Where Do The Numbers Come From In The Gun Control Debate?

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Have you noticed how each side in the current argument about guns has a favorite statistic that they like to throw around?  For the NRA it’s the 2.5 million crimes that didn’t occur last year because more and more people use a gun to deter a crime.  For the President and his supporters it’s the 40% of all gun transfers that take place without a background check.  The NRA claims that their number “proves” that we would all be safer if everyone walked around with a gun.  The gun-control crowd says that their number “proves” that we need to expand background checks so that guns won’t end up in the wrong hands.  Does anyone know where these numbers come from?  Here’s the answer.

The NRA number comes from a telephone survey conducted by the criminologist Gary Kleck in 1994.  As for Obama, his number also comes from a 1994 telephone survey conducted by the sociologist Philip Cook.  Note that 1994 was the last time we had a national debate on guns that ended with passage of both Brady and the assault weapons ban.  Twenty years later we have a new debate but we’re using the same old numbers.  But it’s not that the numbers are old; they are flawed.

Let’s take Kleck’s numbers first.  No respondent was asked to prove that the incident could actually be independently verified.  Although 60% said the incident had “come to the attention of the police,” they were not asked whether it had actually been reported to the police or, for that matter, to anyone else.  Kleck’s explanation for this extraordinary lapse in methodology was that he assumed that many of the respondents might have been walking around either with guns they weren’t supposed to be carrying or were carrying guns in places where such behavior was prohibited.  But the survey didn’t seek to determine that issue either.  Did the people who claimed they used a gun to deter a crime really know what they were talking about?  Can we trust anyone to accurately describe an event without having some way of independently verifying  the truth of what they said? It’s a no-brainer to verify the results of a political poll.  Just wait for the election and then count the votes. But how do you verify something like whether someone really knew that a crime was going to take place?  Especially when the whole point is that the crime didn’t take place.

The methodology of Cook’s survey is not only as flawed as Kleck’s, but might even be worse. Cook asked his respondents if they knew how they acquired their weapon, and 60 percent said they “believed” they got it from a “licensed” dealer.  They ‘believed.’  Then the Department of Justice took this number and assumed that the other 40 percent who admitted to acquiring guns in this survey must have gotten them from someone else.  And this is the 40 percent who, twenty years later, still get their hands on guns without undergoing a background check.

By the way, there were no background checks in 1994.  The NICS system only became operational in 1995.  So nobody underwent a background check in 1994 and if Obama, Bloomberg and Manchin want to base their campaign for expanded background checks on the DOJ survey, they should be consistent and say that the rate of gun transfers without background checks today is 100 percent.  Because that was the rate in 1994.

Last but not least: Kleck’s survey was based on interviews with 225 people; Cook contacted 248.  A national political argument that has consumed the attention of the government, the media and God knows how many advocacy groups is based on discussions with less than 500 people.  Should we be at all surprised that we never found any WMDs in Iraq?

Is the NRA’s Opposition to Background Checks about the Constitution – or About something Else?

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It looks like we may be headed towards Round 2 of the gun control fight in Washington, in which case the NRA will begin kicking and screaming again about how expanding the National Instant Criminal Background Check system (NCIS) will “weaken” the Second Amendment and ultimately lead to the confiscation of guns. But is the argument really about “constitutional rights”? Or is the real argument about something else?

Don’t forget that every single gun entering the consumer market for the first time is sold by a federally-licensed dealer to a consumer and every one of these transactions requires a NICS background check. Whether the dealer is sitting behind the counter in a retail store, or sitting behind a table at a gun show, or sitting on the porch of his home, he/she must still dial 877-324-6427 and get a “proceed” from the very efficient NICS examiner before Joe or Jane Customer walks away with the gun. After that, God only knows what happens to the gun, but every first transaction is registered and approved.

The 156 million calls logged by the NICS came from all 50 states, but just under 50 percent of FBI background checks covered residents in just 16 Southern and border states: MD, VA, WV, NC, SC, TN, KY, GA, FL, LA, Al, MS, TX, OK, MO and AR. These states have a combined population of 114 million. In other words, states that contain less than one-third of the nation’s population bought half of the guns manufactured and sold since 1998.

Incidentally, the ratio of population to NICS calls actually underestimates the number of guns because when I or any other dealer calls NICS we do not tell them how many guns are actually being purchased by the customer. The NICS data doesn’t reflect the fact that if someone walks into my gun shop and purchases one gun, or two guns, or ten guns, I still make only a single NICS call and do not disclose the number of guns being transferred since NICS is verifying background information on the buyer, not on the guns.

With the exception of Maryland, which lies below the Mason-Dixon line but is clearly a “northern” state, the remaining 15 states that gobble up half the new guns sold each year also have the loosest gun controls at the state level. The word “loosest” is something of a misnomer, since the majority of these states, in fact, have no state gun regulations at all. None of them require locking devices on any guns; only one — Virginia — imposes any regulations on gun show sales; and only one — North Carolina — requires a gun permit issued prior to purchasing a handgun. It goes without saying that none of them mandate any legal requirements over private sales.

Of the remaining 34 states, there are 21 that have regulations covering either gun locks, gun shows or private transfers. Most of the other 13 states that impose no restrictions are Western states which, for the most part, account for a small percentage of national gun sales simply because these states don’t have many residents. Montana, for example, is one of three states in which the number of NICS checks between 1998 and 2012 exceeded the total number of residents, but Montana still doesn’t have one million people who call the state their home.

Common sense and practical experience tells us that when government regulates any consumer product, either the price goes up or the supply goes down, or both. Fighting against regulations that would be imposed on the gun owners of all 50 states might appear to be a Constitutional issue, but it’s a marketing strategy as well. The gun industry and its allies want to push as many guns as possible into parts of the country where government regulation won’t dampen sales. The Second Amendment not only protects the rights of individuals to own guns, it also protects the rights of manufacturers to make more guns. Does laissez-faire trump gun control? If the Manchin-Toomey bill is resurrected, we’ll soon find out.

Great News! Illinois Finally Joins The Rest of America in Letting Its Citizens Carry Guns


The Illinois legislature has just passed a concealed-carry bill and the Governor may have no choice but to sign it into law. Until now, Illinois was the only one of fifty states that did not allow its citizens to go around packing a gun.  But a court decision last year and some very aggressive lobbying by – you guessed it – the NRA, finally brought the Land of Lincoln into line.

You would think that with all the recent attention being paid to concealed carry of handguns, plus a long history as a state that regulates ownership of guns, that the new concealed-carry law in Illinois might serve as a model for an intelligent and responsible legislative effort to give the state’s citizens the right to be armed.  To the contrary, the law has parts that are silly, parts that are stupid, and parts that are just bizarre.  Did the folks in Springfield even read the bill before they voted?

Here’s a bizarre part: An individual must apply for the CC license to the State Police and the application then circulates to all law enforcement agencies within the state for comments and review.  If an applicant has three arrests for gang-related offenses (yes – you read it correctly) during the seven years prior to the application, the State Police must refer the application to a Review Board, which will then make a final determination.  If the Board believes that this individual does not pose a danger to himself or anyone else, the application goes forward.

Now with all due respect to being innocent until proven guilty, how far are we going to stretch the 5th and 6th Amendments in order to protect the 2nd? I mean, give me a break.  Does this law mean that if someone was arrested only twice for “gang-related offenses” that their carry-concealed application might be approved?

That’s the most bizarre part of the law.  Want a stupid part?  How about the safety course that requires someone to show proficiency in using a handgun by shooting a total of 30 rounds?  Well I guess that’s better than the safety course required for concealed-carry permits in Florida where the live fire consists of a single round.  I’m one to talk because my home state – Massachusetts – issues the license to carry without any live fire requirement at all.  That’s really stupid, but so is the new Illinois law that gives citizens the right to carry and use a gun in self-defense  with proof of proficiency that’s no real proof at all.

As for a silly part, try this one.  During the safety training, the applicant must also be taught the “appropriate and lawful interaction with law enforcement while transporting or carrying a concealed firearm.”  What does that mean?  As a NRA-certified instructor who has trained several thousand men and women in safe use and shooting of guns, I’ll tell you what it means.  It means nothing at all.

One more point (it’s a toss—up between bizarre and stupid so let’s just call it dumb.) The new law does not permit bringing a concealed weapon into a bar but allows concealed guns in restaurants where liquor is served, as long as – get this – the liquor tab is less than 50% of the total bill.  So I sit down with you; you order food, I get smashed on a couple of drinks but your steak cost more than my Jack Daniels.  Oh, by the way, I’m carrying a gun.  And if a town decides it doesn’t want to allow such dumbness, the law overrides any local carry-concealed restrictions anyway.

I belong to an organization called Evolve.  We started this organization because we want to have a rational and realistic discussion about gun violence that will avoid the ideological extremes which characterize the discussion now.  And we want to focus on gun safety and the need for everyone to stand for responsible ownership and use of firearms.  We have no issue with people owning or carrying guns as long as everyone plays by sensible and effective rules.   The new Illinois law is neither sensible nor effective.  It’s just another example of how two extremes dominate a discussion while the rational middle remains silent and another opportunity for meaningful reform goes right down the drain.


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And here’s the link to the one that confirmed my status as a real gun know-it-all:  http://www.huffingtonpost.com/mike-weisser/open-letter-to-wayne-lapi_b_3219807.html

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