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Are Ghost Guns A Threat?

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              Yesterday afternoon, the Department of Justice published a rule on ‘ghost guns,’ which follows from a promise made by Joe that he was going to require more regulation of these particular types of adult toys. Want to build a coffee table for your living room? Go over to Home Depot, buy some wood and maybe some shellac, make sure you have a hammer and nails sitting around in the garage, and you’re good to go.

              Want to build your own Glock? Go on the internet, do a google for ‘build a Glock’ and you’ll come up with website after website that will sell you all the necessary parts. They’ll also send you directions for putting the parts together, drilling a couple of holes in the frame to fit the screws, and in a couple of hours you own a Glock.

              What’s the difference between the new coffee table you stuck in front of the couch as opposed to the new Glock you built and now keep under a pillow on the couch?  The difference, legally speaking, is that there is no difference, because both items were made by you for your own, personal use.

              On the other hand, if you hold a tag sale to get rid of some of your household junk, you might get a few bucks for the coffee table. But if you give or sell the Glock to anyone else, and the gun is traced back to you, there’s a good chance you’ll get convicted of a federal felony, and that’s no fun even if you don’t go to jail.

              Ever since the feds passed their first gun law in 1934, the concept and practice of assigning a unique serial number to every, single manufactured or imported gun has taken on almost mythical proportions for aiding cops in their unending fight against crime. And who’s ever going to argue against helping the cops fight crime?

              There’s only one little problem with this reverential concern for putting serial numbers on guns, namely, since we don’t have any kind of system for registering guns, the odds that the serial number of a gun will help the cops solve a violent crime range from zero to none.

              The ATF loves to pat itself on the back about the hundreds of thousands of gun traces it does every year, in 2019 alone they claim to have used serial numbers to trace 450,000 ‘crime’ guns. In fact, most of those traces, probably at least 80%, had nothing to do with crimes at all. And even if the ATF actually ran traces on 90,000 real ‘crime’ guns, I notice they never give out a number for how many of those traces result in somebody getting arrested for committing a crime.

              The new rule published yesterday by the DOJ requires that any federally licensed gun dealer who sells a ‘ghost’ kit must first log the kit into his Acquisition & Disposition book, give the kit a unique serial number and require that the buyer fill out a 4473 form and pass a background check. The same rule will apply to a licensed gunsmith who repairs a kit.

              So, the DOJ has just given the ATF some more work, ditto the NICS call center run by the FBI. Nobody has any idea about the actual number of ghost guns that are floating around, but the DOJ justifies this new rule, in part, by noting that between 2016 and 2020, the ATF received 23,906 reports of guns without serial numbers being connected to crimes. How many of those guns were given serial numbers by manufacturers and then the numbers were rubbed off? Who knows?

              The FBI estimates that somewhere around 300,000 guns are stolen every year. That’s 1.5 million guns that disappeared during the same timeframe that 24,000 ghost guns were picked up by the cops. Between homicides, aggravated assaults and armed robberies, there are probably 150,000 serious crimes committed each year with serialized guns.

              Want to use an elephant to swat a fly? Just tell the ATF to come up with a new rule for regulating guns. They’ll wheel out the elephant every time.

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What Does The ATF Really Do?

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              Want to read an article about gun violence which contains so many misstatements that it qualifies as ‘fake news?’ Try the article published in The New York Times about Joe’s decision to appoint David Chipman to run the ATF.

              I have nothing against Chipman. He and I have talked several times, and he’s a decent, stand-up guy. He retired from ATF and now does a gig with Gabby’s gun-control group.  He’s hardly the ‘fiery’ former agent that the NYT claims him to be.

              The inaccuracies in the NYT article run much deeper than whether they have created a false impression about David Chipman. The bottom line is that this article simply doesn’t show the slightest understanding of what the ATF has done or hasn’t done about gun violence over the last nearly fifty years.

              The ATF was assigned its current regulatory role over guns in the government’s most sweeping gun law to date – the Gun Control Act of 1968 (GCA68). The agency enforces the regulation of gun commerce, i.e., the interstate movement of guns. This happens to be the proper role of all federal regulatory agencies, whether the agency regulates the interstate movement of guns, cigarettes, money, potato chips, or anything else.

              Meanwhile, even though just about every gun which is used in an act of gun violence crossed a state line at some point in time, the control of gun violence, at the point where gun violence actually occurs, is left up to the individual states. That’s what federalism is all about, right?

              The GCA68 preamble says the law is intended to help law-enforcement agencies do a better job of dealing with crime. So, the ATF, from its very beginnings in the gun thing, operates in a kind of no-man’s land. The agency’s only statutory authority is to make sure that the behavior of the individuals who engage in gun commerce – manufacturers, wholesalers, dealers – follow the rules which define how guns move legally from one state to another state. When it comes to guns being used to commit gun violence, such events have little to do with the activities of the ATF at all.

              My gun shop was inspected by the ATF in 2014. Three agents from the regulatory division showed up and examined the paperwork covering more than several thousand transactions which had occurred in my shop over the previous years. At the end of this exercise, which went on for several months and involved at least a dozen separate visits to my shop, I couldn’t produce the requisite paperwork on the sale of – ready? – three guns.

              To complete the inspection, I had to call the ‘stolen-missing gun’ lady at the ATF’s Atlanta office, give her the serial number of those three guns, which she then put on some master list which presumably is used to figure out something about missing or stolen guns.

              One of the three ‘missing’ guns was the frame of an old Mossberg shotgun which couldn’t be fired because it didn’t have a barrel, or a trigger, or a stock. But the frame had a serial number which made it a gun. Another of the ‘missing’ guns was a 22-caliber, Iver Johnson revolver, which was manufactured sometime before World War II.

According to GCA68, my failure to produce the requisite paperwork on these two ‘weapons’ constituted a ‘threat’ to public safety. Such threats are felonies, punishable by up to five years in jail.

The NYT article follows  closely from a long, detailed report on the ATF published by the Center for American Progress (CAP) in 2015. That report was based on interviews with more than 90 staff from the FBI and ATF.  The NYT story was based on interviews with 50 ATF staffers and others. Neither the CAP report, nor the NYT article referenced an interview with a single individual – dealer, wholesaler, manufacturer – whose business activities are regulated by the ATF.

How do you determine the effectiveness of a regulatory agency without talking to at least one person whose entire business activity is controlled by what the regulatory agency does or doesn’t do?

You don’t.

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Biden Goes After Gun Violence.

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              So, Joe’s now making good on his campaign promise to do something about gun violence, and the first something he’s doing is nominating a former ATF agent, David Chipmen, to head the agency which regulates guns.  I’ve had several brief interactions with Chipman and he strikes me as a bright, responsive guy who’s not trying to prove to anyone how important he is. It remains to be seen, however, whether he has the management skills and temperament to clean up the ATF mess.

              I wrote a book about the ATF several years ago in which I pointed out that the agency has machine guns on the brain, among other things. They knew ‘for a fact’ that the Branch Davidians were building machine guns in their compound outside of Waco, but after the building was burned to the ground causing the death of 75 members of the sect, not a single machine gun or even parts for a machine gun could be found.

              The ATF also knew ‘for a fact’ that some guys were building machine guns in a car-repair shop in Tucson and then smuggled the gun over the border into Mexico, the resulting ATF investigation causing the death of a U.S. border agent even though no machine guns ever turned up.  This little ATF fandango was known as ‘Fast & Furious,’ a completely unnecessary and stupid exercise whose only purpose was to justify the agency’s attempt to get approval for a federal wiretap so that the ATF could take its place alongside the FBI and the DEA as a first-class law enforcement agency on the crimefighting front.

              The ATF has one statutory responsibility which it acquired thanks to the Gun Control Act of 1968. Namely, it’s a branch of the Treasury Department which regulates the interstate commerce of ammunition and guns. Which means that it regulates the behavior of federally licensed gun dealers, and all its other so-called responsibilities just reflect the way that given half the chance, any bureaucracy will find a way to expand its size and its budget in order to justify how it does its job.

              There’s only one little problem, however, when it comes to this approach as regards the ATF. Because even though the ATF has been allegedly regulating gun commerce for more than 50 years, the rate of gun violence keeps going up. And there has never been one, single study which shows any connection between what the ATF is doing out there and whether what they are doing out there makes any difference in terms of gun violence or not.

              The ATF, of course, insists they could do a better job if they were just given the money and resources they need. Let me tell you a little story about their staff and their resources, okay? 

              The night after the horrible massacre at Sandy Hook, the ATF dispatched a squad of agents in full battle dress and carrying live guns to invade the gun shop owned by Dave LaGuercia, which happened to be the shop that had sold the AR-15 to Nancy Lanza which her son then used to shoot up the Newtown elementary school.

              The transfer of the AR-15 from Dave’s gun shop to Nancy Lanza was done entirely correctly and in fact, it was Dave who first called the ATF to inform them that he had sold the AR-15 and a Sig pistol to the mother of the shooter at Sandy Hook. So, after a completely legal sale, these ATF militia spent the whole night tearing Dave’s shop apart and looking for God knows what.  The entire military exercise was put on hold for an hour, however, while the troops ordered and then wolfed down a generous supply of pizza pies, paid for of course, by the American taxpayer, folks like you and me.

              If Shipman wants to help solve the problem of gun violence, he can try to make the ATF into an agency that spends taxpayer dollars to regulate gun commerce instead of blowing its own horn. It would be a welcome and long-overdue change.

There’s another petition up there. Please sign: https://www.change.org/bankillerhandgunsnow

Will Funding ATF Reduce Gun Violence?

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              I normally don’t write a Friday column but the news out of Washington yesterday is so distressing that I can’t let it go through the weekend without a response. What I am referring to is the decision by the House Appropriations Committee to increase the ATF budget by $122 million, money evidently earmarked “to improve the agency’s oversight of Federal Firearms Licensees (FFLs) and operations.” The quote is from a press release issued by our friends at the Brady Campaign.

              The Brady release quotes a committee member, Grace Meng, who states: “Gun dealers who are knowingly breaking the law need to be held accountable, and I am firmly committed to ensuring ATF has every resource necessary to do their jobs.” Congresswoman Meng represents a large swatch of the New York City borough of Queens, which includes what used to be a high gun-violence neighborhood known as Jamaica. The committee chair, Jose Serranno, represents The Bronx as well as upper Manhattan, neighborhoods which also used to experience epidemic-like rates of gun violence year after year.

              Note the fact that both Meng and Serrano represent districts which “used to’ suffer from gun violence.  Know why I put it in the past tense? Because all of New York City has, of late, seen an unbelievable decline in gun violence, at a time when many urban centers throughout the United States continue to see gun violence rates going up. In 2018, the NYPD recorded 753 shootings and 289 homicides.  The gun-violence numbers for 2018 in Chicago, respectively, were 2,948 and 561. New York City has three times more residents than Chicago and suffers 1/4th the number of shootings that occur in the Windy City and half as many violent deaths.  Get it?

              Does this comparison in any way, shape or form have anything to do with how many gun dealers the ATF inspects every year?  Not one bit. And the idea that the bumbling idiots who work for the Industry Operations division of the ATF make any difference in gun-violence rates as they bumble around various gun shops is a complete and total joke.

              I went through an ATF inspection in 2013 which took somewhere around three months. After examining close to 5,000 transactions, I could not produce the requisite paperwork to account for a whole, big, three guns. I was also cited for several thousand infractions, each infraction defined as a possible ‘threat’ to public safety. Know what these public-safety threats consisted of? I had forgotten to list the FFL number of the wholesaler from whom I purchased most of my new guns. The wholesaler happens to be located thirty miles from my shop and sends a daily feed to the ATF of all guns it ships to retailers like me. 

              My gun shop represented such a source of crime guns that, on average, I received two trace requests every – year! Not every week, not every month, every year. The ATF says it doesn’t employ enough inspectors to conduct sufficient audits to insure public safety?  The public needed an audit of my shop like the public needed a hole in its head.

              I’m not opposed to the regulation of gun dealers by the ATF or anyone else. What I am opposed to is the idea that politicians like Grace Meng and Jose Serrano can make it appear (to an unsuspecting public) that their response to gun violence is the proper way to go. What they should be asking themselves is how to use their legislative and fiscal authority to really make an impact on gun violence throughout the United States. And the answer is very simple.

              Why doesn’t Congress fund a program which will help other police departments in high-crime cities develop and maintain the kind of policing that has basically made New York City a crime-free town? With more resources and better training, NYPD’s ‘precision policing’ and more effective community relations could easily be replicated anywhere and everywhere.

              Reducing gun violence isn’t rocket science, okay?

We Don’t Need A National Gun Registry Because The ATF Already Knows Who Owns The Guns.

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              Last week three ‘experts’ on gun violence – Morall, Stewart, Webster – unanimously condemned the idea of creating a national gun registry to help control guns. In fact, these same three individuals have also supported comprehensive background checks (CBC), which would eventually create a national gun registry whether these experts know it or not.

              Here’s how. Every firearm in a gun shop is listed in the shop’s Acquisition & Disposition book, known as the A&D. When a gun comes into a shop, the gun dealer makes an entry in the Acquisition side of the A&D book which shows where the gun came from, along with the make, caliber and serial number of the gun. When that gun leaves the shop because it’s been sold, the dealer then fills in the Disposition side of the book, identifying the new owner of that gun. Before the Disposition information is entered, a 4473 FBI-NICS background check form is also filled out, and is linked numerically to the relevant entry in the A&D.

              Why will they know it? The ATF owns every, single collection of 4473 forms and every, single A&D book located in every gun shop in the United States. If H.R. 8 becomes law, then over time the whereabouts of every gun that has been transferred to anyone after the law goes into effect will be known by the ATF

              In the ‘olden’ days, a.k.a. pre-internet days, gun dealers kept their A&D book by hand. Now virtually every dealer maintains his inventory on disc, and the agency encourages dealers to digitalize their data because it makes it easier for the ATF agents to conduct an inspection without having to stand there and read through every page of the A&D. Incidentally, the idea that the ATF has been ‘handcuffed’ since 1998 because they can only do a trace of the initial sale of a gun happens to be a big, fat lie. If someone walks out of a gun shop with a piece and gives or sells it to someone else, obviously the movement of that gun from one pair of hands to another won’t be known. But walk into any gun shop and you’ll discover that upwards of 40% of the inventory consists of used guns.

A gun that was originally sold by that shop may end up being re-sold multiple times by that shop or other gun shops nearby. Every single one of those sales can be traced by the ATF. Why don’t they do it? Because they’re lazy and dumb. The ATF still sends out trace requests to dealers through manual fax. They haven’t heard of emails or online fax?  Oh no, not those guys who are now complaining that taking away regulating tobacco is nothing more than a bunch of bureaucrats trying to protect their turf.

I’m not saying that by creating a virtual network of all gun shops that we would then have a national registry of guns in the strict sense of the word. What we would have is the ability to do a much greater and more effective tracing process which would only become even more effective if CBC at some point became law. Given the average age of the gun-owning population and the continued weakness of sales, every year more gun owners are being subtracted for natural reasons from the gun-owning population than the number of new owners who appear. Which means that all the guns that are in the hands of Gun-nut Nation would also end up requiring a CBC transfer and thus would become data that could be easily accessed by the ATF.

Everyone, including those three experts on last week’s Congressional panel who disavowed a national gun registry know full well that the reason we have much higher levels of gun violence than any other country in the OECD is because the government doesn’t know who owns the guns. I’m suggesting there’s a very simple way to make a huge dent in this knowledge gap, which would only take a modest degree of initiative that the ATF evidently lacks.

Closing The Loophole on Background Checks – Kind Of.

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             Not only did the new House majority pass one gun-control law, they passed two! And while there’s certainly no guarantee that the Senate will take up consideration off either measure, the momentum is clearly building for some kind of legislative response to the continued gun-violence blood-bath that Americans seem to enjoy. These two measures mark the first time that any gun legislation has been voted up by either House of Congress since 1994.

              The first bill, which I wrote about last week, mandated background checks for just about all kinds of gun transfers. The second bill, H. R. 1112, addresses what has been referred to as the Charleston ‘loophole’ in the background check process, because had it been closed prior to 2015, perhaps Dylann Roof might not have been able to buy the gun which he used to kill 9 parishoners in the Charleston Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church.

              The so-called loophole basically allows a gun dealer to complete a sale and transfer the weapon if the FBI doesn’t finalize the background check within three business days. In fact, there are now 18 states which give law-enforcement additional time to complete a background check, but since the NICS system went live, a total of almost 63,000 guns have ended up in the hands of individuals who ultimately failed the check and shouldn’t have gotten their guns.

              What the new law does is extends the review period from 3 to 10 days, and if no response has been received by the latter date, the gun can be released. But, and this is an interesting but which somehow escaped most of the summaries about the bill, in order for the release of the gun to occur, the buyer must notify the FBI that he or she has the right to own a gun and is petitioning that the weapon in question be released. This follow-up by the dealer only occur after 10 days have passed since the initial background check request was made and the transaction put on hold. 

              In other words, if I want to buy a gun and the initial background check provokes a three-day delay, I am not getting that gun until at least 10 days have passed from the date of the first background check and I now may have to wait another 10 days before the dealer gives me my gun. Obviously, the point of the law is to give the FBI more time to investigate the background of someone whose name registers a red flag in one of the databases the FBI utilizes to conduct NICS checks.

             The law also contains the usual blah, blah, blah and blah about how the FBI has to issue an annual report detailing how many petitions they receive for  delayed transfers and the disposition of same. Of course there’s no penalty if the FBI just happens to forget to issue this report which means it may get issued, it may not.

              I recall several instances in my shop when I released a gun after not hearing from the FBI within the three business days following a delayed NICS check and then the FBI notified me that the transfer should not have gone through. I was told to immediately notify the ATF so that they could send an agent out to pick up the gun.

             Know what the ATF did? Nothing. And the reason I know they didn’t do anything was because if the transaction was legally void, the gun should have been returned to me and the customer’s money would have been returned to him. Whenever I hear the ATF or the FBI crowing about how their vaunted background check system keeps the ‘bad guys’ from getting guns, I think about the guns which shouldn’t have left my shop and are still floating somewhere around.

             Think the ATF would ever publish a report on how many guns they have picked up that shouldn’t have been allowed into the street? Don’t hold your breath.

New Jersey Makes It Easier To Trace Crime Guns But The ATF Could Make It Easier Still.

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A serious and long-overdue step has finally been taken in New Jersey with a decision by the State Attorney General to require that every law enforcement agency participate in the ATF’s data-sharing program on gun traces known as eTrace.  What this means is that when any agency in Jersey asks ATF to run a trace on a gun, unless otherwise directed for reasons of confidentiality, the information will be shared by every police department throughout the state. The purpose of this new procedure, according to the directive sent out by the AG, is to enhance law enforcement’s ability to combat gun violence and trafficking by “identifying statewide patterns in sources and types of guns, as well as unlawful purchasers and firearm traffickers.”

ATF logo             The good news about this directive is that it serves notice on every agency in New Jersey that conducting a trace request is now a mandatory activity, not just something that a police department may or may not choose to do. The biggest problem with enforcement of gun laws is that the ATF, which has total regulatory authority over the gun business at the federal level, has no authority to tell a local law-enforcement agency what it can and cannot do with guns picked up at a crime scene – some agencies run traces, others don’t, it’s a typical hodge-podge which reflects the federal-state division of authority that has been the hallmark of our legal system since a bunch of guys sweated through a hot Philadelphia summer in 1787 and produced the Constitution of the United States.

That was then, and this is now.  The 2nd Amendment notwithstanding, you couldn’t just walk into a gun shop in the olden days and buy a gun.  There weren’t any guns and there weren’t any gun shops. Most Americans owned some kind of gun back then, but for the most part these guns were old-style muskets manufactured one at a time and useful for protecting livestock from Mister Wolf or Mister Fox, but not much more.

In 2016 there were 375 homicides in New Jersey, most of them because of illegal guns. And don’t for one minute think that this violence was only a function of the inner-city ghettos like Newark and Camden; the Jersey shore county, Ocean, was right up there too. New Jersey has one of the strictest permit laws for buying a handgun, but the state suffers from an unusually-high number of crime guns which were first sold in other states. In 2012, four out of five guns traced in New Jersey came from some other state.

The problem with this eTrace program, however, is that even when the Jersey cops learn that a crime gun was first sold in Pennsylvania or Virginia or wherever, they still have no idea how the gun got from there to here. So, the idea that giving all police departments access to the same trace information about a particular gun doesn’t really solve the problem of determining the extent and flow of crime guns.

If the ATF is really serious about helping local law enforcement agencies combat gun crimes, I have a simple suggestion that could be implemented without requiring the cooperation of a single police department at all. Let’s not forget that the ATF has total regulatory authority over the behavior of every, single gun dealer whose shops are the initial source of every, single gun that is ever traced. And many guns that are stolen and trafficked from one state to another, often wind up back in a gun shop because gun dealers are always willing to fork over some cash and buy a used gun.

What the ATF should do is require that any dealer who wants to take in a used gun must first make sure that the weapon hasn’t been previously reported as a stolen gun. It’s not a foolproof system, obviously, but at least it would reduce the extent to which gun dealers play a role, unwittingly or not, in the movement of crime guns. Giving licensed dealers access to eTrace is long overdue.

 

Sometimes The Trace Gets It Right, and Sometimes They Get It Wrong.

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According to our friends at The Trace, they describe their mission as an “independent, nonpartisan, nonprofit newsroom dedicated to shining a light on America’s gun crisis.” And sometimes they do, such as the series they ran last year on stolen guns, other times they don’t. And the reason they don’t sometimes get it right is because none of their writers have any actual experience in the gun business, which means that when they rely on an ‘expert’ for information about guns, they really have no way of determining whether this so-called expert knows what he’s talking about or not.

Today they have posted a link to an article featuring their ATF expert, who happens to be employed by Gabby’s group.  The expert, whose name is David Chipman, spent 25 years with the ATF, allegedly ‘overseeing’ their firearms programs, whatever that means. If what he said about the ATF‘s tracing activities is based on his oversight of gun programs, no wonder the ATF is such a mess. In a word, what The Trace is relying on from this expert to inform their readers about how the ATF operates, is pure crap. It’s nothing more than a very selective description of ATF tracing which simply bolsters the same, old whining narrative about not enough people, not enough money, not enough this, not enough that.

I love how Chipman begins his bravura performance by referring to the clerks who run around the tracing division as “patriots.”  That’s the tip-off right there because we all know that someone who is a ‘patriot’ is above reproach, right? And why are these people busing their butts to fulfill their patriotic duty? Because the 4473 forms which they collect from non-operating gun dealers are stacked away in cartons and have to be searched by hand. It’s those NRA meanies, recall, who won’t let the ATF out the records on disk and make them instantly searchable – a problem explained by The Trace back in 2015.

Now here’s where, as we used to say in the South, the tailgate drops and the bullshit stops. Because even though Chipman says that more than 2 million new documents arrive every month and are added to the (ready?) 700 million documents already being stored, without a modern, computerized search system, the mind boggles at the idea of looking up data in this vast collection of paper.  And the Trace says that the ATF conducted 373,349 traces in 2015, a number which increased to 407,000 last year. Oh my God. Do this without a computer?  Oh…my…Gawd.

Well, we dropped the tailgate but the bullshit didn’t stop. First, the ATF does not disclose how many traces end up being done by a gun dealer, as opposed to the ATF gang down at the National Tracing Center (NTC.) Since the point of a trace is to determine the identity of the person who bought the gun, without knowing the percentage of traces conducted at NTC, just giving out the total number of traces says nothing about how hard all those patriots are working on all those paper files. The ATF also doesn’t disclose how many traces are ‘urgent’ and must be completed within 24 -48 hours, as opposed to ‘routine’ searches for which the deadline is 10 days. So to pretend that the NTC is deluged every day with traces that must be answered immediately, is simply not true.

Our friends at Johns Hopkins have just published a new study (which I will write about next week) which basically finds no connection between background checks and gun violence rates, even in states which require all transfers to be checked. Huh? I thought that the purpose of tracing, at least according to the ATF, was to give law enforcement agencies ‘critical information’ to help solve gun crimes.

Whether it’s Waco, or Fast & Furious, or Sandy Hook, the ATF has never shown itself capable of conducting a serious investigation that would help us figure out what we really need to do to reduce gun violence. If The Trace wants to really shine a light on gun violence, it might turn a strong beam on the patriots who work for the ATF.

 

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What The ATF Doesn’t Tell You About Gun Dealers.

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Now that The New York Times has pronounced that gun dealers are getting away with murder because the ATF lets all these rogue dealers stay in business no matter how many crime guns they sell, and now that the oracle of gun violence prevention, our friend Daniel Webster from Johns Hopkins has further declared that this article is a ‘must read’ because, after all, the NRA makes sure that all gun regulations are weaker than they should be, perhaps we might take a few minutes to set the record straight.

shop             I’m not saying that the article by Ali Watkins is wrong. But the headline, which I’m sure was stuck on to her interesting reportage came out of whatever department tries to attract readers to the NYT site.  The headline says: ‘When Guns Are Sold Illegally, A.T.F. Is Lenient On Punishment.’  No wonder Webster says this is a ‘must read.’ After all, he has been a leading proponent of the need to strengthen licensing at the counter-top through extending background checks to secondary sales.

There’s only one problem with Webster’s promotion of this article. If you actually read the whole thing, Ms. Watkins is saying much more than just that the ATF is letting all these bad-guy gun dealers off the hook. In fact, the whole idea of leniency on the part of the how the ATF regulates gun shops has to be seen in a much broader context which is discussed by Ali Watkins in detail. Maybe Webster doesn’t read details.

The article is based on ATF gun-shop inspection reports which Brady received from the ATF. For obvious reasons, some of the fields in the reports are redacted out, nor does the report necessarily contain all the information that would allow someone to determine the degree to which the ATF is actually letting dealers stay in business whose behavior should really get them shut down. What really comes out from these reports, however, is that conducting an inspection of a gun shop under the rules and regulations of GCA68 (the federal law which set up the entire regulatory system and placed it under the purview of the ATF) often requires judgements to be made for which the law either gives vague guidelines on how to proceed or no guidelines at all.

Watkins gives an example of a gun shop which was cited for releasing several guns without conducting a background check, and even though the shop had evidently failed to conduct a background check on another transfer at some point in time, thus making the second failure a ‘willful’ violation of the law, what this means is that the 4473 background check form did not contain information about when the background check took place (the requisite field on the form was blank) hence, it is assumed that no background check actually occurred.

Under law, the FBI cannot retain NICS information for more than 24 hours after a background check occurs. But if the requisite data is missing from the form, the ATF inspector has to cite this as a violation because absent the data, it is assumed that the check didn’t occur. And you wonder how, at the review level, a dealer can remain in business after committing such a serious offense? Give me a break, okay?

There isn’t a retail gun dealer in the United States who doesn’t know how to build a nice stash of guns and sell them illegally without involving himself in regulatory procedures at all. Whenever someone sells you a gun, and most gun shops have at least 40% used guns, all the dealer has to do is neglect to enter the gun into his acquisition list, which means that from a regulatory perspective, the gun doesn’t exist at all.

The ATF would like you to believe that the only thing which stands between all those rogue dealers and safety and security throughout the United States is the inspections they perform, albeit without enough manpower to do a proper job. Anyone who actually buys that nonsense has never stood behind a counter and sold guns.

How Come Gun Sales Haven’t Shown A Parkland ‘Spike?’

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Whenever a mass shooting occurred under the Obama ‘regime,’ the President would deliver a teary speech, the usual suspects in Congress and the gun violence prevention (GVP) community would call for a new gun-control law and gun sales would go through the roof.  This was the scenario after Aurora, after the shooting of Gabby, after Sandy Hook.

march              Parkland has been different because the gun-control organizations won’t be getting their marching orders from the liberal political establishment and Draft Dodging Trump; this time the whole shebang is being led by a bunch of kids. And if you don’t think that Emma Gonzalez and David Hogg haven’t pushed the whole issue of gun control into a totally different context, just ask Laura Ingraham how she’s doing getting new sponsors for her television show.

What has also changed since Parkland is the degree to which the gun industry can no longer live off of panic buying generated by fears that guns will no longer be around. The FBI has just released its NICS numbers for March, an event which used to be greeted by Gun-nut Nation with paroxysms of joy, but the numbers for last month landed with a dull thud.

Here are the relevant numbers:  Handgun checks in March 2018 were 781,452; the number for March 2017 was 751,866, which is basically the same. Overall month-to-month NICS checks did increase from 1,274,419 in 2017 to 1,417,463 this year, a gain of 11%, but checks in February 2013, when Obama was ramping up his post-Newtown gun bill were more than 1.5 million, a number that won’t happen again.

One interesting caveat is that the number of NICS checks for the category known as ‘other’ doubled from 38,684 in 2017 to 68,192 this year.  For the most part, a background check classified as ‘other’ is used when someone buys a serialized receiver which isn’t connected to a barrel or a stock. The transaction still requires a background check but the owner has to then add various components so that he actually can fire the gun, which is increasingly how AR-15 rifles are now sold. One of the reasons the AR-15 is so popular is that the polymer frame can easily be adapted to all kinds of accessories and do-it-yourself parts; this also reduces the price of the gun by as much as half.

I truly believe that the Parkland kids have accomplished what none of the organizations which comprise the GVP community have ever done before; namely, they have shifted the argument about gun violence away from the political arena to where it really belongs, namely, as an issue which ultimately needs to be decided by the people who own guns. Because either the gun-owning community will realize that they simply don’t need to own any more of the damn things or people who don’t own guns will decide that they don’t need to own them at all. If Gun-nut Nation stops registering its fears about losing their guns by stampeding into gun shops every time a liberal politician says something about needing more gun control, passing sensible and effective gun laws will be a piece of cake.

In the interests of full disclosure, however, I must add a note about the current regulatory environment itself. I am not particularly sanguine about enhancing gun regulations if it means granting more power or authority to the ATF.  The ATF lab is probably the best forensic lab in the world, but the regulatory division contains the biggest bunch of liars, inept fools and misfits who could ever be put together in any federal agency at all. This is the bunch that violated countless laws because they thought that a repair garage in Arizona was converting semi-auto AK rifles into full-auto jobs. This is also the bunch which convinced themselves that David Koresh was making machine guns in his compound outside of Waco, a totally-mistaken belief which cost 75 lives.

I am really happy that a bunch of kids are leading the effort rather than a bunch of GVP organizations taking their cues from on high. But give the ATF more authority to regulate guns?  Please.

 

 

 

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