If I had to quickly name the two most beloved
regulatory strategies being promoted by Gun-control Nation, it would be: 1)
expanding FBI-NICS background checks to secondary sales; and 2) ‘red
flag’ laws. Well, maybe safe-storage laws are also up there near the top of the
list, as well as permit-to-purchase (PTP) laws.
Taken together, the current narrative is that if you lived in a state
where all these laws were on the books, you would be living in a state which
would not suffer from gun violence.
I happen to live in a state – Massachusetts – whose
gun-regulatory environment contains all those laws. And the Bay State has another
gun-safety law, shared only with California, namely, that no new gun can be
sold in the state unless it is certified as having a child-proof safety design.
Oh yes, I forgot. You can’t even purchase ammunition in Massachusetts unless
you possess a valid gun license issued by the State Police.
Thanks to all these laws, Massachusetts is currently
ranked by Giffords and Brady as the ‘safest’ state. It also has one of the lowest rates of gun
violence of all 50 states, according to the CDC. Because
of its comprehensive gun laws, Massachusetts is so protected from gun violence
that even a state resident like David Hemenway, a foremost authority on gun violence, admits to feeling
The safe storage law deserves special mention because
Massachusetts is the only state in which you can be charged with a
felony if any gun in your home is not either locked away or equipped with a
‘tamper-proof’ device, whether an injury with that gun occurs or not. If the
cops come into your home and Grandpa’s old shotgun is sitting over the
mantlepiece without a trigger lock, you could spend some time at Concord, and I
don’t mean Concord as in Paul Revere’s ride. Concord is the state pen.
The gun laws in Massachusetts are so strict that not
only can’t you own a gun without first taking a safety course, you then have to
be interviewed by the police who have discretion as to whether or not to grant
you a gun license even if your background check comes up clean. You can’t even
walk into a gun shop and put your hands on a gun without first showing your gun
license to the dealer before he hands you a gun.
There’s only one little problem with all these laws
which make Massachusetts so safe. The problem is that, in terms of gun
violence, Massachusetts was just as safe before all those laws were passed and
went into effect. With the exception of the ‘red flag’ law, which Governor
Baker signed this year, all the other gun regulations – secondary background
checks, childproof design, PTP, ammunition purchase requirements, safe
storage, have been on the books since 1999.
Of course the fact that Massachusetts is such a ‘safe’
state doesn’t necessarily mean anything to someone who lives, for example, in
the city of Springfield, which is where I happen to live. Last year,
Springfield recorded 14 gun homicides, giving the city a
gun-violence rate of 11, almost three times the national rate and five times
the overall state rate. My office is located four blocks away from the
intersection of Stebbins and Union Streets. This year, two men have been shot
within 50 feet of the corner. Isn’t it wonderful that all the state’s gun laws
make David Hemenway, who lives in a fancy suburb of Boston, feel so ‘safe?’
I don’t know why Massachusetts, with all its gun laws,
has so little gun violence and neither does anyone else. I also don’t know why
some neighborhoods in this ‘safe’ state suffer from extraordinarily-high levels
of gun violence, and neither does anyone else.
But I do know this: every one of those shootings involved
the use of a gun. And there’s no law in Massachusetts or anywhere else which
does anything to get rid of guns.
The first time I got involved in advocacy was 1958. I
was a 14-year old big shot. I got on a bus with a bunch of other kids and some
adults, Blacks and Whites, and we ‘sat in’ at a lunch counter in a diner on
Route 1 in Towson, MD. That’s right – in those days you could take a ‘freedom
ride’ to Maryland.
Then civil rights morphed into the anti-war movement.
And because I went to graduate school in Chicago, I was at the meeting in
Lincoln Park with Abby, Jerry, Dave Dellinger, John Froines and Tom Hayden,
along with a bunch of undercover cops posing as anti-war protestors, when we
planned the demonstrations outside the Democratic Convention in 1968.
In the 70’s, I was back in New York
and stayed active by going to various meetings where speakers like Bella Abzug
and Gloria Steinem gave stirring speeches about why women had the right to
choose, as well as the right to get paid as much as men for doing the same
The advocacy for gender equality then took a slight
turn in the 1980’s when folks, including me, began marching for the right to
follow one’s own sexual orientation. My greatest Harley experience wasn’t going
out to Sturges, it was driving my Low Ryder from Greenwich Village to Times
Square alongside the New York City Lesbian Harley Club during the Halloween
All of these advocacy movements shared one thing in
common: you didn’t have to be a rocket scientist to figure out that dropping
napalm on a peasant village, or depriving people of the right to vote, or
telling a woman that someone other than her would decide whether she should
give birth, or making a gay man or woman hide their most precious and personal
feelings was – wrong! It was as simple as that. It was wrong. Period. No
questions asked. Wrong. Okay? Wrong.
But this is where the gun-control advocacy movement, of
all the advocacy that I have experienced over the last sixty years is
different. What makes it different is that the moral issue of ‘right’ versus
‘wrong’ is simply not so clear. What creates a muddle in this respect is the
fact that gun violence occurs because people own guns. And most folks who have
access to a gun aren’t breaking any laws. In fact, au contraire, they
believe that not only do they have a legal ‘right’ to own a gun, but this right
is both enshrined in the Constitution and acknowledged to be correct by the
same liberal legal scholars
who have supported civil, gender and gay rights.
So how does someone advocate against guns (and please,
spare me the nonsense about how you ‘support’ the 2nd Amendment)
that can stand up against such a potent argument from the other side? What you have to do, it seems to me, is take
the trouble to learn about guns – how they are sold, why they are sold, what
laws exist which regulate guns, which laws need to be improved, you get the
drill. The point is that if you get into a discussion with a pro-gun person and
you don’t know these facts, you end up in an emotional exchange which goes
nowhere very fast.
Every person concerned about gun violence should sign
up for the online study exercise
created by our friends at the Hopkins-Bloomberg school. In fact, Giffords,
Everytown, Brady and all the other gun-control groups should insist that
their members spend a few hours drilling through the curriculum, taking the
self-help tests and sending feedback to the faculty who worked overtime to
create this course. Oh, you don’t ‘have time’ to do this self-paced exercise
and God forbid replace some of your own feelings with the facts? Give me a
And while you’re at it, let’s not forget to watch
this video and send
the group in Florida a few bucks. If you have time to read my column, you
can’t be that pressed for time or cash.
Our friend Tom Gabor has just published a book, Enough – Solving America’s Gun Violence Crisis, which is both a review of what we know and don’t know about gun violence, as well as a personal manifesto about what needs to be done. In that respect, this book reflects a new, much more confident mood in Gun-control Nation, given how the political landscape has recently changed. After all, it’s less than two decades since the Democratic Party turned its back on gun violence after Al Gore’s loss at the polls, and now you can’t announce for President without making it clear you’ll do something about gun violence if you win the big kahuna next year.
Gabor’s book is a quick and easy read – he writes clearly and doesn’t overburden the reader with mounds of extraneous text. He also keeps his focus directly on policies and programs which, taken together, represent the agenda of Gun-control Nation, and is honest and objective in terms of evaluating what has worked and what hasn’t worked to reduce gun violence over the past years.
Finally, although Gabor has a long and distinguished
career as an academic, this book is not a dry, academic text. He refers to
gun-control activists as ‘peace warriors,’ a particularly arresting phrase,
insofar as it links the notion of non-violence together with a militaristic
campaign to protect America from its nearly 400-million arsenal of
In what directions should this campaign now move? The
author covers all of the major gun-control initiatives and policies, including
licensing gun owners, concealed-carry and stand your ground, safe storage,
abolishing PLCCA and other industry protections, banning assault weapons and ‘smart’
guns and red flag laws. For each category he covers experiences and results to
date, the intention being to create a ‘roadmap’ of policies and initiatives
which can then be followed by gun-control advocates seeking guidance in
developing strategies and plans.
The book concludes with an interesting and unique twist,
namely, what Gabor calls a ‘Declaration of Rights’ which could serve as a
clarion-call for groups and individuals who want to reduce violence from guns.
Basically, the document lists a series of ‘rights’ that everyone should be able
to enjoy, flowing from the implementation of effective policies to restrict the
use and ownership of guns. These ‘rights’ would include feeling safe, movement
in gun-free zones, reliance only on law enforcement for public safety; in other
words, a nice counterpoint to the policies which promote gun ‘rights.’ I’m not
sure where Gabor is going, organizationally, with this Bill of Rights, but if
he puts up a website asking everyone to subscribe to this document, I’ll sign
Of course I never review any book without finding
something critical to say, so here goes.
The challenge which this book does not confront is that you can talk all
you want about how and why we need more effective gun-control policies, but the
problem is how to get from here to there. The devil’s always in the details, so
that a certain gun law or regulation has been effective within a specific
jurisdiction or state, doesn’t necessarily mean that it will be effective if
extended to all fifty states. The strength of our Federalist system is that it
reflects the enormous physical and cultural diversity of this country, and it
is simply impossible to assume that out of the experience of one state or
locality, we could craft gun-control laws where one size fits all. This is
precisely why Gabor’s comparison of America’s gun laws to gun regulations in
other countries (e.g., his native Canada) doesn’t work.
being said, this book delivers enough information (with footnoted references)
that it deserves to be purchased and read. If the 2020 election pushes new gun-control
legislation to the fore, Tom Gabor’s book will hopefully help shape the
friends at the Hopkins-Bloomberg school have produced and published what I
believe is the first attempt to create a comprehensive curriculum on gun violence. This is a very impressive online effort and
should be viewed, used and studied by everyone who would like to see gun
violence come to an end. In fact, if I were running a group which advocates gun
control, I would insist that every member of the group register and go through
the course. For that matter, I would post the course on my Facebook page and
suggest that other FB admins do it too.
In fact, I’m posting and pinning the course on my FB page
news is that the entire curriculum is video-delivered by members of the Hopkins
faculty, all of whom know how to stand up in front of a classroom and deliver lectures
in a clear and organized way. The better news is that the website is
user-friendly and the lessons can be easily accessed even by users with only a
slight degree of digital skills. Finally, the lessons are all on video, but you
can also refer to text, and there are reading lists attached for further study,
as well as a review quiz at the end of each lesson.
take the program seriously, watch every lecture, read the relevant assignments,
do all quiz exercises and give feedback, you are looking at more than 11 hours
of study time. In other words, this is
serious stuff and the entire effort is obviously meant to be taken seriously. Incidentally,
along with four members of the Hopkins faculty, there are lessons provided by
outside experts, including our friends Jeff Swanson and Adam Winkler, and of
course the website includes forums so that every student also gets a chance to
shoot his or her mouth off. God forbid there would actually be a website out
there which doesn’t afford everyone the opportunity to make some noise, right?
If my last
sentence reads in a somewhat sarcastic vein, it’s not by accident. One of the
reasons I like this effort is because it is advertised up front as being based
on ‘evidence;’ i.e., the content is tied to relevant research in the field. Now
that doesn’t mean that all the research is totally correct or that more research
needs to be done. But the whole point here, it seems to me, is to inject
fact-based knowledge into the gun debate, rather than just creating another
digital forum for opinions, a.k.a. hot air. The gun-control movement has come
into its own since Sandy Hook; if anything, when it comes to the argument about
the role of guns in American society, for the first time gun control appears to
have trumped gun ‘rights.’ All the more reason why the discussion needs to
proceed on evidence drawn from serious research, not opinions out of thin
about evidence, I have only one suggestion to make to the faculty that created
this course, and it’s a suggestion which obviously flows from my own background
when it comes to the issue of guns. If it were possible to revise the
curriculum at some point, I would ask the faculty to consider adding a section
which explains the meaning of the word ‘gun.’ After all, if we want to learn
about a certain kind of violence which is defined by the use of a certain
object which we call a ‘gun,’ shouldn’t we make sure that all our learners know
how to define that object in terms of how it’s designed, how it’s manufactured,
how it works and doesn’t work?. I see too many instances on various gun-control
forums, FB pages, and questions directly asked of me which indicate a knowledge
deficit on both sides of the gun debate about
the product which causes the violence itself.
That’s a minor quibble. I hope the Hopkins faculty will take seriously the work they have done and promote its access every chance they get. And when you finish reading this text, go to the website and sign up for the course.
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.
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.
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
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
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?
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:
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:
District of Columbia
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?
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:
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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.”
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
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
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.