Last week I wrote a commentary about the silly, little public service announcement on gun safety produced by the NSSF and pointed out that its message about how to talk to kids about guns had little to do either with kids or with guns.  But the real point of the video was to align the gun industry with safety, family and all those other traditional values that you would think were invented by Daniel Baird Wesson and Horace Smith.  After all, marketing is marketing, right?

But I have been thinking about this issue of gun safety from a different perspective, because I believe that both sides in the gun debate tend to emphasize safety issues that reflect their basic approach to the existence, ownership and use of guns and, in this respect, may be overlooking what the paramount issue of gun safety is really all about.

theft                Ask the average gun-control advocate to tell you the Numero Uno on the agenda and they will probably say something about comprehensive NICS background checks.  This issue, more than any other, has defined the battlefield for the gun-sense community since the Manchin-Toomey Amendment went down the drain after Sandy Hook. And there have been some notable victories in this respect, of which the biggest, recent win was in Washington State where all gun transfers now require contacting the NICS-FBI and the use of an ATF Form 4473.

On the other side, the NRA and its allies continue to promote the idea that gun laws do nothing to promote gun safety because criminals don’t obey laws.  Which means passing a gun-control measure only makes it more of a legal and financial burden on law-abiding gun owners, without any consequent impact on crime.  Instead, the pro-gun community believes that the responsibility for insuring gun safety should be left in gun-owning hands; hence the NSSF video promoting some compassionate and timely discussions between Ma, Pa and the kids.

What’s interesting about the disagreement about gun safety is that both sides agree on the goal, which is to reduce the number of times each year that using a gun results in serious harm.  And when we talk about the harmful use of guns, with all due respect to concerns about unintentional gun injuries of which there are (relatively speaking) very few, or gun suicides in which it’s not clear whether the suicide rate would be all that different if guns weren’t used, what we’re really talking about are the 275,000+ murders, robberies and aggravated assaults committed with guns every year.  That’s a lot of folks who end up dead, wounded or seriously traumatized, and nobody disagrees – at least in theory – that something needs to be done.

There are somewhere between 40 and 50 million households containing at least one gun.  Break into .005% of those residences, steal one gun and the ‘wrong hands’ arsenal increases by 200,000 guns every year.  When you have more than 300 million guns floating around, even a tiny percentage like half of one percent adds up to a lot of crime guns. Know what part of the country has the highest amount of gun theft?  The South. The part of the country with the highest per capita ownership of guns has the highest rate of gun theft as well. Gee – what a surprise!

The ATF has decided that if a gun is picked up at a crime scene less than three years after it was originally sold, then the transfer that first put that gun into the civilian population must have been a straw sale.  But I can’t find any data which tells me whether or when that same gun was stolen from its rightful owner, so to assume that guns move from ‘right’ hands to ‘wrong’ hands through some conscious behavior on the part of the initial, legal owner is to assume something that may not be true at all.  And in all the discussions about gun safety, somehow the issue of theft always seems to get overlooked.