How Big Is The Militia Movement?

Ever since it took Donald Trump a few days to figure out how to denounce Nazis who marched through Charlottesville in August, 2017, the liberal media has been obsessed with the behavior and potential threat represented by ‘white supremacist’ groups. In particular, the mainstream media focuses much of its attention on the activities of the so-called citizen’s militias, particularly when people connected to such groups show up in a public space toting their guns.

The latest such concern can be found in a long article published in The New Yorker Magazine, which appeared previous to a bunch of militia-styled jerks getting themselves arrested for allegedly planning to kidnap Governor Gretchen Whitmer of Michigan, a state that has been a focus of media attention since a  number of these ‘patriots’ began demonstrating against her lockdown rules.

The militia groups in Michigan first got noticed when it turned out that Timothy McVeigh was briefly involved with the Michigan Militia before he went down to Oklahoma City and blew up the Murrah Federal Building.  The resultant publicity put the Michigan group more or less out of business, but it has of late revived, calling itself the Michigan Home Guard. This new group told the author of The New Yorker piece, Luke Mogelson, that they count one thousand members, a claim that Mogelson made absolutely no attempt to verify or even check.

Much of the recent concern about these militia groups has aligned with a narrative about the surge in gun sales that has accompanied the spread of Covid-19. And the fact that these older-generation Boy Scouts show up in public with their trusty guns only tends to underscore the idea that the country may be facing the beginnings of a true, revolutionary movement representing whatever rhetorical nonsense these great patriots put together from a combination of Rush Limbaugh and Fox News.

Granted, there has been a surge in gun sales. For example, In my state, Massachusetts, a year-to-year comparison shows an increase in background checks for guns sold by dealers to consumers of somewhere around 80%.

Granted, there has also been a disturbing increase in homicides throughout the United States. But the guns that figure in most gun assaults, fatal and non-fatal, are rarely guns that are legally owned, and the average time between when a gun is first purchased and when it is used in the commission of a crime happens to be – ready? – more than 11 years.

I’m not trying to dismiss or downplay the fear and intimidation engendered by the spectacle of some guys walking down the street in their camo costumes and brandishing their AR’s. If nothing else, such displays of infantile stupidity on the part of adults always evokes memories and fears of mass shootings like the massacres at Las Vegas or Sandy Hook.

It’s one thing to acknowledge that the legal sale of an assault rifle to a nut like Steve Paddock or Nancy Lanza could result in community-wide trauma and multiple deaths. It’s quite another to foster the impression that behind a dozen or so middle-age schmucks who have nothing better to do than show up at a public rally and wave their guns, there lurks an unseen and  increasingly large army of like-minded dopes getting ready to declare a new civil war.

When a guy sells t-shirts and other crap to support the militia on his website tells you that his group numbers a thousand or more, shouldn’t you at least try to verify his claim? Fogelson’s article describes a gathering of some of these jerk-offs at the barbershop of a guy who refused to close down after Michigan’s Governor, Gretchen Whitmer, imposed lockdown rules back in May.

Guess who called up in the middle of this brief demonstration of patriotic lore? None other than Glenn Beck, who hoped he could score the same degree of media coverage that Sean Hannity thought he would get until Cliven Bundy began lecturing Hannity on ‘your Negro’ during the standoff outside his ranch.

What I’m suggesting is that the militia movement wouldn’t ever get beyond the weekend pizza and beer tailgate party except for the possibility that one of the gang might see his picture that night on Fox News. What I’m also suggesting is that the liberal media might consider not trying to compete  with the alt-right when it comes to taking those dopes seriously or discussing them at all.

Is There A Gun Culture?

              Back in 2017 a group of gun researchers got together at the University of Arizona and held a symposium for what they referred to as an “open, interdisciplinary debate surrounding the social life of guns.” Following the get-together, three of the participants – Jennifer Carlson, Kristin Goss and Harel Shapira – edited the papers and published them last year in a volume, Gun Studies – Interdisciplinary Approaches to Politics, Policy and Practice.

              I suspect that I am the only person who is going to review this collection, and for that matter, I may also be the only person who actually bought and read the book in printed form, as the paperback edition costs nearly $50, with the e-book running $45. But how many times do you find articles in the same collection written by opposing scholars like Gary Kleck and David Kopel on the one hand, versus Frank Zimring and Phil Cook on the other? So what the hell, in the interests of academic diversity, why not blow a few bucks?

              The editors state that the purpose of this effort “promote empirical and theoretical understandings of how people live with, experience, and think about guns in their day-to-day lives.” To that end, the volume contains 18 scholarly contributions covering “the evolution of American gun culture from recreation to self-protection; the changing dynamics of the pro-gun and pro-regulation movements; the deeply personal role of guns as sources of both injury and security; and the relationship between gun-wielding individuals, the state, and social order in the United States and abroad.”

              What is culture? We usually define it as a set of beliefs held in common by a group of individuals which shape how these individuals think and behave about certain kinds of things. It is also a set of mental perceptions that are consciously transmitted from older to newer members of the group. So how did these scholars go about trying to figure this out?

              There’s an article about what kind of gun advertising appears in gun magazines; another two articles about how the gun industry develops marketing narratives to sell assault rifles and handguns; another article about marketing research techniques; several articles about advocacy groups both pro and con; several articles about gun culture in other countries which I didn’t bother to read; and various other research efforts on police shootings, gun injuries and guns used in suicide events.

              The editors state that together, these articles examine “difficult and timely questions through the lens of social practice, marketing and commerce, critical theory, political conflict, public policy and criminology. That’s quite a list.

              Unfortunately, there’s only one thing entirely missing from these articles, and its absence makes me wonder how this collection can be described as a contribution to ‘gun culture’ at all. What’s missing is any research which uses as its source or sources contact with individuals who actually own guns.

              I own a little gun shop in Massachusetts.  Between 2001 and 2014 I sold guns to more than 7,000 people who came into my shop.  I also sold ammunition, optics, and other crap to maybe another several thousand individuals who owned guns. I didn’t need to read a single one of those 18 articles to tell me how, what, and why individuals own and use guns.

              Of the millions of guns that were sold between January and August of this year, at least 75% of them were bought in small, independent retail shops just like mine. You’ll find a gun shop like my shop in just about every small town outside the big, urban metropolitan centers throughout the United States.

              Take a 300-mile drive on old U.S. Route 20, which was the major east-west road connecting Boston to Portland until I-90 was built. Once you get 50 miles away from Boston, there’s a small, slightly decaying  urban center about every 20 miles, and there’s a gun shop in just about every one of those towns.

              Want to learn about gun culture? Spend a day in some of those gun shops and just listen to what the customers say. Don’t conduct any interviews, don’t ask them why they are buying another gun, don’t ask what they think about their 2nd-Amendment ‘rights.’ Just listen to how they talk to each other about their guns.

A New Tell-All Book About The NRA Which Misses The Point.

Josh Powell is a gun guy who spent November 14, 2012, talking to the management of Cerberus, the equity group that owns a bunch of gun companies, including Bushmaster and Remington Arms. The next day he woke up and learned that a loony 21-year old in Newtown, CT had walked into an elementary school and killed 26 adults and kids using a Bushmaster gun.

              Four years later, Powell found himself working as the right-hand guy for Wayne LaPierre, and three years later he found himself unemployed. He claims he is now putting together a group “from both sides of the political aisle to research gun violence without bias, using the best available tools and approaches.” In the meantime he’s just written a book, Inside The NRA, which is supposed to tell us how and why America’s ‘most powerful political group in America’ has become undone.

              Unfortunately, Powell spent so much of his NRA time sweeping out the detritus from under Wayne-o’s desk that even though he relates all kinds of juicy gossip about the battles between the NRA and its enemies as well as some of its friends, the book suffers from being too focused on all the trees in the forest but the forest itself remains somehow out of sight.

              When it came to the political pro-and-con about guns, the NRA and its pro-gun allies had the field to themselves until Sandy Hook. Clinton did get a background-check bill through Congress, but everyone acknowledged that it was, at best, a marginal response to gun violence. Ditto the assault weapons ban which disappeared after ten years.

              What changed after Sandy Hook was the beginning of the first, real grass-roots gun-control organization thanks to Shannon Watts and her gals, with another thanks to Mike Bloomberg and his dough. There is no question that Wayne-o’s angry, almost apoplectic defense of guns a week after the Sandy Hook massacre was the event which began to tun the tide.

               Powell claims that the increasingly alt-right rantings and polemic delivered by Loesch and other NRA-TV actors upset some members of the NRA Board, but what evidently brought about the split between McQ-A and the NRA was the pathetically-low number of viewers who watched a video channel with production costs running into the millions every month.

              What neither Powell nor anyone else either at the NRA or at their PR agency seemed to grasp was that moving the NRA’s messaging towards hysterical liberal-bashing and away from the folksy, good-ol’-boy image of family, hunting, friends and guns was not going to draw more supporters into the NRA fold. The biggest problem with NRA’s video effort was that the video productions that pushed the political messaging were just so boring, never mind dumb.

              Here’s a one-minute video spot by Dana Loesch. Watch it once, fine. Watch it a second time? Give me a break. Now here’s an ad for NRA’s hunting division. You may have absolutely no interest in hunting, but who wouldn’t want to watch this ad and send it around to friends?

              Given the possibility of a Hillary Clinton presidency, the NRA’s decision to endorse Trump and stoke his campaign with a huge cash infusion was not such a bad idea, . But the organization’s decision to compete in the media circus dominated by Breitbart and Alex Jones couldn’t have been any worse.

              I have been going to the NRA annual show since 1980, and at that show a Republican Presidential candidate named Ronald Reagan showed up and gave a brief speech. Everyone at the how knew that at some point Reagan would be endorsed by the NRA and frankly, nobody cared. For most NRA members the whole point of their membership isn’t about politics, it’s about guns.

              What Powell seems to miss is that the NRA is ultimately a social, not a political entity. If he’s hoping to develop a new gun organization in the wake of the NRA’s demise, it’s not going to attract gun owners by supporting ‘unbiased’ research. Gun nuts don’t like research. They like guns.

Is There A Connection Between The Surge In Gun Sales And An Increase In Gun Violence?

              I hate to say it, but once again my friends in the gun-control research community have produced a study which, if anything, attempts to explain gun violence in a way which demonstrates absolutely no necessary connection between guns and violence at all. And worse, the study represents yet another narrative which the gun-control community will use to make sure that the gulf between gun owners and non-gun owners stay as wide as ever, if not getting a little worse.

              The study comes from the Wintemute group at U.C./Davis, and is based on two data sets: (1). The number of guns transferred over the counter nad subject to FBI-NICS background checks; and, (2). the number of shootings scraped from media reports by the Gun Violence Archive (GVA.) The study finds what the researchers refer to as an ‘association’ between an increase in background checks and shootings coincident with the spread of Covud-19 over several months.

              The authors are clear on the limitations of their data, stating it like this: “GVA and NICS data provide imperfect measures of firearm violence and purchasing, respectively. To bias our results, however, there would need to be similarly-timed differential changes across states in GVA or NICS reporting. Disagreement between NICS checks and purchased firearms would most likely result from an increase in multiple-firearm transactions during surges in purchasing, which would introduce a conservative bias in estimates of the number of firearms purchased during surges. Additionally, we have no information on whether the excess firearms acquired were those used in violence.”

              After all the blah-blah-blah above, note the last sentence. So they have “no information” on whether any of the guns that folks rushed into gun shops to buy during the pandemic were used in a single shooting event during the same period of time. So what does this study actually tell us about the threat to public safety when gun sales go up? It tells us nothing at all. Period. End of story.

              I learned about this study because it was mentioned in my current copy of American Rifleman magazine which arrived today. And of course the article was reviewed in negative terms, because the last thing the NRA is about to do is question the decision by members of Gun-nut Nation to buy another gun as a protective response to Covid-19. When do gun sales surge? Only when people get scared. And it doesn’t matter whether they’re afraid of a disease, or natural disaster, or a gun-control President in the White House, guns are purchased out of fear.

              But guns used in gun violence for are used for reasons which have absolutely nothing to do with the reasons that people who can pass a background check buy guns. And since, as the authors of this study admit, they have absolutely no idea whether any of the ‘excess’ guns purchased during the Pandemic had anything to do with the recent surge in shootings, the study’s argument about some kind of ‘association’ between legal gun sales and shootings is nothing but whole cloth.  And worse, it’s an argument designed to give Gun-control Nation ‘ammunition’ to use in demanding more stringent regulations over the ownership and use of guns, as if this study does anything to explain whether there is any connection between legally-purchased weapons and guns that are used to shoot people down in the street.

              As long as a majority of Americans believe that access to a gun is more of a benefit than a risk, as long as this belief continues to spur gun sales during periods of national anxiety and concern, there will be no (read: no) effective change in gun laws at all.  And maybe some of my friends in Gun-control Nation would actually sit down and try to figure out a narrative which would convince at least some gun owners that guns aren’t a benefit but are a risk.

              You’re not going to develop a rhetorical or lawful response to gun violence by conducting a study which shows an ‘association’ between legal gun purchases and violent crimes committed with guns. You won’t.

How Come All Those People In Appalachia Need To Buy Guns?

              Since everyone else seems to be doing it, I am thinking about forming my own group on the internet called I Am A New Gun Nut.  I’ll have a website, a Facebook page, a domain like newgunnut.com, all of which I can create in about 30 minutes at a cost of maybe fifty bucks. Then I’ll find some guy who can make me some t-shirts to sell for $19.95 and let’s not forget a bumper sticker with some kind of logo I’ll design myself.

              I got this idea after reading what has to be the dumbest article of the many recent articles on the COVID-19 gun surge, a piece that appeared in an online magazine and is the work of a free-lance journalist who also writes for The Washington Post, The Daily Beast and The Village Voice. In other words, he’s a guy who doesn’t know anything about guns. But what he does know how to do is go out and interview the kind of people with whom the readership of those liberal websites have never come into contact at all; namely, the alt-right weirdos who have become a fixture of liberal journalistic interest in the Age of Trump. And what could be weirder for liberal readers sitting in the midst of their urban quarantines than residents of the poorest, rural outposts in Appalachia, piling into gun shops to buy their first guns?

              Our intrepid correspondent, Nick Keppler, gets it wrong right from the start when he notes that the FBI conducted more than 3.7 million background checks in March, the highest monthly number since God knows when. The fact that more than half the phone calls handled by the FBI call center had nothing to do with the purchase of guns, oh well, oh well. The fact that background checks for handguns in April had already fallen by 30% from March, oh well, oh well. Why let facts get in the way of a good story, right?

              But here’s where this story becomes so detached from any kind of reality that I really believe I can make a good living by taking Keppler’s totally-fanciful approach to understanding gun sales and creating an online movement that will celebrate the first-time ownership of guns. To support his argument about how first-time buyers are ‘flooding’ into gun stores located in Appalachia, we are given the numbers of background checks in states like Kentucky, comparing checks in March, 2020 to checks in March, 2019.

Comparing month-to-month sales in Kentucky, Keppler says there were 379,268 checks in 2019 as opposed to 235,305 checks this year.  Wait a minute! How can the residents of a state like Kentucky be worried about home invasions during the COVID-19 crisis when there were 40% fewer background checks than last year? And by the way, what Keppler evidently doesn’t understand is that Kentucky is one of the few states which uses the FBI-NICS system to check the status of every gun license issued in the state, whether that individual purchases a gun or not.  Oh well, oh well.

What I like is the comment from our friend David Yamane, a sociologist at Wake Forest University who promotes himself as a tried-and-true gun nut even though he probably doesn’t own five guns. When asked by Keppler to explain the surge in first-time gun buying, here’s what Yamane had to say: “It’s like the toilet paper, if they can’t have anything else under control, they know they have that one thing under control.”

That’s perfect. Simply perfect. When I set up my gun nut website I’m going to offer a free roll of toilet paper in return for a small payment of, let’s say $25, from anyone who joins my group. Maybe you still can’t get toilet paper in Appalachia, but yesterday when I went into my local supermarket to buy food for my three cats, I noticed that the shelves holding toilet paper were chock full. So much for the great surge in demand for guns, toilet paper or anything else.

Is Covid-19 Driving Gun Sales?

              So the background check numbers are out for April and once again the media gets it all wrong. Here’s the statement from CNN: “The FBI conducted nearly 3 million background checks associated with the sale, transfer or permitting of firearms in April, making it the fourth highest month for background checks since the bureau began keeping statistics in 1998.” By tomorrow. I’ll get emails from the various gun-control organizations quoting the CNN story and asking me to send them some dough. Fine.

              In fact, 45% of the calls received by the FBI NICS call center in April had nothing to do with gun sales at all. They were calls being made to check license applications, concealed-carry applications, guns taken out of pawn, or guns transferred between two gun nuts in a private sale. That’s right, almost 3,000 NICS checks were for transfers between Tweedledee and Tweedledum.

Now you might think that 3,000 private sale background checks are nothing compared to the almost 1,600,000 checks done by dealers for guns they sold. But in 1998, the FBI didn’t bother to count NICS checks for private sales and of the 24 categories for background checks for which the FBI now issues their monthly report, there were only 5 categories of types of checks reported in 1998. You want to compare apples to oranges; you go right ahead. But the monthly FBI-NICS report issued last week has only contained the same categories since August 2016. Oh well, oh well.

Of course CNN being a responsible media outlet which always checks its facts, made sure to get statements about this avalanche of guns sales from both sides of the debate. A lady at the NRA who has not been laid off, said that the reason for all those guns being purchased is that “Americans are fearful and seeking security in the time of the COVID pandemic.” One of our gun-control friends, Igor Volsky, was then asked to chime in and he noted that the Trump administration “has repeatedly worked to expand access to guns during a national pandemic and has encouraged folks to take up arms and intimidate their governors into reopening the government.”

Last week I wrote a column in which I compared the current gun frenzy to what happened after the World Trade towers came down. I said that by the end of November, 2001 just three months short of 9-11, the spike in gun sales had come to an end. Guess what? This time around the number of Americans rushing out to protect themselves from the ‘Chinese virus’ (I love that phrase) may already be winding down. Background checks for gun transfers in March were 2,286,207; for April they were 1,596,519.  That’s only a drop of 30 percent. No big deal.

Remember I said that the FBI-NICS background check data has only contained the same categories for checks being done today since August, 2016. Know when Americans bought just as many guns in one month as they bought last month? Try November, 2016. The following month, December, they bought even more. Know what happened back then/ No virus, no ISIS invasion, no Korean or Iranian atom bomb. There was something called a Presidential election which a certain, notorious gun-grabber was supposed to win. And the reason why so many guns were sold not before but directly after the November vote is because many guns are sold on the installment plan – put down half now and the balance in 30 days.

I think we have a lot more to be concerned about than whether some gun guys use the COVID pandemic as an excuse to stock up on another gun. The worst that will happen is that ‘The Wife’ will find out that he snuck another gun into the house, which means it can always be sold back to the store if the washer-dryer goes on the fritz.

We have an election coming up on November 3rd. Let’s stop screwing around with the side-show, okay?

Oh My God! Everyone’s Buying Another Gun!

              Per usual, my friends on both sides of the gun debate are trying to ramp up fears about the virus by promoting their views on guns. On the one hand, Gun-nut Nation wants everyone to buy a gun because sooner or later, your house will be invaded and ransacked by desperate neighbors who want to grab your toilet paper stash. On the other hand, Gun-control Nation is absolutely convinced that the recent spike in gun sales will result in all kinds of violence and deaths.

              As far as I’m concerned, both sides need to tone it down. But why miss an opportunity to get your message in front of a captive audience since everyone has nothing better to do these days than sit at home and read Facebook posts, right?

              I opened my gun shop on August 1st, 2001. Five weeks later the planes slammed into the towers and gun sales spiked. You had Newt Gingrich saying he expected an ISIS invasion of Philadelphia at any moment. It was really that dumb. And since there wasn’t really any kind of grass-roots, gun-control movement the way there is today, Gun-nut Nation more or less had the public narrative all to themselves.

              Except by the time that The New York Times reported an increase in gun sales in a story that appeared on December 9, the spike was over, at least in my store. I suspect the same thing will happen again. Granted, FBI-NICS background checks for handguns jumped almost 50% from February to March, but comparing year-to-year monthly sales has to take into account that until the COVID crisis, gun sales have been in the toilet over the course of the Trump regime. If anything, the increase in sales will make up maybe 2% of the revenues that gun companies have lost over the last three years. Yesterday, Smith & Wesson stock closed at $9.64. A month before the 2016 election it was trading at $30 a share.

              As for my friends in Gun-control Nation, they need to calm down a bit and stop believing that every time some guy walks into a store and buys a gun, that this represents a threat to the common good. What it really represents in most cases is the fact that the guy got his income tax refund or maybe that bonus check signed by Trump. Either way, it’s found money  ‘The wife’ hasn’t claimed her share, so why not go out and buy another toy? Worst comes to worst, if the washing machine breaks down or the truck needs new tires, you can always sell the damn thing back.

              Or maybe you can sell it to a friend.  This constitutes the biggest bugaboo to Gun-control Nation because until we get comprehensive background checks covering every transfer of every gun, we know for a fact (I love the term ‘for a fact’) that a lot of those legally-purchased guns are going to wind up in the ‘wrong’ hands. We know this ‘for a fact’ even though there has yet to be one, single evidence-based piece of research which shows that legal gun owners sell their guns, consciously or unconsciously, to someone who shouldn’t get their hands on a gun.

              The other narrative being promoted on the gun-control side is the idea that during periods of financial stress, suicides and domestic violence go up, trends that would be aggravated if more guns are floating around. In fact, in the years directly after 9-11, the gun-suicide rate remained about the same, the rate of women killed with guns actually went down.

              I think my Gun-control Nation friends should stop ignoring the fact (there’s that word ‘fact’ again) that every time cops are asked whom they fear least, the guys walking around with legally-owned guns always make the top of the list. I’m not excusing those jerks who show up at the stupid, little anti-lockdown rallies with their AR’s. They’re just dumb as hell and have nothing better to do. But the last thing we need right now is more sturm und drang because some guns are flying off the store shelves.

              Better we should dump Trump.

Khalil Spencer: Did You Buy A Gun This Week?

Sunday’s Santa Fe New Mexican reported a run on guns and ammo at the Outdoorsman of Santa Fe. Apparently this is not unusual right now and is happening elsewhere in the state, in part due to news that the Albuquerque City Council will vote on a proposed expansion of emergency powers to shutter gun shops. Whether that happens, and whether it is lawful, is beside the point. That, along with all of the other uncertainty and worry going on due to COVID-19 is resulting in a mad buying binge. But we don’t need a buying binge right now. We need a caring binge.

As far as Santa Fe as reported by the Santa Fe New Mexican’s Daniel Chacon:

“That rack is usually full of basic pump-action shotguns — all gone,” salesman Jay Winton said last week as he pointed to an empty rack in the store at DeVargas Center. “People … want to defend their home from the ravening hordes that they’re convinced are coming, so we’re selling lots of ammunition, lots of firearms.”
But at times like these, its perhaps best to remember Franklin Roosevelt’s First Inaugural Address:

“…So, first of all, let me assert my firm belief that the only thing we have to fear is…fear itself — nameless, unreasoning, unjustified terror which paralyzes needed efforts to convert retreat into advance. In every dark hour of our national life a leadership of frankness and of vigor has met with that understanding and support of the people themselves which is essential to victory. And I am convinced that you will again give that support to leadership in these critical days…”
But really. If you bought a gun, or are considering buying one right now, consider the following:

1. The Spanish Flu of 1918 killed more people than World War I and about a half percent of the U.S. population. We persevered.
2. The Great Depression unemployment rate peaked at 25%. We persevered.
3. Do you know how to use that gun in a crisis when a few seconds count? Do you know Jeff Cooper’s Four Rules? Do you know the laws of the use of deadly force? Do you know how to store a firearm safely, esp. if there are kids around? If you are a first time firearm owner, do you know where to sign up for a gun safety class before you put a round in the chamber?  If you are unsure of any of these questions, lock that gun up until you can pass my quiz with an “A”. You are more of a hazard to yourself and others than a resource.
“Bullets don’t have a reverse gear”  -Me
We cannot shoot a virus. We can only shoot each other and quite possibly, live the rest of our lives  with the knowlege of having made a fatal mistake. We need to help each other and find common cause in working through this pandemic rather than fearfully arming up against hypothetical “ravening hordes” or collapses of civilization that will only happen if we as a people affirmatively make it happen.

So if you have a few  hundred bucks to burn, perhaps its a better idea to donate it to the Red Cross, the food bankSanta Fe Community Fund, or some organization trying to raise funds for COVID-19 test kits or ventilators. Yesterday we bought water containers and distilled/deionized water and delivered same to a close and elderly friend with serious medical conditions who has some medical contraption that needs DI water to function. She is, as she said to us, “one of the people for whom a COVID diagnosis would likely be a death sentence”.

Stop and think. Look around you. As FDR so beautifully said, we have nothing to fear…but fear itself.

Disclaimer: I am on the Board of Directors of the Los Alamos Sportsman’s Club. These are not club views or Board views but my views alone.

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.

Let’s Go To A Gun Show.

              Yesterday I went to the gun show that is held every three months at a location about 20 miles from where I live.  The show has been running for at least twenty-five years and I see the same vendors and visitors year after year. It’s a medium-sized show as gun shows go, maybe 150 vendors selling all kinds of guns and gun-related stuff, maybe 300 – 400 folks wandering around at any one time. The most popular location, of course, was the deli which features the usual hot dogs and fries, there was also a Dunkin’ Donuts kiosk where a cup of coffee ran three bucks.

              I’m not saying that I conducted any kind of scientific survey, but it’s not that difficult to get a pretty good read on who goes to a gun shows these days. The people walking up and down the aisles were almost all older White men, probably in their 60’s and above. The men outnumbered the women by at least ten to one – so much for all the talk about how women are ‘getting into’ guns. Did I see any Brothers wandering around even though the show’s location is less than ten minutes from a medium-sized city which is at least fifty percent non-White?  No.

              As for the people who were sitting behind the vendor tables, most of them were as old or older than the folks who came to the show to look at guns. Of the 150 vendors, probably about one-third were selling guns but only a handful were dealers with real gun shops, the rest were collectors who are licensed as dealers but don’t actually run a real business of any kind. It’s easy to spot the collectors as opposed to the real dealers, because the collectors display guns that are at least a hundred years old. A 1903 Springfield rifle, for example, may have been manufactured prior to 1919, and I saw at least 30 of these World War I vintage guns on vendor tables here and there.

              Of the 100 or so vendors who weren’t selling guns, about half of them sold optics, holsters or knives, the other half were selling all kinds of junk including jewelry, military-surplus clothing, books, targets and other kinds of crap. I bought a nice, handmade leather holster for my Glock 17; I also got into a lively discussion with a guy who knew ‘for a fact’ that every Democratic Presidential candidate, all 20 of them, had received large payments from some oligarch in the Ukraine.

              Ten years ago gun shows always had a couple of vendors selling military memorabilia, in particular World War II medals, uniforms and helmets, including stuff allegedly worn by Japanese soldiers on Iwo Jima or the Nazi SS.  Those items have disappeared from the gun show circuit, not because of political correctness, but because nobody remembers or even knows anything about a war which ended more than 70 years ago.

              And yes, the NRA was at the show because America’s ‘first civil rights organization’ usually has a booth at every gun show. For all the talk about how the NRA is going down the tubes and Wayne-o is such a big crook, the NRA rep seemed to be having a good time handing out applications and a list of upcoming NRA events.

              One big change: I didn’t see a single vendor selling MAGA hats or t-shirts extolling the virtues of Donald Trump. In fact, for all the talk about how gun owners are the bedrock of the alt-right, the show was decidedly non-political in every respect. If anyone was walking around with a petition calling on Nancy Pelosi to ‘open up’ the impeachment process, he was keeping very much out of sight.

              This show takes place three miles away from an inner-city neighborhood where shootings are a daily part of life. Perhaps someone can explain to me how closing down this show would do anything to reduce gun violence in that nearby neighborhood or anywhere else.