Do We Really Know How Many Americans Own Guns?

Everybody knows that the size of the private American gun arsenal is somewhere between 270 and 325 million guns. Because we have never put together any kind of national gun registration, these estimates are based on two data sets: on the one hand, we simply take the total number of guns produced each year and add it to the number of guns we believe were floating around at some point in time; or we run public surveys and ask a ‘representative national sample’ of Americans to state how many guns they actually own.

hoarder             Last year our friends at Harvard and Northeastern made a big splash with a new survey showing that the percentage of American households containing guns was continuing to go down, but the average number of guns in each household was going up. In fact, this study found that roughly 3 percent of American adults own, on average, 17 guns or more, the collections of these ‘super hoarders’ accounting for nearly half of all privately owned guns.

I wonder if a guy in South Carolina named Brent Nicholson was one of the respondents to the Harvard-Northeastern survey, because if he wasn’t, perhaps the authors of the survey might have to amend their remarks.  It turns out that Nicholson amassed perhaps as many as 10,000 guns in various sheds and barns on his property, a stash that filled four, 40-foot trailers that were filled to the brim and then hauled away by the cops to be processed and stored.

The latest survey from Gallup says that 42% of American households contain guns, a number which is somewhat higher than the estimate by our friends at Harvard-Northeastern, as well as being above the latest estimate from the gun research group at the Bloomberg Public Health School. The problem with all these estimates, however, is that they fail to account for one, major category of privately-owned guns, namely, guns whose owners aren’t really allowed under law to own guns. And if you think that the number of households that contain an illegal gun wouldn’t really change the overall numbers of how guns found in U.S. homes, think again. Because the estimates on the number of stolen guns each year ranges from 250,000 to more than half a million, and I don’t think that many of those guns wind up being hoarded by guys like Nicholson who, by the way, sat in a local jail for 14 months awaiting trial, but after pleading to receiving stolen goods he was sentenced to – time served!

Let’s see, if 350,000 guns are stolen each year (I’m cutting the high versus low estimates in half) and each one of them ends up in a different set of hands, then over the last ten years the number of households which contain at least one gun would be maybe 4 or 5 million more than what the estimates claim that number to be. Now the real question remaining unanswered is this: has the percentage of Americans who own guns gone down, or has the real percentage gone up because the last thing someone is going to tell Gallup, Pew, Bloomberg or Harvard-Northeastern is whether they happen to have an illegal gun, right?

Which brings me to the real reason for writing today’s rant, namely, that I have never felt comfortable with either the GVP or the gun-rights gangs being all so enamored about legal guns. The only reason that Wayne-o and the boys from Fairfax always talk about ‘law-abiding’ gun owners is they want you to think that we can solve the gun violence problem by simply locking up all those bad guys who commit crimes with guns. As for my GVP friends, they keep talking about keeping guns out of the ‘wrong hands,’ which is just a more polite way of saying that the ‘bad guys’ shouldn’t be allowed to own guns.

Want to prevent a certain product from getting into the market when the market is based on consumer demand?  Stop making the product – there’s no other way.






The Cops Found 7,000 Stolen Guns But This Doesn’t Make Our Streets More Safe.

There’s a great story out of Chesterfield County, South Carolina, where law enforcement evidently found more than 7,000 stolen guns sitting in a storage bin on the property of a feller named Brent Nicholson who, in addition to the guns, also was in possession of chainsaws, some 4-wheelers and other stolen junk, much of it sitting in plain view on his front lawn.  Actually, the cops had been eyeing ol’ Brent for awhile because of some issues involving drug trafficking, and when they dropped by his house to serve a subpoena on the old boy, they found all those guns.

So the local cops, the State Law Enforcement Division boys and, of course, the ATF, are going to have a rollickin’ good time sorting through all those piles of firearms to figure out the rightful owners, notify and return the stolen property from whence it came and do what they gonna do to good ol’ Brent.  But for those of you who think that the seizure of these 7,000 guns means that 7,000 guns won’t have a chance to get out to the street and into the wrong hands, think again.  Because the reason the guns were sitting around in the first place is that nobody would take the time or trouble to cart them over to the Iron Pipeline, aka Interstate 95, where they could then be moved up to the crime-gun markets of DC, Baltimore, Philly and New York.

stolen guns                The problem with ol’ Brent’s guns is that they are hunting rifles and shotguns, no handguns and no AR-15s.  And while the police said that it “appeared” that the old boy was just “hoarding” the weapons, the truth is that when you break into somebody’s place looking for guns, you’ll find all kinds.  Want the short odds that the homes which contained these rifles and shotguns didn’t contain any handguns at all? So as long as ol’ Brent keeps his mouth shut, he’s just guilty of holding stolen property which in a rural area like Chesterfield County just ain’t no big deal.

Back in 2010 Mayors Against Illegal Guns put up a website that showed the state origin and state destination of stolen guns, as well as a report based primarily on ATF trace data from 2009. The report clearly makes the connection between states with high export rates, shorter time-to-crime rates and little or no gun-control laws.  It turns out, of course, that states with lax gun laws (like South Carolina) tend to be the states that furnish most of the crime guns.  Everytown wants to expand its research but has been stymied by the ATF’s refusal to hand over more data, so the organization recently filed a complaint against the ATF and we’ll see what we see.  For all I know, the ATF’s refusal to comply with Everytown is because the agency’s afraid it will be criticized by the loony, pro-gun Congressional gang for infringing on the poor, gun-owner’s 2nd Amendment rights.  Or maybe it’s just the old story of another bureaucracy not wanting to tell the public what they really do.

Either way, assuming that sooner or later Everytown pries the detailed trace data away from the ATF, we might find out a bit more about all those other guns that were probably sitting in ol’ Brent Nicholson’s storage bin.  But before everyone gets all excited, let’s understand one major limitation about trace data from the ATF, namely, it’s based on when the gun was initially sold, not the date when it was stolen and then wound up in ol’ Brent’s shed.

The ATF tracing system provides “investigative leads in the fight against violent crime,” but the leads don’t shed much light on how guns end up in the ‘wrong’ hands.  After all, the states with lax gun laws are also the states in which virtually every house contains guns, which is why ol’ Brent probably sent lots of iron up North but still ended up with 7,000 guns.


First But Not Last Comments About Hillary’s Gun-Control Plan

Now that Hillary has released her gun-control plan, we have something substantive from one Presidential candidate.  The GVP community, myself included, might as well ignore the Republicans going forward because even when someone walks into a community college classroom and drops caps on nine people, they don’t consider this to be an act of ‘gun violence’ at all.  To her credit, Hillary uses the phrase again and again.  I’m going to devote some space to exploring how her plan will and I’m going to start with her recommendations for better regulation of gun dealers, since I was a retailer from 2001 until early last year.

hillary                Hillary says “we must do more to crack down on gun stores that flood our communities with illegal guns” and claims that 58% of gun stores have not been inspected within the past 5 years. Worse is that 38% of dealers inspected in 2011weren’t following the laws under which they are supposed to operate, but only half of 1% of all inspected dealers had their licenses revoked.  The root of the problem, says Hillary, is underfunding of the ATF, which she will reverse after she takes office in 2016.

I was one of those non-compliant gun dealers following an inspection  that covered years during which I sold somewhere around `12,000 guns.  When the inspection was concluded I reported all missing or stolen guns to the ATF in Atlanta – a grand total of six guns, one of which later turned up.  It wasn’t clear that any of these guns were really missing or stolen.  I just couldn’t produce the requisite paperwork (Form 4473) to show who had purchased the gun.  I probably could have found all the guns had I taken the time and trouble to conduct an online search of the state database, but I would have had to look up every, single recorded sale in order to find the five guns, and neither I nor the ATF really cared.

The absence of paperwork on these guns made me a non-compliant dealer.  And what then made me a seriously non-compliant dealer was the fact that my Acquisitions & Disposition log, the A&D book, contained thousands of incomplete notations regarding the source of many of my guns.  Of the 12,000+ gun acquisitions listed in the A&D, I had bought at least half of them from one wholesaler who happened to be located near my shop.  This is not unusual for most retailers because guns are heavy, they have to be shipped overnight air express, and if you can drive a few miles and pick the guns up directly from the wholesaler you save the cost of a lot of freight.

Except that under ATF rules, when you receive a gun from a wholesaler you have to list his federal license number alongside the description of the gun. I didn’t do this for any of the 5,000 guns that I received from this wholesaler so I was non-compliant more than 5,000 times.  To their credit, the ATF inspectors knew this egregious failure to follow the regulations didn’t constitute even the slightest reason to suspect that I was, as the saying goes, dealing ‘out the back door.’ But in the inspection report that I was given, this failure was duly noted and the numbers of non-compliant notations were no doubt rolled up into the ATF local, then regional, then national report.

Hillary used one of these reports for her comments about non-compliant dealers, and while of course there are bad apple dealers, what I’m suggesting is that numbers alone don’t’ really tell you very much.  The report states that between 2004 and 2011, there were 174,679 guns missing or stolen from federally-licensed dealers; during that same period there were probably two million guns stolen out of private homes. None of the guns I couldn’t find ended up in the wrong hands but every gun stolen from someone’s house winds up in a place it shouldn’t be. I don’t notice the word ‘theft’ mentioned in Hillary’s plan.