regulators like the ATF. Remember, in the Age of Trump it doesn’t matter whether anything is based on facts or not. All the more reason why folks who don’t share his love of the gun industry need to know how that industry really works.

 

How Easy Is It To Buy A Gun? Not As Easy As The Boston Globe Thinks.

As I am sure everyone knows, Gun-nut Nation has been celebrating what they claim is a tremendous surge in gun sales which started when Obama moved into the White House and allegedly hasn’t let up.  The result for a publicly-owned company like Smith & Wesson is an increase in share price from $5 in 2009 to nearly $26 last week; for the gun industry in general a conviction that guns are becoming so mainstream that sooner or later there will be one in every American home.

dealers           Actually, surveys about gun ownership keep pointing to a different reality; namely, that fewer and fewer people own more and more guns.  The gun researchers at Harvard and Northeastern have done the latest study on gun owners and found that only 22% of adults own guns, of whom 3% re considered ‘super’ owners because their gun stash is between 8 and upwards of 100 guns.

But surveys conducted by phone or computer are one thing; hard data is something else. And here is where the problem gets sticky, because the data that is usually used to figure out how many are being sold is probably less exact and reliable than the surveys of gun owners like the Harvard-Northeastern survey that’s currently making the rounds.

I am referring, of course, to the monthly totals of FBI-NICS background checks published by the ATF, which shows a nearly 80% increase in annual checks between 2009 and he current year. The problem with this number, is that it hides more than it explains, because NICS is utilized for any over-the-counter transaction which means that used guns, which for many shops count for 30-40% of their inventory, are not being sold for the first time but are being resold.  NICS is also used for checking the issuance and status of gun licenses, this type of check has recently been responsible for 25% of all NICS calls, and then there is the requirement in a growing number of states that all gun transactions take place at the countertop whether the dealer sold the gun or not. I’m not saying that gun sales haven’t increased under Obama – of course they have.  But I’m not about to drink the gun industry Kool Aid which, if true, would make it appear that just about everyone out there is grabbing a gun.

On the other hand, it’s not only Gun-nut Nation mixing up a pitcher of Kool-Aid for everyone to drink; Gun-sense Nation also has a tendency from time to time to offer up their own flavor of Kool-Aid when it comes to discussions about how many people buy or own guns. I am talking in this instance to a story that just appeared in The Boston Globe in which the reporter, Matt Rocheleau, looked at the ATF listing of gun dealers for Massachusetts and discovered, much to his concern, that the Bay State has more people holding federal firearms licenses (FFL) than it has cities and towns. According to Rocheleau, there are 389 license-holders in Massachusetts and only 351 municipalities, with some locations having as many as six or more – oh my God!  If you live in Massachusetts, it sure must be easy to buy a gun.

There’s only one little problem with this article – it bears no relationship to reality at all.  You can have as many FFLs as you want, but if you don’t have a state dealer’s license you can’t sell a gun to anyone except yourself.  And you can’t even sell a gun to yourself unless it is approved for civilian ownership in Massachusetts both by the Executive Office of Public Safety and the AG; which means you can’t own a new Glock, Springfield or Taurus handgun, as well as any gun that looks like an AR-15.

I’m not surprised when writers for Gun-nut Nation take liberties with the truth because, after all, their job is to promote guns. But when The Boston Globe promotes their version of gun sense, at least they should get it right.

The ATF Issues A New Directive Defining Dealing In Guns But What They Say Is Not So New.

As someone who has sold more than 12,000 guns retail, which included selling guns at gun shows and over the internet, I think I know a little bit more about whether today’s White House announcements will have an impact on gun violence than does Mike Huckabee, who has already announced that he will “repeal” every one of Obama’s gun initiatives, even though most of what the President intends to do has nothing that could be repealed at all.

atf              Coincident with the White House news release and media blitz, the ATF has issued a new publication which attempts to define their notion of what constitutes being in the “business” of selling firearms, which is one of the key elements in the new Obama plan; i.e., people who sell guns privately at gun shows or online may now be required to operate as federally-licensed dealers, which means that they must conduct NICS-background checks on every gun they sell – unless, of course, the gun is transferred to another dealer.

I have read this publication with care, in particular a series of brief vignettes that give examples of people transferring guns as a business transaction as opposed to people transferring guns where no real business activity occurred.  In my judgement, this publication is totally consistent with relevant laws as well as a reflection of the approach usually taken by the ATF in regulating firearm sales: “As a general rule, you will need a license if you repetitively buy and sell firearms with the principal motive of making a profit. In contrast, if you only make occasional sales of firearms from your personal collection, you do not need to be licensed.”  And this rule applies to every venue that might be possibly used for selling guns – your store, retail space, trunk of your car, laptop computer or anywhere else.

I never had a problem complying with this rule when I sold guns at shows or over the internet because I was always a federally-licensed dealer; hence, every gun in my inventory needed to be identified as to where it came from and to whom it was then sold.  And since as a licensed dealer I could only sell to individuals after completing a background check, it didn’t matter what sales venue I used.  The ATF could (and did) inspect my documentation to insure that every gun in my inventory was properly acquired in and transferred out, and if I couldn’t produce the requisite paperwork for any particular transaction they would raise holy hell.

To provide some guidance as to what constitutes dealing in firearms, the ATF has appended 9 examples of different types of gun transfers of which 5 instances would require a dealer’s license and 4 others would not.  This is a pretty comprehensive series of examples which, to my mind, honestly reflect the basic requirements of operating with a federal dealer’s license as opposed to an individual who has a personal need or desire to transfer some guns. On the other hand, anyone behaving like the 5 ‘repetitively buying and selling’ examples who doesn’t currently have a dealer’s license should be prosecuted not just for illegal sale of guns, but for being a complete and unmitigated dope. And any current FFL-holder who sells guns to someone knowing or suspecting that this individual is engaging in repetitive, for-profit sales, is aiding and abetting straw sales – period, that’s that.

The truth is that most gun dealers buy from and sell to the same people all the time.  Even my internet sales, which were always dealer-to-dealer transactions, went to the same dealers because I trusted them and they trusted me.  Although the term ‘straw sales’ never appears in this publication, when someone buys a gun from a dealer intending to resell it privately to someone else, that’s exactly what constitutes a straw sale, and anyone who actually believes that this infringes on 2nd-Amendment rights, also probably believes that Mexico will pay for Donald Trump’s new fence.

 

 

The Center For American Progress Has Some Good Ideas To Help Obama Define Who’s Really Dealing In Guns.

This week the Center for American Progress issued a report recommending changes in the definition of being engaged in the business of selling guns. Clarifying what constitutes dealing in firearms would bring more gun transactions under the purview of the ATF and thus create more barriers to guns moving from one person to another without a NICS-background check.  The CAP report is a response to President Obama’s announcement after Roseburg that he might invoke executive authority to redefine how many gun transactions would demonstrate an ongoing business activity, as opposed to simply owning or collecting guns.

cap logo                Gun dealers have been regulated by the Federal Government since 1938 when a law was passed that required dealers to purchase a Treasury license for one dollar and follow some simple rules whenever they transferred a gun, namely, verifying that the individual to whom they delivered the gun lived in the same state where the dealer was located.

The 1938 law was completely revamped and the scope of government gun regulation widened to an unprecedented degree by the Gun Control Act of 1968.  Now dealers were not only required to verify the age and address of the customer, but also to verify that the prospective gun owner was not a member of various prohibited categories; i.e., felon, drug addict, fugitive, mental defective, and so forth. A gun dealer had no way of checking the veracity of such information, but at least there was a document on file for every over-the-counter sale.

Verifying whether an individual was telling the truth about his fitness to own a gun was what lay behind the Brady Bill passed in 1994.  In lieu of a national waiting-period on all gun purchases was a provision that required every federally-licensed dealer to contact the FBI who then verified that the customer was telling the truth.  But in order to access the FBI examiners, you had to be a federally-licensed dealer.  No federal dealer’s license, no contact with NICS.  Which is where the whole notion of ‘loopholes’ in the gun-licensing system came from; which is what Obama would like to close. And the easiest way to close the loophole, or at least make it smaller, is to define the word ‘dealer’ in a way that requires more people to become FFL-holders if they want to buy or sell guns.

The CAP report is a judicious and careful attempt to set out some criteria that could be used to determine who is really engaged in the business of selling guns.  It does not recommend any specific amounts of guns that might be transferred nor how much money someone needs to earn over any given period of time.  Rather, it looks at how various states define commercial enterprises and whether such definitions would be a useful guide to creating a more realistic way to establish that someone is going beyond just collecting or owning guns.

What the report doesn’t mention is that if the FFL imposes some sort of uniformity over dealers at the federal level, when we look at how states license gun dealers, there’s no uniformity at all.  Every state collects sales taxes, every state imposes and enforces other business regulations, but when it comes to guns, most states simply place the entire regulatory burden on the Feds and the ATF.  In order to receive an FFL, the prospective dealer must send a copy of the license application to the local cops, but if the particular locality doesn’t have any local laws covering gun dealers, the local gendarmerie could care less.

I hope the CAP report will be taken seriously by the President before he issues an Executive Order that more clearly defines what it means to engage in the commerce of guns.  I also hope he won’t publish an Executive Order that places more unfulfilled regulatory responsibilities on the ATF and provokes the usual ‘I told you so’ from the pro-gun gang. If it were up to that bunch, there would be no gun regulations at all.

Can Hillary Close The Gun Show Loophole? I’m Not So Sure.

One of the planks in Hillary’s new gun control program calls for “closing the gun show loophole,” an issue that has been floating around for years since Dianne Feinstein who has sponsored legislation to regulate gun shows after she entered the Senate in 1992. There’s a lot of misinformation floating around on gun shows, particularly among people who don’t go to gun shows, and this is a good time to clear some misconceptions up.  In particular, the question of whether there’s any real gun-show loophole at all.

hillary2               When most people speak about gun show loopholes what they mean is that anyone can walk into a gun show and get their hands on a gun, legal requirements met or not.  Although many FFL-licensed dealers display and sell their inventory at shows, very few states impose licensing requirements on gun show vendors, as long as individuals who rent tables and sell at shows meet existing local laws on private transfers of guns. And since most states impose very few regulations on private gun transfers, buying a gun without a background check at a gun show is no different from walking across the street and buying a gun from a neighbor or a friend.

What Hillary evidently wants to do is use some kind of executive authority to force all gun show vendors to be licensed dealers which would mean that every gun sold at a gun show would by a show vendor, would have to undergo a background check.  I can’t tell you how many guns I have bought at shows just because I bumped into someone as I was walking around who was carrying a gun that I liked and a word here, a word there, some bills out of my pocket and I own the gun.  And don’t think these kinds of transactions don’t happen in the parking lot outside the show either, because they happen all the time.

If Hillary really believes that she can end private sales at gun shows or anywhere else by using her executive power to define the word ‘dealer,’ one of her staff people should take a look at the Firearms Owners Protection Act that was passed in 1986. This law was passed to define or change sections of the GCA68 law which, because it represented the first time that the feds got into regulating gun commerce in a major way, contained passages and whole sections which nobody could really figure out.  And one of the big issues that was revised was the definition of ‘dealers,’ since the ATF after 1968 had taken the position that anyone selling a gun to anyone else was engaged in gun commerce and therefore came under their control.  Talk about a bureaucracy trying to extend its reach!

What FOPA did was to define a gun dealer as someone “whose time, attention and labor is occupied by dealing in firearms as a regular course of trade or business with the principal objective of livelihood and profit through the repetitive purchase and resale of an inventory of firearms.”  It also specifically excluded persons who made “occasional” sales or sold guns from “personal collections.”  From my own experience based on wandering through hundreds of gun shows over the last forty years, I can honestly confirm that the FOPA definition fits probably 75% of all the guns I have seen for sale at all those shows. Most of the big-time vendors at gun shows aren’t selling firearms at all.  They go from show to show, maybe do 40 shows a year, and they’re hawking t-shirts, memorabilia, all kinds of junk and crap but they’re not selling guns.

I’m thrilled that Hillary has injected the words ‘gun violence’ into the Presidential campaign.  I hope she ramps up the message because, if nothing else, I’d like to see the ‘stuff happens’ nonsense shoved up where it belongs. But if anyone wants to really get rid of gun violence I’ll continue to say it again and again: It’s the guns, stupid.  It’s the guns.

 

The ATF Issues A New Report On Gun Traces And Once Again They Get It Wrong.

Here they go again – patting themselves on the back for the good work they do protecting America from the scourge of gun violence.  We do have a scourge of gun violence, but whether the ATF does anything in response to this problem other than releasing self-congratulatory and misleading reports remains to be seen.  The latest such missive, the ATF annual Firearms Trace Data, covers 2014 and Is advertised on the ATF website as containing “critically important information.” This sounds impressive, but let’s spend some time trying to understand exactly whether this ‘critically important’ information has any bearing at all on efforts by law enforcement agencies to deal with gun violence.

atf                In 2014 the ATF traced 246,000 guns, of which 175,000 were handguns, 65,000 were rifles and shotguns, 245 were “unknown types,” (I love that category), the remainder various pieces of crap.  Here’s how a trace works.  The cops get a gun and then send a trace request to the ATF which includes the manufacturer and serial number and the reason why the gun is being traced. The ATF then contacts the manufacturer and a paper trail from factory to distributor to dealer to first buyer is created by contacting each point in the trail in turn.

Of course once the gun leaves the shop with the initial buyer, that’s it.  And the ATF has absolutely no way of knowing whether the gun being traced was sold to someone else, or stolen, or ‘trafficked,’ – a meaningless word if I ever heard one – or whatever.  The ATF keeps a missing/stolen list of guns but the only people required to report such guns to this list are federally-licensed gun dealers.

In addition to describing the gun, the agency making the trace request must also specify the reason for the request.  Here’s where things get very interesting.  There are 64 different reasons why a trace is made, ranging from homicide and aggravated assault to such serious threats to community safety as abortion, bribery, election laws (I’m serious), forgery, gambling and the greatest scourge of all – found firearm.  This last category by itself covered more than 22,000 traces in 2014; i.e., nearly 10% of all traces.  Of the 246,000 total traces conducted by our intrepid ATF in the process of protecting us from gun violence, I’m being generous by saying that 25% involved guns picked up during or after the commission of serious crimes.  Yea, yea, I know.  All those other guns might have been used in serious crimes, and I might actually go on a diet later today.  In my state, Massachusetts, the cops asked the ATF to trace roughly 1,200 guns.  Know how many were associated with violent crimes like homicide and assault?  44 guns.  That’s five percent.

Along with telling us which gun shops sold all these crime guns, the ATF report also discloses another pile of data that is indispensable in the fight against gun crime, namely, what the ATF refers to as ‘Time-To-Crime;’ i.e., how long between when the traced gun was sold and when it was traced, the idea being that guns that are purchased as ‘straw sales’ will end up being used in crimes more quickly than guns sold to law-abiding purchasers.  In 2014, the ATF says that TTC was just under 11 years.  So if a bunch of guns came from a gun shop with a much briefer TTC, obviously this is a shop where something nefarious is going on.

Let me break the news to the ATF gently. The firearms inventory of most gun shops consists of 30%-40% used guns.  Since TTC is only calculated on the initial sale, the TTC numbers are off by a factor of 30% to 40%,.  Want to base public policy on data that might be 40% incorrect?  I don’t.

I have no issue with regulating a consumer product that is as lethal and dangerous as a gun.  But the regulators should at least know something about how the industry operates they are regulating.  The ATF trace report proves that they don’t.