Here we go again. We have the horrendous shooting in a high school which claimed four lives and every internet journalist becomes an instant expert on guns. Want to make a quick few hundred bucks? Just send a story idea about guns around to various digital media sites and some editor desperate to fill up the daily content quota will tell you to bring it on.

              So, today we get a story on Business Insider by someone named Katie Balevic which has the following headline: “The pistol the Oxford High School shooting suspect used was one of nearly 700,000 firearms that Americans bought or tried to buy during Black Friday sales.”

              The author of this article, identified as a News Fellow on the Weekend News team, then goes on to say that “Black Friday was one of the most productive days in gun sales to date. On Black Friday alone, 187,585 background checks were made, a slight increase from 186,645 in 2020.”

              There’s only one little problem with Ms. Balevic’s story. It’s completely wrong. There is absolutely no connection between the number of background checks performed by the FBI-NICS phone gang on a daily, weekly, monthly, or yearly basis and the number of guns that actually move into the hands of people allegedly buying all those guns.

              What Katie Balevic used to give us those frightening numbers about gun sales is data published by the FBI which aggregates the total n umber of telephone calls received each day regardless of the reason for the call. If the intrepid reporter knew the first thing about what she was writing about, she would have consulted the publication from FBI-NICS which lists calls received from each state, as well as the reason for the call.

              Guess what? If Ms. Balevic had looked at this latter document, she would have quickly realized that mor than half the calls received by FBI-NICS have nothing to do with the purchase of guns at all. Oops. Sorry about that.

              Incidentally, I’m going to send a copy of this column to the News Fellow of the Weekend News team and wait for a reply. Want to take the short odds that I’ll receive a reply? Yea, right. I’ll receive what Grandpa would call “gurnisht” (read: nothing.)

              The problem with spreading mis-information about guns is that it impacts the discussion about gun violence in ways that can only make it more difficult to figure effective responses to the 100,000+ fatal and non-fatal intentional gun injuries which occur every year.

              What really bothered me about the mis-reading of the NICS data is that it just so happens that what drives increases in the phone calls to NICS has been increases in the background checks not performed on gun sales, but on gun licensing, both for new licenses and renewals.

              The whole licensing issue has been fraught with controversy because it’s not clear to what extent requiring a licensing procedure before someone can buy a gun has been an effective way to help reduce gun violence events. And the fact that we can now compare licensing activity to gun violence rates in every state should be a process which could be used to determine whether our regulatory system is working as well as it should or not.

              I have yet to see one, single media person focus on the NICS data covering license checks. Instead, what we get every few months are versions of what we have just gotten from Ms. Balevic, which is the usual hand-wringing about the enormous number of guns being sold, albeit by using data which is simply wrong.

              Either we are going to be informed properly about guns and un violence or we are not going to be informed in any kind of appropriate way. And if we are informed inappropriately, how in God’s name can we ever figure out what changes need to be made in gun laws to reduce the 300 fatal and non-fatal shootings which occur every day?