Do Background Checks Equal Gun Sales? Not By A Long Shot.

Like most of us, I’m sick and tired of the alt-right’s attack on mainstream media by calling it ‘fake news.’ Talk about the pot calling the kettle black, or worse. But every once in a while our friends in the real news media get it wrong, and this seems to happen frequently when the issue involves guns. Which is not surprising given the fact that liberals and educated folks in general are usually not that versant with guns or gun cultures, which is all the more reason they should be extra careful when they wander onto the gun-owning/using turf.

An example of this lack of knowledge about guns came out today in an NPR story about background checks in which the writer, Uri Berliner, used the latest FBI-NICS check numbers to craft an article about the post-Trump decline in gun sales.  Now young man Berliner has some impressive journalistic creds; according to the NPR website, he is part of the Planet Money team and previously worked as a reporter for the San Diego Union-Tribune. All of which I am sure has given him lots of experience in how to research a story before he sends it out. But this particular story, unfortunately, shows little, if any understanding about trends in the gun business at all.

What Berliner has done is taken the most recent news release from the FBI which gives the overall number of background checks for the previous month, and then assumed without bothering to look at the actual data, that each background check equals the transfer of at least one gun.  His story contains a neat little graphic which shows that monthly background checks have declined from 2.8 million in December to 2.2 million last month, numbers that are far below comparable monthly numbers for 2015. I reproduce the graphic here:

berliner

There’s only one little problem. Berliner is using overall background check numbers (which is what the FBI uses in its press releases because it would like you to know how hard they are working down in West Virginia) which do not distinguish between background checks for gun transfers as opposed to background checks for gun license applications, concealed-carry permits and guns taken out of pawn. You see, the FBI-NICS system isn’t just utilized to make sure that a dealer isn’t putting a gun into the ‘wrong hands.’ It’s also used by law enforcement agencies who don’t have the ability to determine whether a resident of their state applying for a gun or CCW license hasn’t committed a disqualifying crime in some other state.

Had Berliner taken the trouble to look at the actual FBI-NICS data which can be seen here, he would have discovered that of those 2.2 million background checks processed in February, more than half had nothing to do with gun transfers at all. In fact, February, 2017 was the first month that background checks for something other than gun transfers actually exceeded background checks on guns since the FBI started breaking out their numbers back in 1998. And when you examine the background check data in detail, what jumps out is the degree to which the sale of guns (using NICS as a proxy) has declined much more than what the NPR story would lead us to believe.

I’m not saying that Berliner is incorrect when he claims that the gun industry is in the midst of a post-Trump slump. But let’s remember that the whole background check issue is the Numero Uno issue being discussed and debated among organizations that seek to reduce gun violence and believe that expanding background checks is a proper way to proceed.

You would think that NPR would at least understand the necessity of verifying the data which they use to construct a story based on background checks. You would think that the gun violence prevention (GVP) community would want to understand what the data actually means.

You would think….

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Lawyers Take On Gun Violence – Will It Make A Difference?

I’m not an expert or even a novice on what I know about America’s legal profession, but when firms like Paul, Weiss, Rifkind, Wharton & Garrison, Arnold & Porter and Covington & Burling announce that they are joining forces to tackle a legal issue, it’s worth my time to figure out what’s going on.  And when these firms and a bunch of other legal powerhouses announce that the issue they want to pursue is gun violence, then it’s something I need to understand.  And what better way to understand what’s going on than a long and detailed article in The New York Times which says these firms are committing “tens of millions of dollars in free legal services” to aid the gun violence prevention community (GVP) in its efforts to reduce the annual carnage caused by America’s love affair with guns.

lawyers             Predictably, Gun-nut Nation immediately responded to this announcement by accusing the lead Arnold & Porter attorney, Michael Schissel, of “lying through his teeth” in an interview with NPR because he wouldn’t admit that his real reason for getting involved was to help his firm get “rich off frivolous lawsuits” that would be filed once his firm helped dispose of the gun-immunity law known as PLCAA. And to prove just how much the gun industry doesn’t need any more anti-gun lawyers poking around, the whine about Schissel mentioned the sad case of Stag Arms whose owner was barred from the industry for life simply because he couldn’t provide the ATF with documentation about a pile of full-automatic assault guns.  We’re not talking about the semi-automatic assault rifles which Stag manufactures in boatloads every month.  We’re talking about weapons where you pull the trigger one time and the gun barks roughly ten times per second until all the ammo is used up.

Of course what the new legal alliance is facing isn’t some small fry in Connecticut who forgot to do the paperwork on his machine guns.  What they are really facing is the power and authority of the Executive branch of the Federal government whose new occupant better not forget the television ads that NRA ran during his Presidential campaign. I find it interesting, incidentally, that there was absolutely no mention of anything having to do with the 2nd Amendment in the hundred-day agenda that Trump released back in October when he delivered his version of the Gettysburg Address. And what really concerns me in this respect was the statement coming out of the new legal coalition formed to help reduce gun violence that their effort “was not aimed at eroding gun rights.”

The problem with this approach on the part of advocates for GVP is that the statement simply flies in the face of reality, or at least the reality of gun ownership as it is understood by most people who own guns.  Take, for example, the surveys which show a majority of gun owners and even NRA members allegedly supporting the extension of FBI-NICS background checks. Yet none of those surveys ever ask these same NRA members how they feel about the NRA’s explicit rejection of any additional background checks at all.  I can guarantee you that if those same NRA members had to choose between supporting background checks and supporting the NRA, the folks in Fairfax would get their money and their votes.

The search by this new legal coalition to identify and speak to all those ‘responsible’ gun owners reminds me of all those ‘responsible’ Republicans who were going to desert the party and vote for Hillary because they just couldn’t accept the rantings and ravings of this new guy named Trump.  Know what happened to all those ‘responsible’ Republicans when they walked into the voting booth on November 8th? They voted the way they always voted, which is exactly what will happen if gun owners have to choose between gun regulations drawn up by liberals (and their attorneys) or the protection of the NRA.

Should Brady Be Criticized For Running An Ad That Shows Pics Of Mass Shooters And Their Victims?

An argument broke out in the GVP community concerning an advertisement put out by the Brady organization, which shows images of mass shooters, Adam Lanza and James Holmes, along with pictures of shooting victims and permits viewers to download a Google app that erases the names and images of mass shooters from online media “out of respect for the victims.” The ad sparked an outcry leading to the posting of an online petition that asked Brady to withdraw their ad campaign.  As of this morning, the petition collected 120 names.

Evidently the Brady message sparked anger on the part of people who are invested in trying to absorb the emotions involved in losing a loved one in a mass shooting. Reuters quoted a Los Angeles-based entertainment writer who lost a cousin in the Aurora movie shooting; another online media outlet got a similar reaction from Tom Teves who lost his son at Aurora and then started an organization, No Notoriety, whose media consultant just happens to be the Los Angeles PR lady quoted by Reuters above.

Now don’t get me wrong.  Nobody should try and capitalize by exploiting the grief of others, and in the age of instant journalism fostered by the internet, disclosure rules that used to govern old-style journalism should still apply. But without in any way calling into question the motives or views of people who suffer daily from wanton acts of gun violence, there are two issues here that need to be addressed.

First is the general issue of how guns and gun violence are depicted by those individuals and organizations who seek to find solutions to the carnage which continues to claim 30,000+ lives every year.  Personally, I have always found it unsettling that whenever the media talks about gun violence, the actual images which prove just how fearsome guns can be are sanitized to a degree that basically renders the argument moot.  Take a look, for example, at the illustration which accompanied the Reuters story quoted above. And this pic is typical of what accompanies virtually all GVP media stories on gun violence; if you don’t believe me, take a look at this story from NPR. Let’s not forget that a majority of Americans now believe that someone walking around with a gun is safer than not having a gun.  I don’t think it would be such a terrible thing to show these folks the damage that a gun can really do.

Getting back to Brady, I also want to raise a specific issue regarding the petition that is collecting signatures condemning their ad. The petition is hosted by an outfit, change.org, whose name sounds very much like the type of website that hosts stories and promotes activities for people and organizations with a progressive point of view.  And in fact the website claims to “reach the world’s largest socially engaged audience.”  Now what could be more progressive and more dedicated to good things than that?

But a funny thing happens when you take the time to actually examine some of the petitions that are hosted on this site, in particular, petitions about guns.  You’ll find all kinds of petitions asking Obama to do this and that for gun safety, along with petitions for keeping guns off various college campuses, extending background checks to private sales, blah, blah and blah.  You’ll also find a petition promoting open carry in Florida, which has gained more than 20,000 signatures, and another petition (ready for this one?) that has garnered more than 5,000 signatures, telling Congress to abolish the NFA.  Which happens to be the law regulating the private ownership of machine guns! Imagine what would have happened if Adam Lanza could have walked into Sandy Hook Elementary with a full-auto gun.

I’m not saying that people who spoke out against the Brady ad should be criticized for mounting a petition on a website that hosts petitions asking to make it easier for Americans to get killed with guns. But perhaps the GVP community should be a little more solicitous of the company they keep.