Can The NRA Get Back In Front Of The Gun Debate?

              I was going to take a week off and let some of our pro-gun friends contribute the rest of the content for this week, but a rant on ‘the failing’ NRA-TV gave me no choice but to respond in kind. I’m talking about a spiel by Cam Edwards who’s joined the parade marching against that Socialist, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, who is attracting lots of attention from the alt-right attack-dogs because she’s using some of the same language about Trump that Sleazy Don uses against everyone else. After all, she had the unmitigated nerve to call Trump a racist. What could be more contemptible than that?

              But the problem facing the NRA isn’t going to just go away just because the boys in Fairfax can serve their membership some red meat by saying something nasty or stupid or both about AOC. The problem is much more fundamental, namely, the fact that for the first time since America’s ‘first civil rights organization’ began promoting itself as a true-blue defender of everything that’s great about America (and guns), there’s serious competition from the other side.

              The last time a gun bill became law at the federal level was 1994 – the Brady bill along with the assault weapons ban. But these bills had two things going for them which don’t exist right now: (1). Control of both houses of Congress by the blue team; and (2). a liberal Southerner in the White House who could grease the legislative wheels with federal cash. Which happens to have been the same political alignment which produced the previous national gun law in 1968.

On the other hand, and it’s a big other, both in 1968 and again in 1994 you didn’t have the upsurge of grass-roots energy on the gun-control side of the ledger that we are seeing right now. And if Gun-nut Nation wants to continue promoting the idea that the noise being made by the other side since Parkland is nothing more than money being secretly funneled into a gun-control campaign by Socialists like Bloomberg and Soros, they can go right ahead. They happen to be wrong. Dead wrong.

              The problem facing Gun-nut Nation is that a majority of Americans have always supported gun ownership by law-abiding citizens, but the percentage of Americans who hold negative views of the NRA has not been as high as they are right now since 1995. That year, the annual Gallup gun poll found that 51% of respondents held ‘mostly’ or ‘very’ unfavorable views of the boys from Fairfax, last year the percentage was 42%, but the number was only 34% in 2005.

              What seems to be clear is that, for the very first time, lots of Americans are now thinking about the gun issue and not thinking about it in a very positive way. I don’t notice, for example, that the boys in Fairfax have yet figured out how to deal with yesterday’s Senate hearing on ‘red flag’ laws, at which time two of Gun-nut Nation’s most stalwart supporters, Lindsey Graham (R-SC) and Chuck Grassley (R-IA) said all the correct things about gun violence and even suggested that maybe, just maybe, a legislative response might be coming down the road although nobody’s holding their breath. On the other hand, if the Senate in 2020 goes the way the House went in 2018….

              So what does the NRA do? They have no choice but to try and stick more fingers into the 2nd-Amendment ‘freedom’ dike before it springs some real serious leaks. And the way you do that is to double-down on  the red-meat messaging which your base wants to hear. Which is why Cam Edwards filled his anti-ACO spiel with just one lie after another, in particular alleging that her support for the New Zealand buyback means she’ll vote in favor of the confiscation of every, single privately-owned gun in the U.S. of A.

              I’m not saying that the NRA is the Emperor without clothes. What I am saying is that this particular Emperor may be riding the wrong horse, because the NRA  horse is no longer the only one in the race.

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Alex at Ammo.com: Background Checks – How The State Decides Who Can and Can’t Own A Gun.

Reprinted from Ammo.com’ website.

Prior to 1968, most adults in the United States could purchase a firearm without state interference. Guns were available in local retail stores, as well as mail-order catalogs, and as long as you hadn’t been convicted of a felony and you had the funds, there weren’t any questions asked.

Things are different now. Depending on where in America you are and what type of gun you want to buy, there’s a good chance you’ll need to pass a NICS-mandated background check to complete your purchase.

Although many people hold a strong opinion for and against gun background checks, they’ve proven to be an integral part of the state’s gun control apparatus – and they don’t appear to be leaving anytime soon.

Since background checks are such a requirement for today’s gun enthusiasts, it’s important for gun owners (and those who may someday be gun owners) to understand everything they can, including how the current system works and how it came to be.

The History of Gun Background Checks in the U.S.

The history of background checks for gun purchases reaches back to the first restrictions placed on individuals trying to purchase firearms. Here in the U.S., this occured after the Civil War, when several southern states adopted “Black Codes,” which replaced the prior slave codes and worked to suppress the freedoms of black Americans. Among other restrictions, the Black Codes forbade African-Americans from owning firearms.

The Federal Firearms Act of 1938 began restricting the sales of firearms, requiring those in the business of selling firearms to purchase a Federal Firearms License (FFL) and maintain a list of persons who purchased firearms, including their name and address. The Firearms Act of 1938 also listed convicted felons as the first prohibited persons – who are not allowed, by law, to own, purchase, or possess firearms.

And then something happened that would forever change American history. Six days before Thanksgiving, on November 22, 1963, President John F. Kennedy was assassinated by Lee Harvey Oswald using a Mannlicher-Carcano rifle purchased from a mail-order catalog. The Kennedy assassination led to the Gun Control Act of 1968, which was specifically intended to keep “firearms out of the hands of those not legally entitled to possess them because of age, criminal background, or incompetence.”

Through the Gun Control Act of 1968, the federal government placed restrictions on the sale of firearms across state lines and expanded the prohibited persons who were not allowed to purchase or possess firearms. Under the new law, gun purchases became illegal for those who were:

  • Convicted of a non-business-related felony
  • Found to be mentally incompetent
  • Users of illegal substances

To determine this information, those who wished to purchase a firearm from an FFL had to complete a questionnaire of yes/no questions such as “Are you a convicted felon?” and “Are you a fugitive from justice?” Although these questions needed to be answered, they did not require verification from the gun seller.

In 1972, the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) was formed as a way to help control the illegal sales and use of firearms.

In March of 1981, the assassination attempt of President Ronald Reagan led to further gun legislation with the Brady Handgun Violence Prevention Act of 1993, which amended the Gun Control Act of 1968 to now require background checks for the purchase of firearms from a retailer. The Brady Act, as it’s known today, also led to the development of the National Instant Criminal Background Check System (NICS), which launched in 1998, and is the current law on background checks for gun purchases in the U.S.

The National Instant Criminal Background Check System

Background Checks: A Historical Guide to How They Work and How They Don't

The National Instant Criminal Background Check System (NICS) was mandated by the Brady Handgun Violence Prevention Act of 1993, and was launched by the FBI on November 30, 1998. The NICS is used by FFLs to check the eligibility of those who wish to purchase firearms.

Located at the FBI’s Criminal Justice Information Services Division in Clarksburg, West Virginia, the NICS is currently used by 30 states and five districts, as well as the District of Columbia, to check the backgrounds of those who wish to purchase firearms. Those states that opt not to use the NICS have their own point of contact (POC) to complete background checks.

The NICS applies a person’s identifying characteristics, including name and date of birth, to its own index, as well as the National Crime Information Center (NCIC) database and the Interstate Identification Index. These systems compare the intended purchaser’s demographic information against the national databases to see if they match someone deemed a prohibited person. Prohibited persons include those who are or were:

  • Convicted of a crime punishable by imprisonment for a year or more
  • Fugitives from justice
  • A user of or addicted to a controlled substance
  • Adjudicated as a mental defective or been committed to a mental health institution
  • Illegal aliens
  • Aliens admitted to the U.S. under a nonimmigrant visa
  • Discharged from the U.S. Armed Forces under dishonorable conditions
  • Renounced their citizenship to the U.S.
  • Subject to a court order that restrains their interactions with an intimate partner or child
  • Convicted of domestic violence

Since its conception, NICS has completed over 300 million background checks and has issued more than 1.3 million denials. The NICS is available 17 hours a day, seven days a week, except for Christmas Day.

How Do Background Checks Work?

When you visit a gun store and attempt to purchase a firearm, you must complete a Firearm Transaction Record, or ATF Form 4473 – which requires the intended purchaser’s name, address, and birthdate. The form also requires a government-issued photo ID and asks questions regarding the individual’s appearance, including height and weight.

Once the form’s completed, the gun seller can either call the 1-800 number for NICS or use the online system to run the background check. In over 90 percent of the cases, the results are almost immediate, with the system either approving, delaying, or denying the purchase within minutes.

With an approval, the sale can immediately proceed as planned with you purchasing the firearm. If there is a delay, the NICS and FBI investigate the inquiry over the next three days. If the FFL does not hear anything within that time period or if a determination cannot be made, then the retailer can, but does not have to, continue with the firearm transfer. When this occurs, it’s often referred to as a “default proceed” sale.

When a denial is made, which occurs in only about 2 percent of background checks, the retailer is unable to sell or transfer the firearm to the individual in question. You must submit a request to the NICS to receive the reason for your denial, the most common of which is a history of a felony conviction.

If you believe you were given an erroneous denial, you can appeal the decision by completing a Voluntary Appeal File (VAF), which can be done online or by mailing your request to the FBI. Along with the VAF application, you will also need to be fingerprinted to move forward with the appeal process.

When is a Background Check Needed to Purchase a Gun?

Background Checks: A Historical Guide to How They Work and How They Don't

A background check is necessary any time you purchase a gun from a retail provider, which is defined as someone conducting business in the sale of firearms. These sellers must have a Federal Firearms License (FFL) and are legally mandated to complete a background check for every firearm sold to a non-licensed individual.

It doesn’t matter if you purchase the firearm in a brick-and-mortar store, a gun show, online, or through a magazine – if the seller is a retailer provider (i.e. has an FFL), then the background check must occur.

When is a Background Check Not Needed to Purchase a Gun?

Under federal law, any adult can sell a personally owned firearm to another adult in the same state as long as you know, to the best of your ability, that they’re allowed to own a firearm.

Private sellers aren’t required to ask for identification, they don’t have to complete any forms, nor keep any records of the transaction. What’s more, federal law does not mandate a background check to purchase a firearm from a private seller. This includes buying a gun from a relative, a neighbor, or a friend.

Although federal law does not demand a background check for the private sale of firearms, some states do require a background check.

If you inherit or are gifted a firearm, you don’t need a background check.

Do Gun Background Checks Differ By State?

Thirty states, five districts, and D.C. all rely solely on the NICS for gun background checks. The following 13 states use their own full point of contact (POC) data system for gun background checks and do not use the FBI’s system:

  • California
  • Colorado
  • Connecticut
  • Florida
  • Hawaii
  • Illinois
  • Nevada
  • New Jersey
  • Oregan
  • Pennsylvania
  • Tennessee
  • Utah
  • Virginia

Some states, namely Maryland, New Hampshire, Washington, and Wisconsin, use NICS for long guns, but a state program for background checks on handguns. Iowa, Nebraska, and North Carolina use NICS, but have a partial POC for background checks in relation to handgun permits.

Many of these states have added their own provisions to their background checks, on top of what federal law mandates. In most cases, they also include looking at state and local records to determine if the person in question should or should not be allowed to own a firearm.

Some states have implemented universal background checks via an FFL, even during a private gun sale. While Maryland and Pennsylvania require background checks for all handgun transfers, regardless of retail or private sale, the following states require a background check for all firearm transfers:

  • California
  • Colorado
  • Connecticut
  • Delaware
  • District of Columbia
  • Nevada
  • New Jersey
  • New York
  • Oregan
  • Rhode Island
  • Vermont
  • Washington

In addition, some states require permits to purchase firearms. Hawaii, Illinois, and Massachusetts require a permit for all gun purchases, while Iowa, Michigan, Nebraska, and North Carolina require a permit for purchasing a handgun. These permits often require their own background check as well.

It should be noted that although these laws exist in Nebraska, they’re not currently being enforced, but are expected to be by January of 2020.

But Isn’t There a Gun Show Loophole?

Background Checks: A Historical Guide to How They Work and How They Don't

There is no gun show loophole when it comes to background checks for gun purchases. The law clearly states that if you purchase a firearm from a person with an FFL, a background check must occur. If you purchase a gun from a private seller, you don’t need a background check. These same two principles apply whether you’re at a gun show or not.

So if you purchase a firearm from a gun seller with an FFL at a gun show, you will need to complete Form 4473 and have a background check. Under federal law, if you purchase a gun from a private seller at a gun show, you don’t need to have a background check. Your state laws may differ.

Of the average 4,000 gun shows in the U.S. each year, it’s estimated that 50 to 75 percent of vendors have an FFL, and therefore require purchasers of firearms to complete background checks. But that doesn’t mean that 25 to 50 percent of vendors are private sellers of firearms – many of these are vendors that sell gun paraphernalia. Gun shows are filled with vendors who sell everything from t-shirts and ball caps to holsters and concealed carry gear, and it’s these sellers that make up the majority of the remaining non-licensed vendors.

Are there private gun sellers at gun shows? Absolutely. But the idea that criminals are flocking to gun shows to illegally purchase firearms is untrue. In a report by the Bureau of Justice Statistics, only 0.7 percent of convicted criminals purchased their firearms at gun shows.

Have Background Checks Stopped Gun Violence and Crimes?

The research on the effectiveness of background checks to stop gun violence shows conflicting evidence. In an October 2018 published studycompleted by U.S. Davis and Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, in the 10 years following California’s comprehensive background checks, the number of gun homicides and suicides were not impacted. In a similar study published in July of the same year, gun violence did not increase with the repeal of comprehensive background checks.

Yet other studies show that background checks do reduce violence. A 2015 study found that requiring Connecticut handgun owners to go through a background check led to a 40-percent decline in gun homicides and suicides over a 10-year period.

This contradicting research shows that the problem of criminals getting their hands on guns can’t be stopped by mere background checks. According to the Department of Justice Special Report on Firearm Violence, 77 percent of state prisoners associated with firearm crimes received their firearm through:

  • Theft
  • Black market
  • Drug dealer
  • On the street
  • Family or friends

Not one of these criminals would have been affected by background checks, universal or otherwise. After all, most criminals don’t feel obligated to use legal means to obtain their firearms since they’ve either broken laws previously or plan to do so.

Beyond theft and the black market, criminals also use straw purchases, which are illegal, to get their hands on firearms. Straw purchasers are people who can pass a background check and intentionally purchase firearms for criminals. The San Bernardino terrorists used a straw purchaser to get the firearms they used to kill 14 people in the 2015 mass shooting.

Background checks for gun purchases often become a talking point after these types of events, but those who partake in this terroristic activity often don’t have criminal histories that would flag a background check. For instance, the Virginia Tech madman legally purchased a gun at a Virginia-based FFL and passed his background check before using it to shoot fellow students.

And then there’s the fact that sometimes the background check system fails. NICS is not a 100-percent absolute system, and time has shown that gun background checks can only be as reliable as the records they contain. Devin Kelley, the Texas Church madman, was prohibited by law to own or purchase a firearm because of a domestic violence conviction while in the Air Force. Yet Kelley purchased four firearms between 2014 and 2017, completing Form 4473 and being approved each time by NICS.

In this case, the Air Force failed to report the court marshall to the FBI’s National Crime Information Center, which the NICS relies on for information. So, again, the system is only as good as the information it contains.

(It’s also worth pointing out that Kelley’s murderous rampage was stopped by a private citizen, a plumber named Stephen Willeford, who legally owned an AR-15. Kelley was shot in the leg and torso by Willeford, stopping him from murdering more people inside that church before the police could arrive.)

And whereas sometimes the system which gun background checks rely upon is incomplete, in other instances it produces false positives. In other words law-abiding citizens get incorrectly matched by NICS or their respective state-level POC data system with criminals who have similar names. And if that happens to you, then you could be denied your right to own a gun because of a bureaucratic error. Estimates from the Crime Prevention Research Center pointed to 93 percent of initial NICS denials turning out as false positives in 2009 with similar estimates in 2010. (The Obama administration quit reporting these statistics after 2010.) Yes, individuals can appeal this denial and restore their gun rights, but dealing with bureacracy can be an expensive hassle.

The myriad of issues with NICS is why the National Shooting Sports Foundation (NSSF), a trade association representing the firearms industry, launched FixNICS.org in 2013. It is also why the NSSF publishes a yearly ranking of the states based on the number of mental health records they provide relative to their population – to encourage the states to comply with existing federal law, and submit any and all records establishing an individual as a prohibited person to the FBI’s databases. Their goal is to improve the existing system for everyone so that gun background checks are more accurate and complete.

Whether you like them or not, background checks are here to stay for gun owners and gun purchasers – but they are not the saving grace that some make them out to be. Background checks for gun purchases can only do so much and are not the permanent solution to keeping guns out of the hands of criminals and keeping Americans safe from gun violence. More concerning is that they give the state an ever-growing list of private citizens who own guns, and such a list has historically been used for subsequent gun confiscation attempts.

Closing The Loophole on Background Checks – Kind Of.

             Not only did the new House majority pass one gun-control law, they passed two! And while there’s certainly no guarantee that the Senate will take up consideration off either measure, the momentum is clearly building for some kind of legislative response to the continued gun-violence blood-bath that Americans seem to enjoy. These two measures mark the first time that any gun legislation has been voted up by either House of Congress since 1994.

              The first bill, which I wrote about last week, mandated background checks for just about all kinds of gun transfers. The second bill, H. R. 1112, addresses what has been referred to as the Charleston ‘loophole’ in the background check process, because had it been closed prior to 2015, perhaps Dylann Roof might not have been able to buy the gun which he used to kill 9 parishoners in the Charleston Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church.

              The so-called loophole basically allows a gun dealer to complete a sale and transfer the weapon if the FBI doesn’t finalize the background check within three business days. In fact, there are now 18 states which give law-enforcement additional time to complete a background check, but since the NICS system went live, a total of almost 63,000 guns have ended up in the hands of individuals who ultimately failed the check and shouldn’t have gotten their guns.

              What the new law does is extends the review period from 3 to 10 days, and if no response has been received by the latter date, the gun can be released. But, and this is an interesting but which somehow escaped most of the summaries about the bill, in order for the release of the gun to occur, the buyer must notify the FBI that he or she has the right to own a gun and is petitioning that the weapon in question be released. This follow-up by the dealer only occur after 10 days have passed since the initial background check request was made and the transaction put on hold. 

              In other words, if I want to buy a gun and the initial background check provokes a three-day delay, I am not getting that gun until at least 10 days have passed from the date of the first background check and I now may have to wait another 10 days before the dealer gives me my gun. Obviously, the point of the law is to give the FBI more time to investigate the background of someone whose name registers a red flag in one of the databases the FBI utilizes to conduct NICS checks.

             The law also contains the usual blah, blah, blah and blah about how the FBI has to issue an annual report detailing how many petitions they receive for  delayed transfers and the disposition of same. Of course there’s no penalty if the FBI just happens to forget to issue this report which means it may get issued, it may not.

              I recall several instances in my shop when I released a gun after not hearing from the FBI within the three business days following a delayed NICS check and then the FBI notified me that the transfer should not have gone through. I was told to immediately notify the ATF so that they could send an agent out to pick up the gun.

             Know what the ATF did? Nothing. And the reason I know they didn’t do anything was because if the transaction was legally void, the gun should have been returned to me and the customer’s money would have been returned to him. Whenever I hear the ATF or the FBI crowing about how their vaunted background check system keeps the ‘bad guys’ from getting guns, I think about the guns which shouldn’t have left my shop and are still floating somewhere around.

             Think the ATF would ever publish a report on how many guns they have picked up that shouldn’t have been allowed into the street? Don’t hold your breath.

The 2020 Gun Battle Has Already Begun.

              Now that a gun-control bill appears to be rolling through the House, probably to be sidelined by the Senate, the two sides in the gun debate are beginning to sharpen their spears for what they assume will be the real-deal confrontation leading up to the 2020 Presidential campaign. It was kicked off by a broadside in The American Rifleman magazine, the NRA’s flagship publication, which has Nancy and Gabby flanked by a headline that reads: “TARGET PRACTICE – Congressional Democrats Target Gun Owners for Persecution with Extreme Firearms Ban,” obviously referring to the background-check bill (H.R. 8) that was introduced almost immediately after the 116th Congress took its seats.

              If the blue team can’t get enough votes to push this bill forward, they really should go home and declare their new House majority to be as good as dead. But if anyone thinks that the passage of this law is just so much strum und drang without any real significance behind it, just remember that the federal gun law passed in 1968 was first introduced in 1963.  I guarantee you that the guy or gal who ends up running against Trump next year will pledge to make H.R. 8 the next gun law.

              Actually, the American Rifleman blast that has Gun-control Nation so upset is a reminder that America’s first civil rights organization’ isn’t quite ready to throw in the towel. To be sure, the Russian stuff, the insurance mess and a loss of a number of commercial partners (car rentals, hotel discounts, etc.) made 2018 a pretty tough year. But nothing gets Gun-nut Nation angrier and more motivated than the idea that a bunch of tree-hugging, big-government types led by Nancy Pelosi want to take away their guns.  And for all the talk coming out of the liberal noise machine about how H.R. 8 is a ‘bi-partisan’ bill, so far there are 227 Democrats listed as co-sponsors, and a whole, big 5 (read: five) co-sponsors from the GOP. That’s some bi-partisan bill.

              Take a look at the 5 members of the GOP caucus who signed on to H.R. 8.  Four of them – King, Fitzpatrick, Smith and Mast come from districts where being against guns is an asset, not a liability. Peter King, the initial co-sponsor of the bill, is rated ‘F’ by the NRA.  Brian Fitzpatrick, who represents Bucks County, PA earned a ‘B’ rating and you have to work really hard to get less than an ‘A’ rating from the boys in Fairfax. Chris Smith from Joisey, got an ‘F.’  Get it?  By the way, all five of those turncoats signed on to H.R. 8 the very first day that it was introduced, which was January 8th. Nearly half of the Democratic co-sponsors committed to the measure after it had been floating around for at least two weeks. As for the remaining 191 GOP members? Zilch.

              The real reason why the NRA had trouble staying in the driver’s seat in 2017 and 2018 was not because they broke their piggy-bank by giving Trump so much dough in 2016. It was because when the Republicans control both Houses of Congress plus the Oval Office, it’s pretty hard to make the case that gun ‘rights’ are under assault. In a funny kind of way, the resurgence of the blue team last November is exactly what the gun-rights gang needed to get its mojo working again.

               By the same token, my friends in Gun-control Nation need to stop kidding themselves about the degree to which gun laws could ever be sold to gun owners as just a ‘reasonable’ response to the fact that, on average, eight different people somewhere in the United States pick up a gun every hour and shoot someone else.

              By any stretch of the imagination, this kind of behavior isn’t ‘reasonable,’ and sugar-coating it by calling for a ‘reasonable’ response will get you a bunch of blue votes, but won’t move the needle in places where lots of people own lots of guns. And in 2020, those votes will count too.

Coming This Week:

Gun Buybacks Work.

              Earlier this week the North Dakota House of Representatives passed a bill, HB1381, which earns those legislators this year’s award for the single, dumbest piece of legislation enacted anywhere in the United States. The bill not only outlaws taxpayer dollars from being used to fund gun buybacks, but also makes it a misdemeanor for any police agency to support a buyback.

              The supporters of the bill cited a study by Professor Scott Phillips, a former Houston cop who now teaches criminology at SUNY-Buffalo.  He published a paper in 2013 which basically said that gun buybacks don’t work. Why don’t they work?  Because in the city of Buffalo, where gun buybacks collected more than 3,000 guns in buybacks held between 2007 and 2012, rates of gun homicides, gun assaults and gun robberies showed no impact on reducing these crimes.

              Phillips concludes, “Gun buy-back programmes appear to satisfy a local administrator’s need for instant solutions to a problem, despite a lack of evidence demonstrating effectiveness as a violence reduction strategy. If we are to have a meaningful impact on crime,” he adds, “we must enact policies that are based on empirical evidence and not emotion.” Obviously, the North Dakota legislators voted with their heads, not their hearts, right?

              Wrong. Totally and completely wrong. So wrong that anyone who thinks that the value of a buyback can be reduced to a regression analysis comparing number of guns collected to number of gun crimes committed knows nothing either about guns or crimes committed with guns, or both.

              Take a city like Buffalo, where I once spent a lovely afternoon in Ralph Wilson Stadium (now called New Era Stadium) watching Bruce Smith totally demolish the Miami Dolphins offensive line. Last year, Erie County, a.k.a. Buffalo, had the highest gun homicide rate of any county in New York State. Know why there were so many shootings in Erie County? Nobody knows why, okay?  We can assume that one of the reasons for so much gun violence is that there are so many illegal guns floating around. How many illegal guns are floating around in Buffalo?  We have absolutely no idea. Not only don’t we know how many guns are floating around in the ‘wrong hands’ in Buffalo, we don’t know how many guns that might be used to commit a felonious assault are floating around anywhere else.

              If I wanted to do a study, for example, on the outcome of a smoking cessation campaign, I would simply compare the number of people smoking before the campaign started and after the campaign came to an end. But somehow this basic approach for designing a study on the effectiveness of gun buybacks disappears. The first measure of a gun buyback’s impact should be the degree to which the buyback reduced the number of guns. Without that measurement, comparing the numbers of guns taken off the street to the number of guns being used in the street is nothing more than an exercise in self-fulfilling statistical prophecy, or better said, self-fulfilling sophistry.

              I have been involved with a gun buyback program which is now in its 18th year. The program started in Worcester, MA and has now spread to 5 states. We conduct these buybacks in conjunction with Level 1 trauma centers in each state, the buyback sites staffed by medical students and physicians talking  directly to community residents who show up to get rid of their guns.

              What comes out of these interactions is the fact that the buyback gives people, without any threat of government intervention, the ability to decide for themselves whether a gun in their home represents a risk. Until and unless our culture begins to embrace the idea that guns constitute an unnecessary threat to safety, well-being and health, you can pass what Professor Phillips calls laws based on ‘empirical evidence’ and things won’t change worth a damn.

              To quote LaNyia Johnson, a young man who will spend his entire life in a wheelchair thanks to taking a bullet in the spine: “I wish you could have collected one more gun.”

Don’t Think For One Second That Trump And The Gun Nuts Can’t Win Again.

              My friends in Gun-control Nation certainly should be patting themselves on the back for their efforts that helped flip the House from red to blue in 2018. But before everyone decides that the 2020 election will see the end of Trump-world and a good chance to get a gun bill turned into law, we need to step back and ask ourselves whether gun violence is quite the wedge issue that some of the media thinks it might be.

              Trump’s election in 2016 was basically the result of flipping five states – MI, WI, OH, PA, FL – which together counted for 93 electoral votes; recall that his EV total was 304 to Hillary’s 227, which was 34 more than he needed to win. Now hold that thought.

              In 2018, the Democrats flipped 40 seats but only 8 of those red to blue seats were located in the 5 swing states. Overall, the GOP caucus will seat 48 members from those 5 states, the Democratic caucus will only seat 36.  And in not one of those states do the Democrats have a majority of House members now sitting in D.C. 

              Want some more unsettling news? The week after Trump was inaugurated, he was up or tied in terms of likability in 38 states. As of the beginning of February, 2019 he was even or ahead in only 17 states. But 3 of the states where he is still either 50-50 with or without the margin of error are OH, PA and FL, which together count for 67 electoral votes, which gets him over the top again.

              Now here’s the question: What do the states of OH, PA and FL have in common?  Answer: They are what we call ‘gun-rich’ states.  Now they aren’t as rich as states like Montana and North Dakota, but Montana and North Dakota don’t have any people, so their electoral votes don’t count for squat. But if Obama learned anything from the 2008 primary campaign, it was that if you said anything snarky about guns in a state like PA, you could doom your candidacy before you got out of the starting blocks.

              How many gun owners live in FL, Oh and PA? Nobody knows for sure, but I can tell you that when I managed a national gun wholesale business, we shipped plenty of guns to those three states. All three states issue concealed-carry on demand, and both FL and OH have enacted stand your ground laws which are to Gun-nut Nation what Friskies are to my cats.

              Until and unless someone comes up with better numbers, or Trump does something so stupid that even his die-hard supporters begin to fade away, the fact that he still commands a big chunk of followers in those three, crucial states, should give my Gun-control Nation friends some pause. Because if you want to run a political campaign wrapped around the gun issue, it’s a no-brainer in blue states like California, New Jersey or New York. But those states wouldn’t go for Trump even if he donated a million dollars of his own money to the ACLU. Will a slogan like ‘reasonable’ gun laws necessarily work in PA?  It sure hasn’t worked so far.

              I am still not convinced that the gun-control movement has developed effective messaging to convince gun owners that there’s any necessary connection between 125,000+ fatal and non-fatal gun injuries each year and the ‘right’ of any law-abiding American to own a gun. Because when all is said and done, our friends in Fairfax (a.k.a the NRA) have done a remarkable job promoting the idea that no law-abiding gun owner is in any way responsible for what the tree-huggers refer to as gun ‘violence,’ so why do we need any more gun laws?

              This happens to be a powerful message, it resonates very well with folks in Fl, OH and PA whose votes could keep Trump in the White House for five more years. My friends in Gun-control Nation still need to figure this one out.

Ban Assault Weapons in Florida Rocks!!

              I usually don’t get energetically involved in advocacy efforts of any kind, but there’s an effort just announced in Florida that deserves my support and your support as well.  I am referring to a group calling themselves Ban Assault Weapons NOW, which announced a petition drive to get an initiative on the 2020 Florida ballot that would amend the state Constitution and ultimately make Florida assault weapon rein.

              The effort has sparked the usual media coverage, some of which is inaccurate, some of which is simply dead wrong. So before I talk about whether getting rid of assault weapons will make a difference, let me just clarify what the proposed amendment would and wouldn’t do.  It doesn’t ban the ownership of assault weapons already in the Gunshine State. It does prohibit the sale or transfer of assault rifles into the state. And while Gun-nut Nation will no doubt do whatever it can do to prevent the initiative from getting on the ballot and/or becoming law, early polls indicate that, in fact, such a measure when put directly to the voters, might actually pass.

              The problem with this effort is, first of all, that collecting the required 766,000 signatures (the group has collected just short of 90,000) requires lots of cash, perhaps $5 million or more. That’s serious money, even considering that the group has access to some deep pockets, including Al Hoffman and several other real-estate biggies who announced their own gun-control effort last year.

              The other problem facing our friends pushing this Florida effort is the degree to which the whole issue of assault rifles has become something surrounded by more falsehoods than facts. Here’s a couple of the so-called facts about assault rifles which are nothing more than whole cloth:

  • The AR-15 isn’t an assault rifle because an assault rifle is a full-automatic weapon and the AR-15 only fired in semi-automatic mode. In fact, the current battle weapon carried by U.S. troops, the M4, can be set to fire in semi-automatic mode.
  • An assault rifle is no different from any other semi-automatic rifle, a design which hunters have been using for nearly a century in guns manufactured by Remington, Winchester, Browning, et. al. In fact, an assault rifle loads from a magazine inserted underneath the gun, which allows for magazine that hold upwards of 30-40 rounds. Traditional, semi-auto hunting rifles load from above the gun, which means their effective capacity is limited to 5 or 6 rounds.
  • The number of people killed and wounded by assault rifles each year adds a statistically-insignificant number to the 125,000+ Americans who shoot themselves or others with guns. Why prohibit law-abiding folks from owning a gun which has little or any responsibility for gun injuries that occur every year?

This last bubbe-mynsa deserves a paragraph all its own.The issue of assault weapons should never be considered in numeric terms – it goes far beyond that. After the massacre at Sandy Hook, the school building had to be torn down because its presence generated such terrible feelings of loss and anger for all town residents who drove or walked by. I understand that similar feelings exist amongst residents of Parkland and surrounding towns.

The point is that all gun violence creates both physical and psychic damage, but the latter injuries often go far beyond the families of gun-violence victims themselves. Newtown will never recover its sense of well-being and security following the terrible events at Sandy Hook. And the courts have long affirmed the notion that government has a ‘compelling interest’ in community safety precisely because we all want the place we live to be safe.

What the Florida initiative fundamentally represents is a community-wide effort to confront the gun industry over the lethality of its products, as well as to take issue with the nonsense promoted by Gun-nut Nation that we can all be secure and safe by just walking around with a gun.

I sent Ban Assault Weapons NOW a donation yesterday, they get another one today. And everyone who reads this column should chip in as well.  Here’s the link.

The N.Y. Times Thinks It’s Been A Tough Year For The NRA. I’m Not So Sure.

              “Politically, financially and legally, the gun-rights cause and, more specifically, the lobbying juggernaut that is the National Rifle Association have not fared well in the Trump era.”

              Thus speaketh this morning’s New York Times, and if The Times says it, then it must be true. Except, it happens not to be true. Or it’s certainly not as true as The New York Times Editorial Board would like you to believe.

              And the reason it happens not to be true is because the gun-control community, of which The New York Times considers itself to be a leading media voice, knows as much about the gun industry as I know about the structure of the atom. And I didn’t take physics or nuclear physics in college, so I don’t know anything about the structure of the atom, okay?

              The reason I can’t get on board with the judgement of the gun industry’s impending doom is because the gun-control community invariably defines the ‘power’ and ‘influence’ of the ‘gun lobby’ as based on the activities of America’s ‘first civil rights organization,’ a.k.a., the NRA.  And anyone who believes that the health and welfare of the gun ‘lobby’ should be measured simply by the bottom line of the NRA’s balance sheet, doesn’t know anything about the gun lobby or anything else connected to guns.

              The NYT editorial board cites as its proof that the NRA is on the ropes the fact that, for the first time, election spending by gun-control groups (read: Bloomberg) was higher than the dough spent by the pro-gun gang. But before our friends in Gun-control Nation jump for joy over this unique turn of events, the reportage by our friends at The Gray Lady needs to be nuanced a bit.

              To begin, even when the NRA was priming the electoral pump by giving pro-gun candidates as much campaign money as they could, the average federal office-holder, at best, could only count on the boys from Fairfax to provide 6% of what the candidate had to spend. So for all the talk about the financial ‘power’ of the NRA, after a candidate picked up the check from Wayne-o or Chris Cox, he still had to raise almost all the dough necessary to fund his campaign. What does an average House campaign cost today? Try around $1.5 million or more. How much money did the average pro-gun House member receive in each of the last two Congressional campaigns?  Try less than $5,000 bucks.

              Where the financial imbalance between the NRA and its competitors really shows up, however, is in the amount spent on lobbying activities once a candidate takes his or her Congressional seat. Except the imbalance is so much in favor of the NRA that the notion that Gun-control Nation is beginning to pull abreast of Gun-nut Nation in the halls of Congress is a joke.

              During the 115th Congress, 2017 – 2018, Bloomberg’s Everytown PAC spent just short of $2.5 million on lobbying activities.  In those same two years, the NRA spent more than $9.5 million bucks. In the 8 previous years when Obama was in office, the highest yearly lobbying amount spent by the NRA was $3.5 million. And The New York Times is telling us that the fortunes of Gun-nut Nation have suffered under Trump?

              Finally, when we look at FBI-NICS background checks on gun transfers to gauge how gun sales stack up, the news isn’t all that bad. Handgun-long gun transfers for December, 2007 were 925,000, for December, 2016 they were 1,700,00, for December, 2017 they were just under a million and a half. That’s a month-to-month drop of slightly more than 10% from the last year of Obama to the first year of Trump, but it’s still nearly a 40% increase over the final month’s figure for another pro-gun President named George Bush.

              I’m not saying that it’s been smooth sailing for my friends in Fairfax this past year. But if anyone is thinking that the Gun-nut patient is on its way to life-support, think again.

I’m Not So Sure The Court Will Expand 2nd-Amendment ‘Rights.’

              Why do I get the feeling that some of my gun violence prevention (GVP) advocacy friends can’t wait for the Supreme Court to expand 2nd-Amendment ‘rights’ beyond the boundaries set by the Heller decision in 2008? You may recall that Scalia’s opinion in that case ratified the idea that Americans who wanted to keep a handgun in their home would now be exercising a Constitutional ‘right.’ Period. Did this decision create Constitutional protection for walking around the neighborhood with a concealed gun? No. Did it create Constitutional protection for walking around the neighborhood with an openly-carried gun? No. Did it prevent localities from making all kinds of rules and regulations that had to be met before you could keep a handgun in your home? No. The decision simply said that as long as sooner or later you could be given permission to keep a handgun in your home, you were not being deprived of your 2nd-Amendment ‘right’ to ‘keep and bear arms.’

              The case which has the GVP advocacy folks worked up into a tizzy doesn’t actually question the constitutionality of New York City’s onerous gun-licensing process at all; a process known as the Sullivan Law which has been in effect since 1912 and is, simply put, the most restrictive licensing system ever devised anywhere on the planet. The case in question deals only with a regulation which is not, in fact, part of the licensing process itself, but only comes into effect after a gun owner spends a lot of money and a lot of time getting licensed to own a gun. The regulation in question forbids any resident of New York City to carry his licensed gun outside the five counties which comprise the city’s geographic limits. If, for example, you want to take your licensed gun to any location outie the city, the moment you drive from da city into Joisey or Rockland or some other place, you’re violating the NYC licensing law.

              The case in question basically argues that by requiring a city resident to keep his licensed gun within the city limits is to deprive that resident of his 2nd-Amendment ‘right’ to keep a gun in his home if he happens to have another home. And what is now going on within the GVP world is the great fear that if this regulation is struck down, it opens the way for all those crazy gun owners to go anywhere and everywhere they want with their guns.

              Which happens not to be true. What?  Hey Mike, are you saying that maybe, just maybe the GVP noise machine is making a big deal out of something that may turn out to mean little, if anything at all? That’s exactly what I am saying, and here’s the reason why.

              Let’s say I have an apartment in Manhattan and a house out at the beach, maybe in one of the Hampton high-crime towns like Southampton or Quogue. The moment I drive my car out of the city and cross the border between Queens and Nassau Counties, I’m actually not just violating one law, I’m, violating two. Because I can’t have a gun in my beach house without getting a gun license from the Suffolk County where the beach house is located, unless the address of my other home is in a jurisdiction which has no gun licensing at all.

              Could the Court rule that no jurisdiction has the authority to determine whether guns represent a threat to public safety and therefore strike down every gun-licensing law in every state? They can rule whatever they want to rule, but on this one I wouldn’t take the short odds. The whole point of the Heller decision was to protect private ownership of handguns but also to protect the government’s authority to uphold the ‘compelling interest’ of keeping communities safe. And even a court with a nut-job like Clarence Thomas wouldn’t uphold the notion that when it comes to public safety, armed citizens should be our first line of defense.

We Don’t Need No Stinkin’ 2nd Amendment.

              Now that H.R. 8 has been filed, I am beginning to see the outlines of the campaign narrative that Gun-nut Nation will employ in an effort to beat back any attempt to implement universal background checks, a.k.a. UBC.  Judging from the emails that have come flying in plus comments on various pro-gun blogs and forums, the anti-UBC strategy will embrace two, basic ideas:

              (1). Giving the government the power to control what I do with my private property is a violation of the 5th and 14th Amendments, which protect private property against unlawful seizure.

              (2). Making every gun transfer subject to a background check will create a national gun registry which will lead to confiscation and is a violation of the 2nd Amendment.

              As to the first argument, that people should be able to do whatever they want to do with their private property, I only wish that this had been true when I sold my house in South Carolina but first had to shell out four thousand bucks to Harold and Willy. Who were Harold and Willy? They were two guys who showed up after the house was inspected and informed me that the house couldn’t be sold until they went around and killed all the termites in the walls and the floors. In other words, we have long accepted the idea that you can’t just sell your private property to someone else if in so doing, the sale creates a risk. And even the nuttiest of all gun nuts agrees that selling a gun to someone who has committed violent crimes creates a risk. That was the easy one. Now here comes the hard one.

              Incidentally, I’m hoping that my friends in the gun-control movement will use what follows to prepare themselves for the arguments they might get from the other side. I still have a survey on my website which asks gun-control advocates 12 simple questions about gun laws (there is the same survey for people who considers themselves pro-gun advocates) and to date, I have received 87 responses and the average score of correct answers is 6. So I hope you’ll read what follows here.

              The 2nd Amendment means what the SCOTUS said it meant in the 2008 Heller decision, the majority opinion written by a dear, departed friend. And what it means is that keeping a handgun in the home is a Constitutional ‘right.’ Which means that a state government can pass any gun law it wants, as long as it does not prevent someone from owning a handgun, assuming they are not considered a risk to themselves or to anyone else. Who determines whether someone’s ownership of a handgun might create a risk?  The government. Who determines whether the existence of a particular type of handgun might create a risk?  The government. And that’s it. That’s what the 2nd Amendment means.

So, for example, if you live in New York City and a handgun is found in your home and you cannot produce the requisite paperwork which takes the NYPD Licensing Division about six months to issue on your behalf, you will be convicted of a felony because New York City decided back in 1912 that you can’t keep a handgun in your home for self-defense, or any other reason, until the NYPD says it’s okay. If you go into Court the day of your sentencing and tell the judge that New York City is abridging your 2nd-Amendment ‘rights’ because you would have to wait six months to get a permit, I strongly urge you to bring your toothbrush because you ain’t going home.

Between 1966, when I bought my first gun, and 2008 when Heller was decreed, I probably bought and sold at least 500 personally-owned guns. Not one of those transactions had any Constitutional protection at all. So what? My friends in the gun-control movement should stop worrying about whether something as timid and non-intrusive as UBC is a violation of any kind of rights, Constitutional or otherwise. It’s not, and you can take that one to the bank.