If The ATF Believes That Gun Violence Is Caused By Thefts From Gun Shops, The Martians Have Landed At Area 51.

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The ATF, which is the responsible government agency for regulating firearms, has just released another report about its activities which actually obscures more than it explains. But that’s the usual state of affairs with the ATF, a group of bumblers who still haven’t explained how they managed to lose two thousand guns in a sting operation called Fast and Furious that was supposed to uncover a vast manufacturing enterprise to convert AK-47 semi-auto rifles into full-auto machine gun and didn’t turn up even one.

atf              This new ATF report, which covers guns stolen or missing each year, comes out of the same division within the ATF which claims to be “leading in the fight against violent crime and terrorism,” a.k.a. the vaunted National Tracing Center. Let me tell you right now that if the National Tracing Center is what’s protecting us against terrorism, I would strongly urge all the readers of this column to drop whatever else they are doing, immediately start building their underground bunkers and stock their bunkers with a generous assortment of Glenn Beck’s freeze-dried food. And don’t forget to load up the bunker with an AK-47 and a couple of thousand rounds.

The last thing the ATF is going to do with its tracing activities is protect us or themselves from anything, unless the ‘anything’ happens to be a cut to their operational budget. They can talk all they want about how hard it is to conduct those hundreds of thousands of traces they conduct on ‘crime guns’ each year, but in fact, less than 20% of the traces they conduct each year have anything to do with serious crimes. For that matter, all the ATF’s whining about how their hands are tied because they can’t go beyond the first transfer of a gun is simply not true at all, because most gun shops sell as many used as they sell new guns, which means that all the transfers of previously-sold guns can be traced as well.

But let’s go back to the stolen/missing report which the ATF has just issued for 2016. The data represents what is reported to the ATF by federally-licensed dealers, but the information comes from the ATF in two very different ways. The reports on guns that have been stolen are usually supplied by dealers themselves who are victims of some kind of criminal activity, usually a burglary, which results in a loss of guns. Occasionally there’s a really spectacular burglary event, like the idiot in Janesville, WI, who allegedly stole more than 30 guns out of a gun shop and then sent mailed a threat to President Trump. But most of these thefts are a gun here or a gun there, and are frequently the work of a gun shop employee who just can’t resist the temptation to make an extra bit of cash.

The guns that are reported ‘missing’ by dealers, on the other hand, are guns for which paperwork can’t be found when the ATF conducts the inspection of a shop.  This doesn’t mean that the guns were stolen or fell into the wrong hands, it just means that the paperwork examined by the ATF can’t be found for a particular transaction, even though the transfer of that particular gun was legal in every respect. My last ATF inspection covered more than 11,000 transfers which occurred in my shop between 2002 and 2013. Know how many transactions ended up being reported as missing? Exactly five.

If the ATF wants to do something about curbing the theft of guns, why don’t they figure out a strategy or at least some messaging to highlight the fact that every year two hundred thousand or more handguns get stolen from private homes? The ATF will immediately tell you that regulating private gun ownership isn’t their legal mandate or their organizational concern. Which is why the agency’s value as regards reducing gun violence is both overstated and misplaced – gun violence is caused by the existence of so many privately-owned guns.

There’s More To Reducing Gun Violence Than Expanding Background Checks.

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If there’s one strategy to reduce gun violence on which just about everyone agrees, it’s expanding FBI-NICS background checks beyond the initial sale to make it more difficult for guns to wind up in the ‘wrong hands.’  The assumption behind this strategy is the idea that if every time a gun moves from one person to another, a background check would identify people whose behavior put them in one of those ‘prohibited’ categories (e.g., felon, habitual drug user, etc.) which has always been an indication for criminal use of a gun.

laws             Behind this assumption lies another assumption, the idea that most of the guns that eventually end up in the hands of the bad guys get there because someone with a clean record buys the gun, knowing that he or she is planning to give or sell the gun to someone who can’t pass a background check and, hence, can’t be the initial purchaser of the gun.  When such a purchase occurs, it is referred to as a ‘straw’ sale, and if the buyer or the person to whom the buyer gives the gun then sells it to someone else, it is referred to as gun ‘trafficking;’ these two behaviors – straw sales and gun trafficking – usually considered to be the way that most guns get into the ‘wrong’ hands.

There have been many studies, too numerous to mention here, which show that a majority of guns picked up at crime scenes come from some location other than the actual scene of the crime, often not just another city but from another state.  New York’s AG, Eric Schneiderman, issued a report which showed that of nearly 46,000 crime guns recovered in the state between 2010 and 2015, nearly three-quarters came from other states, the bulk from states located on Interstate 95, which happens to be the most direct route from gun-rich states like Georgia and Florida up to New York.

The problem with data which shows the origin of crime guns, both in New York and elsewhere, is that since only the first gun transaction can be traced in most states (although 18 states have extended NICS checks to handgun sales, or all gun show sales or all sales), the fact that a gun first sold in South Carolina ended up being used to kill someone in Long Island doesn’t really say anything about how that particular gun got from there to here.  And this is because in most states, the original owner of the gun doesn’t have to report when or why he no longer owns a particular gun.  Most states don’t require mandatory reporting of gun thefts, and few states require that police report stolen guns to the feds.  The only gun owners who must report missing or stolen guns to the ATF are federally-licensed gun dealers, and most dealers protect their inventory because replacing a stolen gun ain’t cheap.

Now for the first time a group of researchers at the University of Pittsburgh have published data on how guns that were picked up by the Pittsburgh PD actually went from the counter-top to the street.  Based on an analysis of 762 gun traces conducted by the Firearms Tracing Unit in 2008, the researchers established that while 80% of the guns were recovered from persons other than the legal owner, at least one-third were stolen (the actual number was probably substantially higher,)  but less than half of those thefts were reported to the police.  If this data is at all representative of the national scene, this means that upwards of 200,000 unreported guns get into ‘wrong hands’ each year without a single straw sale.

Neither expanded background checks or more diligence about straw sales has anything to do with stolen guns. And if gun owners were penalized for not reporting gun thefts, I guarantee you they would be more careful about securing their guns. And by the way, reporting a missing gun doesn’t violate any of those so-called 2nd Amendment ‘rights’ at all.

 

The New York Times Weighs In On Crime Guns.

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Now that The New York Times devotes a portion of its editorial space to gun violence, we are treated to the contribution of op-ed writer Charles Blow.  And what Blow has decided to talk about is what is truly the elephant in the living room when it comes to gun violence, namely, the issue of stolen guns.  Obama mentioned the issue twice in the official White House press release outlining his new EO agenda on guns, but he tied it to expanding background checks by bringing more gun transactions under the rubric of regulated sales.

atf              To his credit, Blow dug up Sam Bieler’s 2013 article which cites data from Phil Cook’s 1997 article which estimates that as many as 500,000 guns might be stolen each year.  And having discovered this incredible number, Blow then throws up several remedies for the problem which will have no real impact at all.  They won’t have any impact because registering guns or requiring insurance for their ownership simply isn’t going to occur.  As for the idea that gun theft will go down as safe guns enter the civilian arsenal, even if a few were to finally hit the market, we still have 300 million+ unsafe guns lying around.

On the other hand, there are some steps that could be taken right now that would, I believe, have a substantial impact on the ability of law enforcement to identify and trace crime guns, a process which right now occurs in the most slipshod or piecemeal fashion when it occurs at all.  And these steps wouldn’t even require any legislation or executive orders; they could be accomplished easily and quickly if someone, anyone, would make the regulatory division of the ATF do what it is really supposed to do.

Why does the GVP advocacy community put so much time and effort into pushing the expansion of NICS-background checks into secondary transfers and sales? Because the ATF has been whining for 20 years that they can only trace a gun through its first, legal sale.  This is a lie.  The fact is that every time a gun is acquired by an FFL dealer it must be listed in his Acquisition & Disposition book.  This A&D book, along with the 4473 forms used to conduct background checks, can be inspected by the ATF whenever they enter a store.  Now It happens that 40% or more guns that are sold by retail dealers are used guns, many of which were sold previously out of the same store. Or they were first sold by the gun shop in the next town. Can the ATF ask a dealer to tell them the particulars of the last, as opposed to the first sale of a particular gun?  Of course they can – they own the entire contents of the A&D book.

The ATF trumpets the development of time-to-crime data which, they say, alerts them to questionable dealer behavior because the average TTC right now is about 12 years, so if guns sold by a particular dealer have a much shorter TTC, that dealer must be pushing guns out the back door.  But the fact is that since 40% of the sale dates of guns used to calculate TTC might not represent the last, legal sale, the TTC numbers published by the ATF are, to be polite, meaningless at best.

The ATF still sends trace requests by fax; the rest of the world, including all gun dealers, has discovered email as a more accurate and certainly efficient way to communicate back and forth.  If the ATF required dealers to keep their A&D book in Excel (which they actually recommend,) the dealer could scan his entire book immediately looking for a particular serial number and the ATF and local police would have a better chance of figuring out how and when a crime gun moved from legal to illegal hands.

You don’t need a new law, you don’t an Executive Order, you don’t need anything except some basic knowledge about the gun business in order to figure this out.

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