When It Comes To Gun Laws, The NRA Isn’t The Last Word.

              All of a sudden the boys down at Fairfax have become very concerned about doing everything with guns in a very legal way. The NRA website no longer contains those obnoxious, crazy videos from Dana, ‘home-school Queen’ Loesch, or the dance-and-prance shooting lessons from Colion Noir. Instead, now we get a whole menu of tips and tricks about how to make sure that everything you do with a gun stays completely within the law.

              Except there’s only one little problem with the NRA‘s new-found concern for making sure that all gun laws are properly observed.  And the problem happens to be the fact that the way the NRA chooses to describe certain gun laws may not be the way some of those laws actually work. Take, for example, their advice on how to purchase a gun as a gift for someone else.

              The comment starts off like this: “Giving someone a firearm carries a certain level of legal responsibility that does not come with gifting iPads or socks. You should know the laws that apply to buying firearms as gifts for another person.” Fair enough. I have no problem with the NRA‘s advice up until now.

              But then things get a little sticky, because the text then goes on to mention the fact that if you purchase a gun from a dealer, you must undergo a background check which involves declaring that you are buying the gun for yourself. But what if you knew that after buying the gun you were going to walk out of the store, wrap the gun up as a gift and give it to someone else? And let’s say further that you live in a state where giving that gun to someone else doesn’t require another background check? Which still happens to be the law in 29 of the 50 states.

              Here is what the NRA has to say about that: “Even if you are not keeping the gun, you are the owner of that firearm until you legally transfer it to the intended recipient.” Sorry,  but that’s not how the background check law works at all. Because what the law says is that you have committed a felony if you knew you were going to transfer the gun to someone else at the time you first purchased the gun and claimed on the 4473 background-check form that you were buying it for yourself.

              This issue was decided by the Supreme Court in Abramski v. United States, which was argued and decided in 2014. Bruce Abramski was a part-time cop who walked into a gun shop in Virginia and bought a Glock. He then took the gun to Pennsylvania and gave it to his uncle who had earlier sent him the money to purchase the gun. But to take the gun out of the shop in Virginia, Abramski had to undergo a background check, and even though he was buying the gun for his uncle, he certified that he would be the legal owner of the gun.

              Had Abramski paid for the gun in Virginia but let the dealer ship it to another dealer in the uncle’s hometown, he would have been following the law. But by walking out of the Virginia gun shop with a gun which he knew was going to be given to someone else, he had committed what we call a ‘straw sale.’

              Abramski didn’t lie on the 4473 because he was going to sell the gun to a ‘street thug.’ He lied to save himself the cost of shipping the gun to a dealer in another state.

              The real problem with gun laws, and this is probably true of the legal system in general, is that you can’t write a law that compensates for stupidity, and there’s plenty of stupidity floating around the NRA.

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A New Report Spells Out The Real Costs Of Gun Violence.

Our friends at The Violence Policy Center (VPC) have just issued a very important report on the ways in which gun violence goes beyond creating dead and injured victims, but also disrupts and diminishes the quality of life in neighborhoods where too many shootings occur. And in case you didn’t know it, when I say ‘too many’ I mean more than none. This subject has a lengthy pedigree, going all the way back to the 1970s when Phil Cook began looking at this issue for the Ford Foundation, a subject he has revisited over the years, including an informative book on the issue published by Oxford University Press.

dontlie              But what makes the VPC report both timely and important is the fact that it starts where most reports on the costs of gun violence leave off, namely, going beyond measuring the financial costs (medical intervention, lost wages, decreased property values) and looking instead at the individual and community-wide psychological costs which are more difficult to immediately discern but may have a greater impact on how people live their lives. The report blends data on gun violence with “advances in recent brain science research” to show how ‘early life adversity’ resulting from violence can precipitate a condition known as ‘toxic stress’ which leads to difficulties in brain development, which leads to all kinds of adverse social and mental behavior both on an individual basis and for the community as a whole.

Consequences of toxic stress in young people include:

  • Reduced school performance leading to workforce difficulties and stagnant careers;
  • Increased incidence of substance abuse, potential for suicide and heightened anxiety;
  • Greater tendency to engage in violent and anti-social behavior.

And what could be more violent and anti-social than pulling out a gun? So what this research appears to indicate is that gun violence not only creates a large population of individuals who have suffered the physical effects of gunfire (if they survive the attack,) but an even much larger population that will suffer long-term problems that will impede the development of a normal life. How do we put a dollar figure on such outcomes the way that we put a dollar figure on how much medical responses to gun violence cost? We can’t, but if we could, the $229 billion that Mother Jones says are the direct and indirect costs of gun violence to the victims and institutions (hospitals, jails, etc.) which directly respond to the problem would be a drop in the  bucket compared to the real costs.

Which brings me to the report’s suggestions for how to respond to this problem, in particular the idea (Page 15) which calls for “anti-trafficking measures that could help interrupt the flow of illegal firearms to impacted communities,” and “public education campaigns and outreach materials to educate communities at risk regarding the risks of firearms in the home.”

Which happens to be the ‘Don’t Lie for the Other Guy’ program funded by the NSSF. What? The gun industry’s lobbying arm which has been front and center in pushing programs which allegedly promote gun violence is actually paying for an educational program which talks directly to one of the pet issues of the gun violence prevention (GVP) movement, namely, preventing guns from getting into the ‘wrong hands?’

You may not believe what I just said, but it happens to be true. And the reason it’s true is that I have personally seen full-size roadside billboards like the one pictured above in two cities, and I don’t mean on the Interstates that run around the towns. They were right in the middle of neighborhoods which experience high levels of gun crime.

The NSSF has put up signage in more than twenty urban centers and, frankly, I find it astonishing that the GVP community hasn’t conducted a similar campaign. To the degree that the GVP fights for stronger laws against straw sales, a national program educating the residents of gun-violent neighborhoods about straw sales would be a no-brainer, right?

So tell me, GVP, what are you waiting for?

 

Thanks to Fritz Walker.

The ATF Issues A New Directive Defining Dealing In Guns But What They Say Is Not So New.

As someone who has sold more than 12,000 guns retail, which included selling guns at gun shows and over the internet, I think I know a little bit more about whether today’s White House announcements will have an impact on gun violence than does Mike Huckabee, who has already announced that he will “repeal” every one of Obama’s gun initiatives, even though most of what the President intends to do has nothing that could be repealed at all.

atf              Coincident with the White House news release and media blitz, the ATF has issued a new publication which attempts to define their notion of what constitutes being in the “business” of selling firearms, which is one of the key elements in the new Obama plan; i.e., people who sell guns privately at gun shows or online may now be required to operate as federally-licensed dealers, which means that they must conduct NICS-background checks on every gun they sell – unless, of course, the gun is transferred to another dealer.

I have read this publication with care, in particular a series of brief vignettes that give examples of people transferring guns as a business transaction as opposed to people transferring guns where no real business activity occurred.  In my judgement, this publication is totally consistent with relevant laws as well as a reflection of the approach usually taken by the ATF in regulating firearm sales: “As a general rule, you will need a license if you repetitively buy and sell firearms with the principal motive of making a profit. In contrast, if you only make occasional sales of firearms from your personal collection, you do not need to be licensed.”  And this rule applies to every venue that might be possibly used for selling guns – your store, retail space, trunk of your car, laptop computer or anywhere else.

I never had a problem complying with this rule when I sold guns at shows or over the internet because I was always a federally-licensed dealer; hence, every gun in my inventory needed to be identified as to where it came from and to whom it was then sold.  And since as a licensed dealer I could only sell to individuals after completing a background check, it didn’t matter what sales venue I used.  The ATF could (and did) inspect my documentation to insure that every gun in my inventory was properly acquired in and transferred out, and if I couldn’t produce the requisite paperwork for any particular transaction they would raise holy hell.

To provide some guidance as to what constitutes dealing in firearms, the ATF has appended 9 examples of different types of gun transfers of which 5 instances would require a dealer’s license and 4 others would not.  This is a pretty comprehensive series of examples which, to my mind, honestly reflect the basic requirements of operating with a federal dealer’s license as opposed to an individual who has a personal need or desire to transfer some guns. On the other hand, anyone behaving like the 5 ‘repetitively buying and selling’ examples who doesn’t currently have a dealer’s license should be prosecuted not just for illegal sale of guns, but for being a complete and unmitigated dope. And any current FFL-holder who sells guns to someone knowing or suspecting that this individual is engaging in repetitive, for-profit sales, is aiding and abetting straw sales – period, that’s that.

The truth is that most gun dealers buy from and sell to the same people all the time.  Even my internet sales, which were always dealer-to-dealer transactions, went to the same dealers because I trusted them and they trusted me.  Although the term ‘straw sales’ never appears in this publication, when someone buys a gun from a dealer intending to resell it privately to someone else, that’s exactly what constitutes a straw sale, and anyone who actually believes that this infringes on 2nd-Amendment rights, also probably believes that Mexico will pay for Donald Trump’s new fence.

 

 

Does Time To Crime Help Us Understand How Guns Get Into The ‘Wrong Hands?’ I Don’t Think So.

Ever since the NICS system went fully operational in 1998, gun-control advocates have been pushing to expand background checks beyond the original countertop sale.  And while it’s arguable, to say the least, that 40% of all gun transfers take place outside of the NICS background check process, there’s no denying the fact that regulating the movement of firearms throughout the civilian marketplace means, by definition, that less guns would get into the ‘wrong hands.’  In the meantime, however, the lack of comprehensive background checks has also spawned a series of assumptions about how and why guns end up being used in crime, and these assumptions then lead to policy strategies whose effectiveness, as far as I can tell, would be questionable at best.

nics                The biggest assumption flowing from the patchwork NICS system is the notion that guns end up in the ‘wrong hands’ because of something called ‘straw sales;’ i.e., someone who can pass muster with NICS buys a gun for someone who can’t, or someone sells a firearm to someone else who is prohibited under law from owning a gun. Another corollary that runs along the same line is the notion that many crime guns come out of the inventories of a relatively few rogue dealers who consciously furnish these weapons to so-called ‘gun traffickers’ who then set up shop on a gang-infested street.  This leads to the third corollary, namely, that states with weak gun laws (read: the South) are the spores out of which all these straw sales and gun-trafficked weapons initially emerge, then to be carted off and resold in gun-tough states like New York and other parts of the Northeast.

Much of this evidence about how, why, when and where crime guns appear comes from those folks who are responsible for regulating gun commerce, a.k.a. the ATF.  The agency publishes an annual report on a state-by-state basis which shows how long it takes for a gun originally sold by a federally-licensed dealer to wind up in the street.  This process is known as Time To Crime (or TTC), and the average for all 50 states is somewhere around 11 years.  Consequently, when the ATF notices that a particular dealer has a TTC of two years or less, there’s a good chance that this shop is somehow involved in straw selling, gun trafficking, or both.  Let me break the news to you gently: If I had a nickel for every piece of research that has been published on the utility of TTC as a way to cut down on guns ending up in the wrong hands, I’d be sitting in Zelo’s in Monaco instead of the diner near my house which has a hot spot that I’m using while I write this piece.

I hate to break the news to the ATF and the gun-control advocates who rely on the ATF to help formulate their strategies for regulating guns, but the TTC data published by the ATF doesn’t explain anything about the movement of guns from legal to illegal hands.  The trace request received by the dealer is based on the date that the wholesaler shipped him the gun.  So the data which comprises a TTC dealer profile is based on the first time a particular gun was sold.  In most gun shops, upwards of 40% of the guns that are sold (and for which a NICS check is conducted) happen to be used guns.  I sold more than 12,000 guns in my shop and I can tell you that I often sold the same gun two or three times.  But if I received a trace request for that gun, my response would be based only on the earliest, initial sale.

If the average gun dealer sells 30-40 percent used guns, there’s a 30-40 percent chance that the ATF trace will not be a reliable indicator of when that particular gun started moving from legal to illegal hands. Want to base public policy and advocacy on those odds?  You go right ahead.

 

If We Curb Straw Sales Do We Curb Gun Crime? I’m Not So Sure.

Last week the NSSF announced they were going to bring their Don’t Lie for the Other Guy billboard campaign to Oakland, CA, Wilmington, DE and Camden, NJ.  They claim that the campaign will generate more than 11 million weekly “media” impressions, which I guess is the number of people who might drive past these billboards in a week.  I always thought that the only roadside billboard which made any impression on drivers was the one that reads Next Exit, but the NSSF probably knows something about advertising that I don’t know.

The gun industry has been promoting this campaign for years, the idea being that conducting a background check for over-the-counter transfers deters “straw” sales. The industry has also been fighting tooth and nail to prevent background checks on transfers of guns that take place outside of a gun shop, but since you can’t lie on a background check form if there is no background check form, in their own stupid way at least the NSSF’s Don’t Lie campaign is nothing if not consistent.

dont lie               One area in which both sides of the gun debate appear to agree is the idea that straw sales are a major source of guns that end up being used in crime.  Obviously the Don’t Lie campaign is based on this premise;  ditto are statements from the various gun-safety advocacy groups.  But when it comes to getting on the Let’s Stop Straw Sales bandwagon, nobody outdoes the ATF.  Not only does ATF partner with the NSSF in the Don’t Lie campaign, but they take the whole thing a step further by running educational seminars for dealers and distributing thousands of Don’t Lie campaign kits to gun shops nationwide. The ATF takes this issue very serious because, according to them, “The denial of guns to prohibited persons is critical to the mission of ATF in preventing violent crime and protecting the nation.”

Which brings us full circle back to the reason for the concern about straw sales in the first place, namely, keeping guns out of the ‘wrong hands.’  The idea that we can deter crime by defining certain groups of crime-prone people who are, ipso facto, unable to legally acquire a gun was the basic premise of the GCA68, as well as the Brady bill of 1994. According to the FBI, more than 700,000 gun transfers were denied over the past ten years, which resulted in “saving lives and protecting people from harm.”  In other words, thanks to the NICS system, roughly 70,000 people each year were prevented by NICS from getting their ‘wrong hands’ on guns.  Which brings up some interesting questions:  If 70,000 would-be criminals couldn’t walk into a gun shop each year and briefly thereafter depart with a gun, how come the number of gun homicides since 2000 hasn’t declined at all?  How come the overall rate of firearm violence has not essentially changed since 2003?

I’ll tell you why.  Because maybe, just maybe the ability of criminals to get their ‘wrong’ hands on all those crime guns doesn’t have all that much to do with straw sales.  The Justice Department estimates that at least 200,000 guns are stolen each year, and that’s probably a minimal number at best. Of course the ATF will chime in and tell you that each year they have done more than 300,000 traces of confiscated guns over the same period of time, but if you look at their trace reports carefully you’ll notice that less than 20% involved guns picked up in serious crimes.

One way or another at least 100,000 – 150,000 guns get added to the ‘wrong hands’ arsenal each year without anyone committing a straw purchase at all.  Don’t get me wrong.  I’m not against extending background checks to secondary transactions or private sales.  But for the last twenty years I’ve been listening to public health scholars and gun-safety advocates promote the necessity to curb straw sales and now the chorus also includes the NSSF. Anyone interested in doing something about theft?