Why Own A Gun? Because It’s Fun.

Back in 2006 one of GVP’s stellar researchers, Kristin Goss of Duke University, wrote a book in which she tried to explain why there was no mass movement for gun control in the United States. As opposed to mass movements which sought to end the Vietnam War, or reduce drunk driving, what she found after mass shootings like Columbine was the following pattern: “collective outrage, followed by a momentary flurry of unorganized calls and letters and donations from thousands of individuals, and then a quick return to the status quo.” Otherwise, the issue of gun violence would lie dormant between the random, high-profile shooting events.

gun-sales             Goss argues that the pro-gun folks were much more successful than the gun-control crowd in building a mass movement for two reasons: they were funded both by industry and private sources whose resources the gun-control groups couldn’t match; they took advantage of a fragmented, federalist political system which rewards political initiatives at the local level but frequently restricts the implementation of national policies even when such policies gain broad, popular support.

Is it time to revise Kristin’s argument about the lack of a mass movement for gun control given how the landscape appears to have changed in the ten years since she wrote her book? To some degree yes. Despite the sycophantic utterings by Forbes and various other pro-gun media outlets, the decision by Mike Bloomberg to pour 50 million bucks into gun-control initiatives each year isn’t chopped liver, and money like that always has an effect. There has also been a shift in the tactics of gun violence prevention (GVP) organizations towards a greater focus on state-level gun issues rather than only thinking and organizing in national terms; an example of this being the spread of laws which force persons served with a domestic abuse order to turn in their guns.

Of late there also appears to be some parity developing between the two sides on social media venues which have become an important, indeed necessary venue for how organizations connect with the folks they represent.  Right now on Facebook, the NRA page has 630,000 Likes, the Moms Demand page has 570K.  As for website traffic according to SimilarWeb, the NRA site registers around 300,000 visitors a month, visits to Everytown are around 200K every thirty days. How many years has the NRA been around? At least 150 years longer than Everytown or Moms – I would say that the numbers for those GVP sites are pretty substantial and pretty good.

On the other hand, over the last five days I received six email communications from the NRA, including three messages offering to sell me clothing, backpacks and all kinds of other consumer crap. During that same five-day period I received only three emails from the GVP, and every message consisted of asking me to donate money to the cause.  Several of the NRA emails were also straight out of the organization’s fundraising kit, but overall the NRA messaging did one thing that the GVP messaging didn’t do – it conveyed the idea that being involved with the NRA is not only important but also fun.

The idea that you can have a good time by being a member of America’s ‘oldest civil rights organization’ is an important aspect of the pro-gun messaging strategy that I’m not sure the GVP community understands. It certainly isn’t mentioned or analyzed in Kristin’s book. But later today I’m going to drive over to Marlborough where the semi-annual gun show is going on, and the reason I’m going to the show is the same reason that millions of people attend gun shows all over the country every weekend – the shows are fun. I can wander around, play with lots of guns, eat a hot dog and wash it down with a full-calorie drink and buy a Make America Great Again baseball cap for under five bucks.

Spending money on some useless junk may not be the preferred method for raising political awareness within the GVP, but it sure works for the NRA.

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Do Gun Shows Promote Neo-Nazi Beliefs?

  

Now that President Trump has decided to become a Democrat, you can’t tell me that the boys in Fairfax ever imagined they would fork over $30 million in television advertising to help elect a guy who then would turn right around and cut deals with ‘Chuck’ and ‘Nancy,’ two Democrats who have to rank at the very top of the list of politicians who are anti-gun..

On the other hand, you might want to stop shedding tears for the NRA and consider instead what Trump’s political pivot means to the other side. Because as long as the gun violence prevention (GVP) community has an unregenerate racist, fascist, white supremacist and all-around apostle of gun ownership sitting in the Oval Office they can always rally the troops around the idea that the worst is yet to come.

And the worst might be the pictures from Charlottesville of a rag-tag bunch walking down the main street, displaying Nazi banners, yelling anti-Semitic slurs and, of course, carrying guns. So now, thanks to the stupid Dana Loesch videos designed to appeal to the most infantile mentalities among us, we have a new narrative for GVP opinion-makers, namely, that guns promote not just gun violence, but the most extreme political views imaginable, in particular the agenda of the neo-Nazi gang.

The latest version of this cockamamie idea was a kerfuffle that broke out in a Westchester County suburb of New York City, where a gun show held in January featured some tables with Nazi ‘memorabilia,’ including copies of Mein Kampf, some flags, uniforms and probably some allegedly ‘original’ helmets and knives. Another stink was raised when residents of Saratoga Springs learned that the annual gun show in their town was going to feature an exhibit of what is claimed to be Adolph Hitler’s desk. The offensive exhibit was most upsetting to members of the Jewish synagogue, Temple Sinai, who helped organize a pro-immigration rally in Saratoga on August 24th.

To bolster the idea that gun shows are a particularly fruitful venue for recruiting membership in neo-Nazi and alt-right/white groups, the promoters of this narrative invariably turn to the research of Garen Wintemute, who claims to have visited 78 gun shows in 19 states mostly between 2005 and 2008.  Regarding the presence of far-right materials and products, Wintemute found a ‘high prevalence” of neo-Nazi materials at gun shows, but he also found that ”most vendors at general-purpose gun shows do not sell guns. Ammunition, parts and accessories, ammunition magazines, body armor, knives, and books on related topics are routinely on display.”

Tying gun shows to Trump campaign rhetoric which inflamed the most unregenerate DF’s among us to crawl out from underneath their rocks may be a good way to stir the passions of the gun violence prevention crowd, but it flies in the face of what guns shows are all about. I went to the Saratoga show back in the 1990s and Nazi, Japanese and American military memorabilia was all over the place. One vendor with a Nazi exhibit this year? Back then you would find twenty vendors selling all kinds of Nazi crap like helmets, bayonets, uniforms, books and flags because there were still a lot of WWII vets around and many of them liked guns.

Time marches on, the old army veterans are almost all gone, but how come the good folks from Temple Sinai never complained when vendors selling Nazi crap were all over the place in previous years? The truth is that the Mount Sinai congregants form their views about Gun-nut Nation based on narratives produced by the GVP, and in this case those narratives are simply wrong. Jewish and other Saratoga residents never cared about whether there was a gun show in their town. What they now care about, and for good reason, is an upsurge in anti-Semitism which Trump has fostered since he emerged on the national political scene. And that’s a much different issue than being worried about guns.

 

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

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.