The Gun Show Loophole Is Much Wider Than What Happens At Shows.

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Once again the argument has erupted within Gun World as to whether or not a gun show ‘loophole’ actually exists.  The NRA, in trying to discredit an ISIS video which tells their followers in America to buy a gun at a show without undergoing a background check, is saying that the so-called ‘loophole’ is a figment of the overactive gun-grabbing imagination.  The GVP is saying that anyone can transact a private gun exchange at a show, and such transfers aren’t covered by any legal requirements at all.  So who’s right and who’s wrong?

gun-sales             The real problem in understanding whether or not the ‘loophole’ exists is the way in which one particular word – dealer – is thrown around whenever we talk about guns. I see this word being misused again and again on both sides of the debate, and it’s the reason why the gun show ‘loophole’ continues to be explained in ways that often don’t make any sense.

Being a gun dealer doesn’t mean that you get up one morning, throw some old piece of junk into the car, and drive down to the local McDonald’s to meet some guy who says he’s going to give you fifty bucks for the gun.  How did you make contact with the guy?  You put an ad in your weekly shopper, or you stuck a notice on a bulletin board at the laundromat, or maybe you mentioned it to the guy sitting next to you at the local VFW club.

The fact that you sell a personally-owned gun to someone else doesn’t make you a ‘dealer’ in guns.  In order to be a gun dealer, according to the ATF, means you have to be “a person who devotes time, attention, and labor to dealing in firearms as a regular course of trade or business with the principal objective of livelihood and profit through the repetitive purchase and resale of firearms.”  Last year Obama considered issuing an Executive Order which would have imposed a minimum number of guns sold as an additional  criteria for being in the ‘business’ of dealing in guns, but the consideration was as far as he got.

Now the fact is that very few states require a background check prior to transferring any and all guns whether you are a dealer or not. In fact, only eight states have what we call ‘universal’ background checks, although ten other states impose background checks on certain types of transactions, both in terms of the type of gun and where the transaction takes place. If a gun show promoter were to impose a requirement that only licensed dealers could display and sell guns at his shows, he’d better have another gig lined up because he won’t be running more gun shows any time soon.

Back in the 1980’s before guns became such a big, friggin’ deal, myself and a bunch of New York City gun-nut cops used to go to a gun show in Newburgh, N.Y.  The reason we went to that show was because there was always some interesting stuff lying around, and it was understood that you could buy anything ‘on shield;’ i.e., show a badge and that was that.  If you go to a gun show today in New York State, every single transaction requires you to fill out a 4473 background-check form, but who’s to say that you can’t walk outside to the parking lot or drive a block away?

The reason there’s a gun show loophole is that it’s a lot easier to walk past 50 tables and look at hundreds of guns rather than scanning the local shopper where you might see one gun ad or two. It’s not so much that gun shows encourage breaking the law, it’s that there are lots of guns that can be sold without NICS checks sitting in the same place. Which doesn’t mean there’s a gun show loophole because in this country just about anyone can buy a gun any time they want.

What Matters Is Not What He Says, It’s That Obama Says Something About Guns.

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The big news this week is the looming possibility that the Bomber will make good on his promise (or threat, depending on how you look at it) to issue an Executive Order on gun control, and already the Gun Nation is gearing up for the fight.  Trump has announced he will “veto” these orders (someone might want to give Trump the Shlump a quick lesson on Constitutional law), Christie has jumped on the Obama the Dictator bandwagon, and never to be outdone by any candidate’s attempt at gross stupidity, Rand Paul is drawing up legislation to block the President from issuing any Executive Orders about guns.

 

Best gun salesman ever!

I don’t know exactly what the President is planning to do, but he appears to be getting ready to say something on this issue during his State of the Union speech next week.  The President talked about gun regulations during his 2013 State of the Union speech, but these remarks were delivered less than two months after Sandy Hook.  There was no mention of gun control in his 2014 remarks, nor last year.  Now the issue if gun violence is back on the front burner, and it appears that he will try to do something about extending background checks by coming up with a more precise definition of what it means to be a dealer in guns.

As regards the current definition, I’m quoting from the relevant Federal code: “any person engaged in the business of selling firearms at wholesale or retail,” which is about as precise as the Man in the Moon.  The problem here is not figuring out what constitutes a firearm, but what the phrase “in the business” really means.  Part of the problem is the fact that guns, unlike most consumer items, don’t for the most part wear out, so acquiring and then re-selling them is part and parcel of what most gun enthusiasts like to do.  And despite the fact that private, non-NICS gun transactions are considered anathema by the GVP crowd, selling a gun to or through a dealer instead of directly to another individual means that the seller gives up a chunk of dough either because the dealer wants to make a profit in the re-sale or the buyer will have to pay the dealer to conduct the NICS background check.

The real problem is that the average gun owner, and most gun owners are, in fact, very law abiding (otherwise they really can’t own guns) and doesn’t believe there’s any connection between the way he transfers a gun and the gun violence that kills and injures more than 100,000 Americans every year.  I happen to live outside of Springfield, MA, whose gun homicide rate last year was somewhere around 15 per 100,000, about five times the national rate.  Less than two miles from the neighborhood where half these murders occurred is a fairground where a big gun show is held four times a year. If you walked up to anyone at this show and told him that the private sale he had just completed might result in another gun murder across town, he’d stare at you in disbelief.

I don’t think that folks who support the extension of background checks need to justify this policy by trying to prove that reducing private gun transfers will, ipso facto, bring the rate of gun violence down.  I also don’t think they need to fall back on the judgement of legal scholars (not that the judgement hurts) to support the President if he decides that this is what he wants to do.

I have been saying for the last three years that when it comes to the argument about gun violence, I simply want a fair fight using evidence-based data as opposed to promoting gun ownership out of fear. It doesn’t matter whether extended background checks will reduce mass killings or gun killings overall.  What matters is that we have a serious and honest discussion about gun violence and a State of the Union address is the perfect place to begin.

Huckabee Opens His Mouth And Says The Dumbest Thing That Anyone Has Said About Guns.

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Having lost ground on their patented niche issues like abortion and gay rights, the 2016 version of the Republican Presidential cavalcade has decided that defending the 2nd Amendment will play well with the ‘base’ if only because liberals are usually considered to be anti-gun.  The gun ‘issue’ was first injected into the campaign by Trump-o, who claimed that an armed citizen could have stopped the murder of two television journalists in Virginia, a terribly ugly incident that was caught on video and tv.  Since then, if you’re running for President as a Republican, you can’t make a public speech without making some reference to supporting the 2nd Amendment, even if what you say has little to do with the facts.

And the 2nd Amendment comment that is least aligned with the facts popped out of the mouth of Mike Huckabee during an interview on a right-wing video channel Newsmax, during which he called for gun dealers to refuse to follow any new Executive Order issued by 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue because “the more we surrender the Constitution, the more Obama keeps his power growing.”  And since we all know that Obama’s real plan is to convert America into a radical, Islamic state, the more we need to vigilantly guard our Constitutional freedoms, in particular the freedom to own guns.

huckabeeActually, the stupidity started with the show host Steve Malzberg, who asked Huckabee to comment on a story which said that Obama was going to issue an Executive Order “to require gun shop owners to conduct background checks.”  To which Huckabee replied, “There should certainly be an absolute, unapologetic – just complete ignoring of such an order by those gun-shop owners, because the President can’t make law.” I happen to own a gun shop, and if the President issues an Executive Order which in any way changes the ATF regulations under which I operate, either I follow the new regs or I can close my shop down.  But let’s first get back to what Malzberg actually said.

Malzberg’s statement about what Obama was planning to do through Executive Order had absolutely nothing to do with what Obama has been saying at all.  Federally-licensed gun dealers operating in their places of business (duh, that’s what a gun shop happens to be) have been required to run NICS-background checks on all over-the-counter gun transfers since the Brady bill went into effect in 1998.  What Obama has been talking about is the fact that gun owners often sell numerous guns either at shows, or on the internet, or face-to-face, and these activities should be more closely regulated because here is the point at which guns get into the ‘wrong hands.’  Now I happen to think that the whole issue of the ‘underground’ gun market is somewhat over-stated, but since, by definition, criminals can’t pass background checks, we have to assume that whenever a gun passes from one person to another without a background check, that such a gun could wind up in criminal hands.  Hence, the possible attempt by Obama to make it at least somewhat more difficult for some folks to willy-nilly sell guns to whomever shows up at their gun show table or responds to their internet ad with cash in hand.

Malzberg’s description of the Obama Executive Order strategy has absolutely nothing to do with what Obama may or may not have in mind. Huckabee then took Malzberg’s totally incorrect statement, ran it up the flagpole, and gave a response that was both incorrect and dumb. It might not rank up there next to Rick Perry’s call for secession at a Tea Party rally in 2009,  but it’s cut from the same stupid, pandering piece of cloth.

I’m beginning to think that the Republican Presidential candidates might be misjudging the gun-owning population on whom they evidently need to depend.  Because no matter what Huckabee or Trump says, the average person just can’t be that dumb.

Want To Move Between Two Worlds? Go From The National Cathedral In DC To A Gun Show in PA.

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This past Tuesday, as I wrote in a previous column, I attended a gun violence forum at the National Cathedral in Washington, D.C.  The program included appearances by various religious leaders representing different faiths, several elected officials from Congress, representatives of anti-violence, community-based organizations and, unfortunately, several parents of children who lives ended terribly and tragically when a gun went off at the wrong time and in the wrong place.  Following the program, I sat at a table, spoke with many who had been in the audience and watched as hundreds of people concerned about gun violence walked by.

Today I am sitting at a gun show in Bloomsburg, PA, also watching hundreds of people walk by.  I have a dealer friend who has closed his retail shop this year and is doing the gun show circuit with a line of cleaning products that he believes are the next best thing to gluten-free food except that, as he admits, he may need to ‘tweak’ his marketing plan a bit in order to move ahead.  A few people walking past his table at the show actually say ‘hello’ or pick up and then just as quickly put down his little cleaning kit complete with a set of ‘indispensable’ tools.  But most of the folks walk right past his table because the guy at the next table has a really nice display of guns.

gun show1                So this week I am spending some time with the two populations whose views on guns and gun-related issues will ultimately make or break the way Americans own and use small arms.  One side, the folks I met at the National Cathedral, truly believe that we would be a safer and less violent country if we didn’t have such easy access to guns; the other side just as truly believes that they don’t need any laws at all to tell them how to behave safely with their guns. These different viewpoints would each find unanimous support amongst the two audiences that were present at the National Cathedral or the gun show in Bloomsburg, PA. But that’s hardly the only contrast between the two crowds.

The folks who walked past my table at the National Cathedral were, first of all, a completely racially and gender-wise diverse lot.  They were also mostly professionals and well-educated, the ‘uniforms’ being a mixture of LL Bean, corporate casual and an occasional outfit featured on Pinterest.  Want to know what passes for designer clothes at the gun show?  Dickie’s Clothing is all over the place, Woolrich is a step up, go for some real style with Pendleton, or since it’s a gun show, pull out the 5.11 gear and whiskey-tango-foxtrot, you’re good to go.  As for race and gender, there are plenty of snot-nosed kids tugging at Mom’s shoulder to ‘hurry up and let’s go to the mall,’ and plenty of Moms who are just as equally tugging on Dad’s shoulder to hurry up and let’s go to the mall.  Gun shows are a man’s world and the man is almost always white.

The point is that the two sides in the gun debate are more different than any two populations that we could identify as having different viewpoints on any public policy issue at all.  When it comes to gun violence, incidentally, what’s funny is that we all seem able to discuss in reasonable tones whether as a country we need to have a ready supply of really big weapons – planes, tanks, nukes – to make the world a safer place.  It’s when we get down to safety on our own street corners with the little weapons that rhetorical ugliness and angry epithets tend to shape the debate.

Somehow over the last twenty years the reaction to people getting killed or injured with guns has turned ugly, raucous and mean.  But hasn’t the discussion of all policy issues become more nasty and abrasive since a certain Kenyan signed a lease at for an apartment in the People’s House?

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Want To Bet That Guns Sales Will Remain Strong In The Years Ahead? I’m Not So Sure.

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Far be it from me to inject a note of pessimism into the gun industry’s continued success in convincing America that guns are a benefit and not a risk.  After all, would anyone have predicted the recent Gallup poll which shows that a majority of us now believe that we need less, rather than more gun laws?  And how does the gun-control community deal with the latest research from Pew which shows that a majority of Americans now believe that guns keep us safe from crime?  And then there’s the proliferation of concealed-carry licenses which were virtually unknown in most places twenty years ago but are now issued without question in more than 40 states.  And let’s not forget, of course, the legal imprimatur handed to the gun industry with the Heller decision in 2008.

gun show                While it’s been a tough, uphill battle for the gun-control movement of late, I’m not sure that anyone should consider throwing in the towel.  Because what’s really interesting about all those success indicators noted above is that they seem to be happening just at the point in which certain trends which might foreshadow a very rocky road ahead for the pro-gun community are beginning to emerge.  And don’t get me wrong – I’m not pro-gun or anti-gun.  I’m just, as always, trying to tell it like it is. And this is how it is.

At the same time that legally, socially and culturally gun ownership seem to be more mainstream, the number of Americans who own guns keeps going down.  The latest studies indicate that slightly more than one-third of American households contain a legal gun, but this percentage was as high as 53% in 1976.  And since the average American household has slid from 2.9 to 2.5 persons during this same period, even the absolute growth in the total population means that the number of Americans who have access to legal guns continues to go down.

Once we begin to qualify gun owners beyond the raw number who own guns, the trends become even more bleak.  The industry has made a valiant effort to build a market among women, minorities and new shooters in general, but the truth is that gun ownership is still largely a choice embraced by older, White men.  And it is precisely the older, White men who are lagging behind the growth of such demographics as single women, new immigrants and minorities – the latter groups responsible for the increase in America’s population as a whole.

But if there’s one trend that should concern the gun industry vis-à-vis the future of gun ownership, it’s a trend that isn’t tied to gun ownership at all.  Rather, it concerns how the millennial generation is shaping its view of the world which will ultimately determine what American society thinks about everything, including guns.  What Pew Research refers to as the “relative liberalism” of Millennials is a serious, long-term problem for the pro-gun community because if there’s one thing that defines and divides conservatives and liberals it’s the issue of guns.  I’m not saying there aren’t a few liberals out there like me who happen to be gun nuts in their spare time.  But I can’t remember the last time a member of the Democratic Party addressed a meeting of the NRA.

Here’s a new survey which should give the gun celebrants some pause:  Only 19% of the age group 18-29 gets their news from Fox; more than 50% learn what’s going on around them from NBC, ABC, CBS, CNN, MSNBC and Public TV, and another 10% rely on Jon Stewart or Colbert!  None of those media outlets are in any way or shape pro-gun, and this could be a decisive factor in determining the place of guns within our society in the years to come.

 

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