Was 2019 A Good Or Bad Year For Gun Sales?

              Every year about a week into the new year, the FBI publishes a report covering how many NICS background checks were performed the previous year.  And while this number doesn’t cover all gun transfers, what we do learn from this data is the number of guns that move from gun dealers to gun owners, which is a very accurate way of determining whether Americans are still in love with their guns.

              Gun-nut Nation has been building up expectations about the gun industry’s recovery from the Trump slump for the past several months. At the beginning of December, Fox News crowed that “gun background checks on record to break record in 2019.” And when the year-end numbers came out, the pro-gun noise machine immediately announced with unbridled joy that “2019’s count is the most since the National Instant Criminal Background Check System began in 1998.”

              Know the old line about how figures don’t lie but liars sure can figure? What Gun-nut Nation is saying about the health of their beloved industry based on the 2019 FBI-NICS numbers is true, except the truth happens to hide an important detail that completely undercuts the argument about how the gun business is alive and well.  And that detail happens to be the fact that more than half of the FBI-NICS checks conducted each month have nothing to do with guns actually being sold or transferred into consumer’s hands. These non-sale checks cover issuing and renewing licenses, taking guns out of pawn, rentals, private sales, all kinds of transactions which, if anything, reflect the extent to which gun ownership is an increasingly regulated activity which goes far beyond retail gun sales. If anything, the increase in NICS checks should be seen not as a sign of gun industry health, but of the degree to which the regulatory environment continues to grow.

              What really spurred the slight increase in December gun sales, which were 4% higher in 2019 than what was recorded for December, 2018, was that gun makers, wholesalers and retailers all cut prices in order to bring buyers into the stores. Right now I can walk into a gun shop near me and buy the Smith & Wesson Shield pistol for seventy bucks under the MSRP.  That’s a price break?  That’s a price collapse.

              If and when the Democrats begin narrowing down the field of Presidential candidates looking to grab the brass ring and the chosen candidate decides to push an aggressive anti-gun position as part of his or her campaign, we might see a real upturn in gun sales without the gun industry forcing the issue by cutting prices. But if the issue of gun violence is a function not of gun ownership per se, but guns getting into the ‘wrong’ hands, who cares how many guns are bought and sold as long as the individuals engaging in these transactions never commit any kind of violent behavior with their guns?

              If it were only that simple. If we only had a regulatory system which could keep the most lethal consumer product ever developed away from individuals who are either too stupid or too violent to behave properly with a gun. On the other hand, what do we really mean when we talk about behaving properly or responsibly with a gun? Aren’t we really saying that guns should only be used in ways that will negate the possibility of injuring yourself or someone else? If that’s the case, we have a little problem because the whole point of buying a gun like the Smith & Wesson Shield pistol is to use it, when necessary, to hurt someone else.

              One way or another, we are going to have to face the fact that many people believe in the notion of ‘virtuous violence,’ meaning that using violence for a good reason (e.g., self-defense) is why they buy a gun.  And as long as our approach to regulating guns allows gun makers to appeal to folks who see violence as sometimes being a good thing, we will find ourselves looking for some kind of silver lining in the FBI-NICS numbers each month.

11 thoughts on “Was 2019 A Good Or Bad Year For Gun Sales?

  1. “One way or another, we are going to have to face the fact that many people believe in the notion of ‘virtuous violence,’ meaning that using violence for a good reason (e.g., self-defense) is why they buy a gun.”

    Are you suggesting that the men in the Church in White Settlement TX shouldn’t have bought guns? Or Just left them at home?

    • I don’t believe we will ever know if he was convinced that he was righting a wrong. I’ve yet to see or hear what his motivation was. He is dead and to know if he was convinced that he was righting a wrong wouldn’t we need to know the mental operation of his mind? Unless he left some kind of a manifesto/declaration I don’t believe we will ever know. So righting a wrong…don’t know.

      • Here here, it’s partisan speculation. He had a long criminal record of violent crimes and mental illness, so I would argue whatever his motivation was it wasn’t rooted in reality.

        It would be like blaming the shooting of Gabby Giffords on currency speculation, because that was an obsession of her crazy drug addled attacker….or blaming the attempted assassination of President Reagan on Jodi Foster.

      • “righting a wrong” can be in the state of mine of the gunman but you are correct: we sure don’t know what this guy was thinking. I would assert that the clowns who flew those planes into the WTC were righting a wrong in their own minds and were batsh*t crazy in my estimation. Or as my friend, the late Vic Stenger put it, “Science flies you to the moon. Religion flies you into buildings.”

      • Well Kahal, you’re right about the Terrorists, except the 9-11 attackers were not mentally ill. They WERE as you and Mike are implying a product of their culture.

        I think culture influences these complete nuts, but the man showed up at a Church where he wasn’t known in an obviously fake Beard and wig with a shotgun under his coat.

        Whatever his motivations were, I suspect the ONLY way one could ascribe blame is by filtering it through a partisan lens.

        Case and point, here’s the journal left by the nut who shot up the theater in Aurora Colorado. His motivations are in here, but I wonder if even he could translate them for us now that he is being medicated.

        Culture might have influenced him, but it wasn’t in any predictable way or one we could ascribe blame.

        I do wish one of the people in the Theater had a pistol and had killed him before he completed his task….


    • According to the Sun article it sounds like his family is conflicted with his motive. His ex-wife, Angela Hollway, said he was crazy (whatever that mean) She also described him a “mentally ill” and “just wasn’t right in his mind.” (again…what does that mean) In 2012 Cindy Glasgow-Voegel, Kinnunen’s first wife, described him as a “a violent, paranoid person” and a “religious fanatic” who “says he’s battling a demon.” She also said “he is just not nice to anyone.” But don’t worry…we will soon know if he was simply convinced that he was righting a wrong. The FBI is working to officially identify the killer’s motive. My money is not that he was trying to right a wrong but it was just simply, as his first wife said…just not n​ice to anyone. Sometimes the best answer is the simple answer.

  2. Regarding the BC numbers going up, part of it could be that more states are requiring comprehensive BCs now.

    Regarding these crazed mass shooters, medical science is still a long, long way from identifying these people ahead of time. With present knowledge of the topic they’d have to put 20% of our population on round-the-clock observation to cover the minute percentage of persons with mental issues who may actually be dangerous.

  3. I got curious if the term ‘virtuous violence’ was a term Mike invented or other people use it.

    “the motives for violence generally grow out of a relationship between the perpetrator and the victim, or their relationships with third parties. The perpetrator is violent to make the relationship right – to make the relationship what it ought to be according to his or her cultural implementations of universal relational moral principles. That is, most violence is morally motivated. Morality is about regulating social relationships, and violence is one way to regulate relationships. That’s our thesis.”

    The quote is from a book Virtuous Violence by Alan Page Fiske. It appears worth reading all the way through.

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