A New Monthly Chart On NICS Background Checks.

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I have decided to keep a running record of FBI-NICS checks to help keep our friends in Gun-nut Nation at least somewhat honest, although as John Feinblatt has just reminded us, keeping that bunch honest is about as easy as keeping me on a diet. But be that as it may, with certain caveats that I am going to quickly list, the monthly background check numbers published by the FBI are still an effective measurement of the health and welfare of the gun industry, which usually stands in direct opposition to the health and welfare of the general population.

The caveats about using the NICS numbers as an industry measurement are as follows:

  • Only a handful of states require that all gun transfers go through NICS, so a large number of guns move from one person to another without any paper trail being created at all.
  • On the other hand, what NICS does indicate is the number of new guns that are added to the civilian arsenal each month, and that’s the most important number of all.
  • Of course NICS doesn’t capture the new gun transfers in any universal sense, because many states opt out of the NICS system when a resident holding a concealed-carry license buys a gun.

nicsBut the bottom line is that what we do get from NICS is a very clear trend of the degree to which America is or isn’t arming up. And basically this is the trend which is most important for determining the extent to which America will continue to suffer from gun violence, because without guns, there is no gun violence – it’s as simple as that. And please, please don’t give me the bromide about all we have to do is keep the guns out of the ‘wrong hands.’ Enough already, okay?

The total NICS number for each month is comprised of 24 different categories, of which only 4 categories – handguns, long guns, other guns, multiple sales – represent contacts with the FBI call center to get authorization to sell or transfer a gun. The other categories represent either checking the validity of gun licenses, or redeeming previously-pawned guns, or transfers between individuals rather than between a dealer and a customer; in other words, background checks which don’t represent any new guns being added to the civilian arsenal at all.

I am going to start publishing a monthly NICS chart which will compare numbers over time and will cover the following categories: handguns, other guns and personal transfers of hand guns. Why only handguns and other guns? Because these are the guns we need to worry about since handguns are usually what are used in gun violence of all kinds, and other guns are assault-rifle receivers to which the owner then attaches a bolt and a barrel and he’s got a very lethal gun.

Here’s our very first chart:

Jun-17 Jun-16 2017 to date 2016 to date.
Handguns 569,149 582,821 3,777,008 4,083,589
Other Guns 29,730 49,220 195,537 218,023
Private transfers 1,884 1,198 11,845 8,231

 

These are some interesting numbers, and they fly in the face of comments from various Gun-nut noisemakers that there hasn’t been any ‘Trump slump’ on guns.  Well, I guess a drop of more than 306,000 new handguns hitting the market between January and June isn’t anything to worry about, and a 30% increase in background checks between private buyers and sellers clearly indicates that gun owners just won’t go along with private NICS checks. Incidentally, I’m not going to track long gun transfers, but you should know that long gun checks dropped from 2.5 million in 2016 to 2.3 million so far this year. As handguns go so does the whole gun market, oh well, oh well.

If I had to estimate, I would say that a drop in handgun and long gun sales of roughly 500,000 units means a loss of revenue for the gun industry of somewhere around $150 million bucks. I don’t think that really makes up for Wayne-o going to the White House for the Easter Egg roll.

It’s Not Guns That Cause Gun Violence. It’s Handguns.

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By the time I went to bed last night, the ether was filled with reactions to the Alexandria shootings, most of them reflecting the alt-right view of things about guns and violence, namely, that if there had been more good guys at the ballfield with guns, the bad guy wouldn’t have shot anyone at all. But at least one sane voice emerged belonging to Chelsea Parsons and her colleagues at the Center for American Progress (CAP) who put up a podcast, ‘Too Many Guns in America,’ and discussed the event.

cap-logo1CAP has been a mainstay in the effort to strengthen gun regulations, and much of their approach can be found in their report, America Under Fire, which makes a persuasive argument that gun violence and laws regulating gun ownership and access go hand-in-hand; i.e., more laws equal less injuries caused by guns. You can download the report right here.

Much of yesterday’s podcast was devoted to talking about the efficacy of different gun laws which exist in a minority of states, which also happen to be the states where less gun violence occurs.  In particular, the podcast mentioned universal background checks, regulating assault rifles and hi-cap mags, and preventing domestic violence abusers from getting their hands on guns. Chelsea and her colleagues made a point of saying that all three strategies enlist wide, public support, although you wouldn’t know that from the GOP-alt-right chorus that was braying last night.

I want to make it clear that I am four-square in favor of government regulation of guns. I don’t believe anyone should be walking around armed who isn’t either required to carry as part of a job, or can’t demonstrate skilled, appropriate and continuous proficiency. And that means real, live shooting evaluated by the public authority that issues the license for carrying a gun.

The problem which comes up again and again whenever the gun violence prevention (GVP) community talks about gun violence, is not how they define ‘violence’ caused by guns, which should include suicide because self-violence happens to be part of the definition of violence used by the World Health Organization; rather, how GVP defines a ‘gun.’  Because when it comes to the ten ‘indicators’ of gun violence cited by CAP to create the America Under Fire report, nine of those ten indicators contribute to the annual gun-death toll not because of the existence of guns per se, but the existence of handguns, which poses all sorts of different issues than the existence of guns overall.

Take gun trafficking for example.  Ever notice that when the cops bust a bunch of dopes for bringing guns from down South into New York that most of the guns are small, concealable pistols, Glocks and stuff like that?  Sure, there’s a rifle here and there, but what sells in the street are the little bangers – the shooter in Alexandria, the shooter at the Pulse, the shooter at Aurora, the shooter at Sandy Hook – they used assault rifles that were all legally owned.

What frustrated me about the CAP podcast was that neither Chelsea, Igor or Michele said one word about the discussion’s title, namely, the existence of too many guns.  And with all due respect to the work that has been done linking gun violence to lax gun laws, it’s the number of weapons floating around which is the numero uno reason why so many Americans get shot with guns. But even noted scholars like our friend David Hemenway gets it wrong when he says that our rate of gun violence compared to other ‘advanced’ countries is so much higher because we have so many more guns, because if he compared per capita ownership of handguns rather than all guns, the disparities between our level of gun violence and the gun violence suffered by other societies would be two or three times worse.

Sorry to repeat what I have said so many times, but we will continue to suffer an extraordinary level of gun violence until we get rid of the guns. The little ones. Those guns.

 

A Fun Gun Story For The New Year.

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I recently received a note from a reader who wanted me to write some ‘fun’ stories about guns. And why not?  After all, for those of us who enjoy guns because we just like to shoot them, or talk about them, or play with them, guns are a lot of fun.  So here’s one of those stories which ends in heartbreak but that’s how most good stories end.

M&P              I used to have a friend in the gun business named Joe DeSaye. He owned a wholesale gun company called J&G (named after himself and his ex-wife Grace), which is still a family-owned business even though Joe, of blessed memory, is long gone.  Anyway, Joe used to sell most of his inventory through a gun newspaper called Shotgun News.  Most of Joe’s ads were for used handguns, many of them police trade-ins, and many of them guns that he bought from me.  I’ll spare the details of how I accumulated and sold Joe upwards of 10,000 used handguns every year; it was all legal commerce and Joe only dealt with customers who held a valid FFL.

One day in 1984 or 1985 Joe calls me (he lived in Arizona and I was in New York) and tells me that he’s got a “line” on an “incredible stash of guns.”  But he couldn’t talk on the phone because he was at some place where he might be overheard, so I had to call him back that night when he got home.  That night Joe tells me that the United States Postal Inspectors had just purchased 4,000 new Smith & Wesson stainless magnum revolvers – the 4-inch Model 66 – and were giving them out to every postal inspector who was turning in his own gun.  Evidently the Postal Inspectors had been allowed to carry whatever sidearm they chose, but now the force was getting modern and everyone was going to carry a Model 66.

Joe then further told me that the 4,000 duty weapons previously carried by the Inspectors were sitting in a warehouse at the Marine base in Quantico but Joe had “friends” in the Post Office, and these friends had agreed to let Joe enter a sole bid for the guns.  So I was going to go down to Quantico, take a look at the guns to make sure they were in good enough shape to be resold, and then Joe would submit the bid.

The next day I drove down to Quantico, and after checking me out at the security gate, I was taken to an unmarked, corrugated-metal storage building somewhere on the base.  Got out of the car, walked into a big room, lights went on, and I was surrounded by 4,000 handguns neatly stacked in piles all over the floor.  And what piles!  Over here were beautiful, commercial versions of the Colt 1911 with the shiny, royal blue Colt finish, not a blemish or a scratch.  Over there were Smith & Wesson 45-caliber M&P revolvers, the 5-inch models manufactured before World War II. There were even some original Colt, Single Action Army guns in 44-40 and 45. I was dizzy; I was beside myself with joy.  I couldn’t have cared less how much Joe and I would make on this deal, I just wanted to keep about 100 of the guns for myself.

Know what happened?  The next day there was a story about a local police chief in Virginia who sold some confiscated guns to a gun shop who sold one of the guns to a jerk who then shot his wife with the gun.  And the day after that, the Postal Service loaded the entire pile on a cargo plane, flew the plane over the ocean and dumped my 4,000 guns into the sea.

I suppose it’s better that those guns ended up underwater than even one of them ending up in the wrong hands.  But they still could have let me take 100 of them home.  I could have always made room by throwing out some of my Lionel trains.

 

There’s A Petition Out There You Really Should Sign.

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There’s a new petition in town that deserves your support.  It’s a project of the group called Doctors For America, whose founders back in 2008 included a guy named Vivek Murthy whom you might remember had some initial difficulties becoming Surgeon General because of another guy named Rand Paul. I’m playing a little tongue-in-cheek here because I can’t remember another politician who made as much of a jerk out of himself as Rand Paul did by temporarily blocking Murthy’s nomination because Murthy didn’t appreciate the virtues and benefits of guns.  After all, as a physician, why should Murthy or anyone else be concerned about 100,000 gun injuries and deaths every year? Oh hell, messed it up again; we know that it’s people who kill people, right?  When they use a gun to kill someone else it must have been to stop a crime.

cdc                Anyway, to return to reality, the DFA petition asks Congress to restore funding of gun research by the CDC.  Incidentally, for anyone who’s interested in numbers, what we are talking about is a whopping $3 million or less each year which is probably about what Congress spends on replacing worn-out parking meters in downtown DC.  In a funny way I suspect that one of the reasons the funding ban continues is precisely because it represents a budgetary item which hardly anyone can see, and therefore doesn’t attract enough attention to turn its annual defunding into a political fight.

When the NRA and its puppet Congressman Jay Dickey first pushed through the ban, the rationale they used was that the CDC was supporting not gun research per se, but gun-control advocacy which was not a proper way to use taxpayer’s funds.  Actually, it wasn’t the CDC that was doing the advocacy; rather, it was the GVP community that was utilizing the results of CDC-funded research to support its point of view.  Which shouldn’t have come as a surprise to anyone since what CDC-funded scholars were discovering was a rather remarkable state of affairs, namely, that guns were actually lethal weapons, a finding which came as a complete surprise to the NRA!

You have to understand something about the gun nuts who work at Waples Mill Road in Fairfax, VA.  Some of them, perhaps a majority of them actually believe that there’s no risk from guns.  Or to put it more exactly, if there is some kind of risk, it’s clearly outweighed by the benefits of owning a gun. Now when I joined the NRA back in 1955, owning a gun usually meant a rifle or shotgun which was used for hunting if you lived out in the country or for some kind of sport shooting if you lived closer to town. My father had one friend who owned a handgun, but it was a slightly-rusted Colt pistol that he brought back from World War II. But this began changing in the 1980s when hunting and sport shooting began to disappear and the gun industry recalibrated its products by launching an all-out campaign to sell handguns as a necessary response to crime.  The research that supported the notion that guns make us safe was so shabby that it would never have been published had it been funded by the CDC.

Over the nearly twenty years since the CDC ban went into effect, private funding sources have continued to support gun research and the evidence continues to mount that guns represent a risk that far outweighs the benefits of ownership, whether the gun industry agrees or not.  But most people who support the efforts of the GVP community really don’t need more evidence to convince them of what they already know.  Because what they know is that when you pick up a loaded gun and pull the trigger, someone in the way of that bullet is going to get badly hurt. And it doesn’t matter whether it’s a good guy or a bad guy; gun violence is a national shame that can’t be ignored.  Sign the petition. Sign it now.

There’s Nothing Like Openly Carrying A Handgun To Protect Us Against Everything – Real Or Imagined.

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In the weeks following the unspeakable gun violence in Charleston, there was one public voice notably absent, namely, the NRA.  As opposed to the belligerent screed from Wayne-o after Sandy Hook, this time America’s “oldest civil rights organization” kept their collectives mouths shut.  Well, almost all of them did, and the one exception was Charlie Cotton, a Board member from Texas, who quickly posted a statement blaming Clementa Pinckney for hastening his own demise because of his opposition to guns, and then just as quickly took the post down.

open carry                Good ol’ Charlie epitomizes the Mark Twain saying, “it’s better to keep your mouth shut and appear stupid than open it and remove all doubt.”  And if you don’t believe me, here’s a few samples of other Cotton comments obligingly sent to me by a friend.  In February, he supported a bill that would have eliminated corporal punishment in Texas public schools with this gem: “a good paddling in school may keep me from having to put a bullet into him later.”  He once referred to Black-on-Black shootings as “thug on thug,” and in case the readers of his blog didn’t get the not-so-veiled, racist comment he added, “cops know what I really mean.”

In addition to proving his stupidity on issues far and wide, Cotton has also been a driving force behind the NRA-backed gun legislation in the Lone Star State, including the recent law that legalizes “open carry” of handguns in public venues.  The open-carry question has a contentious history in Texas; just last year the NRA publicly scolded a group of Texans who were parading around a fast-food outlet with AR rifles in plain sight, but the ensuing uproar on the part of open-carry activists forced the NRA to back down.

For our boy Charlie, the zeal of open-carry proponents in Texas has been a difficult fence to straddle, given the ambivalence of the NRA towards the spectacle of open-carry demonstrations on the one hand, while not wanting to piss off the open-carry fringe on the other.  In 2013, when then-candidate Greg Abbott was willing to support whatever loony idea would get him a few more votes in the race for Governor, he endorsed the idea of open-carry of handguns, and ol’ Charlie pulled a classic on-the-one-hand-this-but-on-the-other-hand- that, by supporting the legislation but warning Open Carry Texas and other nut-job groups that sitting in Starbucks dangling AR-15s might lead to public “panic.”

Now that open carry of handguns is legal in Texas, our boy Charlie Cotton still finds himself in something of a predicament, because it’s not quite clear what mainstream America thinks about turning every American city into the O.K. Corral.  The NRA’s post-Charleston silence is a pretty clear indication that the whole notion of gun ownership may still be up for grabs, 2nd Amendment or no 2nd Amendment.  And this came home to me last night when a friend sent me ol’ Charlie’s latest comment about open carry on his blog, in which he claimed he was still in favor of concealed carry because letting everyone know that you own a handgun might result in you being “attacked or burglarized” if a thug who saw the gun decided to follow you home. For that matter, sitting in IHOP with an unconcealed handgun would make you an immediate target if a “6-man hi-jack team” hits the store intending to do something other than ordering waffles and grits.

Did Charles Cotton, who happens to be a licensed attorney, actually make a public statement conjuring up the image of an IHOP invasion by a “hi-jack team?”  Let’s not forget that Texas is where a serious internet discussion is being carried on by residents who truly believe that a Pentagon-directed military exercise called Jade Helm is actually the beginning of a federal invasion of Texas, followed by martial law and the seizure of all guns.  If Charlie Cotton and the NRA have decided they need such paranoid lunatics to promote the ownership of guns, the gun-sense movement is much closer to victory than they believe.

 

 

Breitbart Does What It usually Does About Guns – Gets It Wrong.

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I don’t usually waste anyone’s time with reactions to editorials or other commentary on the gun business because everyone’s entitled to their own opinion.  But as the late Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan observed, “we are all entitled to our own opinion but not our own facts.”  And every once in a while someone published an opinion that is so at variance with the facts about guns that I feel it almost to be a civic duty to set the facts straight. This is the case with an editorial published in the Brietbart News calling for the Republican-led Senate to repeal the “burdensome and frivolous” gun control law of 1968 which, according to the editorial’s author, prevents Americans from going to other states, purchasing a handgun and returning with the gun to the state in which they live.

According to the author, A.W. Hawkins, the 1968 Gun Control Act is a “burdensome and unnecessary” law because while at allows residents o one state to travel to another state to purchase a rifle, it prohibits the same kind of transaction as regards handguns.  The author goes on to state that, “the arbitrary nature of the ban is evident in the fact that by law, a law-abiding citizen from one state can walk into a retail store and buy an AR-15, AK-47, or shotgun in another state.”  Not only does this rob consumers of the opportunity to support a “national” consumer market for small arms, but is an example of a “freedom-crushing law” that the Republican majority was elected to remove or change.

control cartoon                Let me break the news gently to Mr. Hawkins.  The prohibition on interstate sales of handguns was not the handiwork of the Gun Control Act of 1968, it was codified in the National Firearms Act of 1938, which amended and extended provisions of the original National Firearms Act of 1934.  The latter statute was passed to control the transfer and sale of automatic weapons, like the so-called ‘Tommy Gun’ that was used by the Capone mob and other gangsters during the Prohibition era, and then became props in all those Hollywood shoot-‘em-ups about Ma Barker, Alvin Karpis and Pretty Boy Floyd.

The 1938 National Firearms Act made it illegal for guns to move across state lines unless they were shipped from one gun dealer to another, a prohibition that covered all firearms and, for the first time required such dealers to acquire a license for interstate traffic in guns from the Treasury Department for the grand total of one dollar per year.  The 1938 law also for the first time created certain categories of “prohibited persons.” Like felons and fugitives, who could not own guns.  The only problem with the 1938 law was that it required dealers to record the sources of all firearms shipped to them from other states, but did not create any kind of regulatory process to verify or validate that dealers were actually maintaining such information.

The Gun Control Act of 1968 closed some of these loopholes by bringing all activities of gun dealers under the regulatory authority of the ATF.  For the first time, dealers not only had to maintain records of the sources of their inventory, but also were required to utilize the Form 4473 for recording detailed personal information about individuals to whom they transferred guns.  The dealer had to verify the gun recipient’s personal information by dint of a driver’s license or other standard type of ID.  Most important, the ATF could visit any dealer, inspect these records, and therefore have access to information about everyone who purchased a gun.

I’m not saying that GCA1968 is a perfect law.  Far from it.  But at the very least it does codify the idea that certain types of people simply should not be allowed to get access to guns.  The Brietbart editorialist isn’t against laws per se; he’s just doing what the pro-gun folks usually do whenever the discussion turns to guns -reduce the debate to the lowest, dumbest denominator because that’s the argument which the NRA can always win.

 

 

Can The NRA Sell Their Message To The Millennial Generation?

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Even though violent crime has declined by more than 50% over the last twenty years, it’s not surprising that Wayne LaPierre and other promoters continue to justify gun ownership as our first, last and most sacred form of personal defense.  After all, guns are found most frequently on farms, rural communities and smaller towns.  Bye-bye farms and rural living, bye-bye guns. Thirty years ago a majority of small arms manufactured in the United States were rifles and shotguns; now more than 60% are handguns and the percentage would be even higher were it not for a surge in assault-style rifles which are often sold as weapons that can be used by the ‘good guys’ to keep the ‘bad guys’ out of sight.

Going forward the news for the gun industry and its advocacy organizations like the NRA doesn’t hold any silver linings, at least any that can be found in a very detailed poll conducted by the Pew Foundation on the outlook of the Millennial generation, aka, persons aged 18 to 29.  The Pew poll summed up Millennials as follows: “They are more ethnically and racially diverse than older adults. They’re less religious, less likely to have served in the military, and are on track to become the most educated generation in American history. Their entry into careers and first jobs has been badly set back by the Great Recession, but they are more upbeat than their elders about their own economic futures as well as about the overall state of the nation.”

Wow.  That’s hardly the profile of the NRA stalwarts who gathered last week in Indianapolis to hear Wayne LaPierre, Chris Cox, Oliver North and the other harbingers of doom tell them that the country was quickly going to hell in a handbasket and that only a gun and a good dose of patriotism would keep the criminal hordes away from knocking down their doors.  In the first four minutes of her speech, Sarah Palin referred to the anti-gun threat sixteen times and made it clear that only a Republican sweep in November would guarantee American freedom and basic rights.  And what did the audience look like that whooped and hollered as these well-worn bromides were being served?  Mostly male, mostly 50 or older and totally White.

The NRA and the gun industry have done a really great job making that kind of audience feel like they are under attack. They’ve done an equally good job pushing the idea that modern life is fearful and fear can be overcome if you own a gun.  The problem is, that even after a prolonged recession when many younger people had great difficulty finding jobs, the Millennials are the most optimistic and the least fearful of all population groups, and remain the most convinced that their future dreams will come true.  They aren’t tying these thoughts to a Republican win in November; they see the world through their own eyes, and those eyes aren’t focused on the NRA.

If Millennials maintain this very distinct world view as they get older, the problem of gun violence may take care of itself.  Because even though many younger people think that guns are “cool,” (after all, they were raised on video-games,) they don’t see the world as a dark or forbidding place.  And it’s that dark and dangerous world that the gun industry and the NRA has been using to sell more guns since everyone started leaving the farm.

evolve-badgeWant to see the kind of gun message that Millennials will like?  Take a look at this video produced by my friends Jon and Rebecca Bond for their organization called Evolve.  It’s, hip, it’s cool, it delivers a serious point about guns but makes it in a clever and sophisticated way.  I have never seen a message like this coming from the gun industry because they haven’t figured out how to speak to the generation that will either become or not become their customers and supporters in the years ahead.  And if  they don’t figure out how to do it the Bonds and other Millennial-conscious organizations will end up owning the debate.

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