Does The NICS System Work? It Not Only Works, It’s Getting Better.


One of the enduring myths of the gun debate is the notion that the FBI-NICS background check system is broken and probably beyond repair. Or to put it in the usual Gun Nation vernacular, we don’t any more gun-control laws because the laws we have now don’t work.  And then what happens is that someone who passes a NICS check does something stupid with a gun, like the Umpqua shooter or the man and wife in San Bernardino, and see, we told you so, the system really doesn’t work. Which then becomes the rationale for preventing background checks on all gun transfers because since the system doesn’t work, why ask it to do more?

nics              Actually, I think the system not only works very well but, as I am going to show below, many states are constantly trying to upgrade it so that it will work better.  The reason I think the system works is because the low denial rate (at or below 1%) tells me that most legal gun commerce is exactly that – people buying guns who are legally allowed to own guns.  The fact that ‘bad guys’ find other ways to get their hands on guns has absolutely nothing to do with whether or not NICS is working the way it was designed to work.

Despite rumor-mongering and plain stupidity to the contrary, the Brady system was not established as a crime-fighting measure; it was initially designed to delay the purchase of handguns for five days.  Would this procedure have kept guns out of the hands of criminals?  Maybe yes, maybe no.  But that was not the law’s intent.  The intent of the law, which was revised when an instant background check was substituted for the five-day waiting period to allow for a manual background check, was to prevent the impulsive purchase of handguns by anyone who wanted to use a gun to violently attack themselves or someone else.   When the National Research Council concluded their review of research on whether the NICS system had been an effective instrument in reducing crime, they didn’t say that NICS had been ineffective, they said that more research was needed in order to determine Brady’s true effects.  You can thank the Republicans who cut CDC gun-research funding for this gap.

When the Brady bill became law, every state was given two choices in order to comply with the requirement that every first-time gun sale first be approved with an instant background check.  The check could be run by the FBI-NICS operation located in West Virginia, or it could be run by the state itself, this latter system being known as a Point of Contact system, or POC.  Everyone uses the same three databases, which are compiled nationally but obviously require data from every state.  And here is the problem which creates headaches for NICS administrators and excuses for the gang which doesn’t want any controls over guns, namely, that in our federal system, every state has a different way of keeping track of crime, every state uses different software for their systems, every state has gobs of legacy data that is often not even online, every state developed its own criminal-data system without the slightest interest or concern about how crime data was being created, used or stored in any other state.

Now if you listen to Mike Huckabee and the other Republican clowns, you might think that the NICS system is so badly broken that there’s no sense in trying to fix it at all. In fact, over the last seven years, 26 states have spent more than $95 million improving their NICS data, the biggest chunk of dough going to New York, with second-place Florida not far behind.  Much of this money has gone for improving interfaces between criminal and mental health reporting, tracking involuntary commitments, updating county systems and training staff.  And when was the law passed which authorizes this funding?  Under a pro-gun President named George W. Bush.


The ATF Issues A New Directive Defining Dealing In Guns But What They Say Is Not So New.

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As someone who has sold more than 12,000 guns retail, which included selling guns at gun shows and over the internet, I think I know a little bit more about whether today’s White House announcements will have an impact on gun violence than does Mike Huckabee, who has already announced that he will “repeal” every one of Obama’s gun initiatives, even though most of what the President intends to do has nothing that could be repealed at all.

atf              Coincident with the White House news release and media blitz, the ATF has issued a new publication which attempts to define their notion of what constitutes being in the “business” of selling firearms, which is one of the key elements in the new Obama plan; i.e., people who sell guns privately at gun shows or online may now be required to operate as federally-licensed dealers, which means that they must conduct NICS-background checks on every gun they sell – unless, of course, the gun is transferred to another dealer.

I have read this publication with care, in particular a series of brief vignettes that give examples of people transferring guns as a business transaction as opposed to people transferring guns where no real business activity occurred.  In my judgement, this publication is totally consistent with relevant laws as well as a reflection of the approach usually taken by the ATF in regulating firearm sales: “As a general rule, you will need a license if you repetitively buy and sell firearms with the principal motive of making a profit. In contrast, if you only make occasional sales of firearms from your personal collection, you do not need to be licensed.”  And this rule applies to every venue that might be possibly used for selling guns – your store, retail space, trunk of your car, laptop computer or anywhere else.

I never had a problem complying with this rule when I sold guns at shows or over the internet because I was always a federally-licensed dealer; hence, every gun in my inventory needed to be identified as to where it came from and to whom it was then sold.  And since as a licensed dealer I could only sell to individuals after completing a background check, it didn’t matter what sales venue I used.  The ATF could (and did) inspect my documentation to insure that every gun in my inventory was properly acquired in and transferred out, and if I couldn’t produce the requisite paperwork for any particular transaction they would raise holy hell.

To provide some guidance as to what constitutes dealing in firearms, the ATF has appended 9 examples of different types of gun transfers of which 5 instances would require a dealer’s license and 4 others would not.  This is a pretty comprehensive series of examples which, to my mind, honestly reflect the basic requirements of operating with a federal dealer’s license as opposed to an individual who has a personal need or desire to transfer some guns. On the other hand, anyone behaving like the 5 ‘repetitively buying and selling’ examples who doesn’t currently have a dealer’s license should be prosecuted not just for illegal sale of guns, but for being a complete and unmitigated dope. And any current FFL-holder who sells guns to someone knowing or suspecting that this individual is engaging in repetitive, for-profit sales, is aiding and abetting straw sales – period, that’s that.

The truth is that most gun dealers buy from and sell to the same people all the time.  Even my internet sales, which were always dealer-to-dealer transactions, went to the same dealers because I trusted them and they trusted me.  Although the term ‘straw sales’ never appears in this publication, when someone buys a gun from a dealer intending to resell it privately to someone else, that’s exactly what constitutes a straw sale, and anyone who actually believes that this infringes on 2nd-Amendment rights, also probably believes that Mexico will pay for Donald Trump’s new fence.



Huckabee Opens His Mouth And Says The Dumbest Thing That Anyone Has Said About Guns.

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Having lost ground on their patented niche issues like abortion and gay rights, the 2016 version of the Republican Presidential cavalcade has decided that defending the 2nd Amendment will play well with the ‘base’ if only because liberals are usually considered to be anti-gun.  The gun ‘issue’ was first injected into the campaign by Trump-o, who claimed that an armed citizen could have stopped the murder of two television journalists in Virginia, a terribly ugly incident that was caught on video and tv.  Since then, if you’re running for President as a Republican, you can’t make a public speech without making some reference to supporting the 2nd Amendment, even if what you say has little to do with the facts.

And the 2nd Amendment comment that is least aligned with the facts popped out of the mouth of Mike Huckabee during an interview on a right-wing video channel Newsmax, during which he called for gun dealers to refuse to follow any new Executive Order issued by 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue because “the more we surrender the Constitution, the more Obama keeps his power growing.”  And since we all know that Obama’s real plan is to convert America into a radical, Islamic state, the more we need to vigilantly guard our Constitutional freedoms, in particular the freedom to own guns.

huckabeeActually, the stupidity started with the show host Steve Malzberg, who asked Huckabee to comment on a story which said that Obama was going to issue an Executive Order “to require gun shop owners to conduct background checks.”  To which Huckabee replied, “There should certainly be an absolute, unapologetic – just complete ignoring of such an order by those gun-shop owners, because the President can’t make law.” I happen to own a gun shop, and if the President issues an Executive Order which in any way changes the ATF regulations under which I operate, either I follow the new regs or I can close my shop down.  But let’s first get back to what Malzberg actually said.

Malzberg’s statement about what Obama was planning to do through Executive Order had absolutely nothing to do with what Obama has been saying at all.  Federally-licensed gun dealers operating in their places of business (duh, that’s what a gun shop happens to be) have been required to run NICS-background checks on all over-the-counter gun transfers since the Brady bill went into effect in 1998.  What Obama has been talking about is the fact that gun owners often sell numerous guns either at shows, or on the internet, or face-to-face, and these activities should be more closely regulated because here is the point at which guns get into the ‘wrong hands.’  Now I happen to think that the whole issue of the ‘underground’ gun market is somewhat over-stated, but since, by definition, criminals can’t pass background checks, we have to assume that whenever a gun passes from one person to another without a background check, that such a gun could wind up in criminal hands.  Hence, the possible attempt by Obama to make it at least somewhat more difficult for some folks to willy-nilly sell guns to whomever shows up at their gun show table or responds to their internet ad with cash in hand.

Malzberg’s description of the Obama Executive Order strategy has absolutely nothing to do with what Obama may or may not have in mind. Huckabee then took Malzberg’s totally incorrect statement, ran it up the flagpole, and gave a response that was both incorrect and dumb. It might not rank up there next to Rick Perry’s call for secession at a Tea Party rally in 2009,  but it’s cut from the same stupid, pandering piece of cloth.

I’m beginning to think that the Republican Presidential candidates might be misjudging the gun-owning population on whom they evidently need to depend.  Because no matter what Huckabee or Trump says, the average person just can’t be that dumb.

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