Albany New York’s Legislative Gazette has a piece on the recent candlelight vigil to honor victims of gun violence. According to the Brady Campaign which coordinated the event, there were 67 vigils across the country (and that is counting the 5 ‘private’ events). But I am not going to mock the Brady Bunch . . . too much. I mean, seriously? That’s your Big Event? A whopping 62 gatherings and some private parties? -ahem- Sorry. Anyway, the title of the L-G piece was “A year after Tucson shooting people demand change” but a more appropriate title would perhaps be “A year after Tucson shooting fewer people demand change” . . .
As shown here and here, between October 2008 and October 2011, support for a handgun ban fell from 29% to 26%. Support for stricter laws on the sale of firearms fell from 49% to 43% while those favoring the status quo went from 41% to 44%. And those favoring less strict laws, actually rose from 8% to 11%. If it were just one headline from just one newspaper, that would be one thing. But the antis seem to display an astonishing ability to reject reality when it fails to conform to their prejudices.
Witness Coalition to Stop Gun Violence head Josh Horwitz’s piece at huffingtonpost.com. The headline shouts “The Truth About Gun Sales” and starts out:
The media has been awash this holiday season with stories about a “dramatic increase” in gun sales in the United States.
But apparently CNN, USA Today and Reuters have all been hoodwinked by those evil minions of the evil gun companies: The National Rifle Association and National Shooting Sports Foundation. As Josh points out:
Here’s the funny thing, though. The gun lobby doesn’t actually provide any gun sales data to the media. The NSSF (the trade association for the gun industry) and the NRA have this data–because gun manufacturers have to understand what their dealers are selling in order to produce the proper amount of product and maximize profits. But the gun lobby has blocked public access to this information for decades. Instead, they offer reporters data on background checks run through the FBI’s National Instant Criminal Background Check System (NICS).
Okay, Josh, if you step back a bit you will see that your blinders are askew. You say the NSSF and NRA have sales info because manufacturers need it. So are the NSSF and NRA just sock puppets for the “gun industry”? According to Josh, N2 (sorry, I’m too lazy to keep writing it out) is, in fact, a singular entity and sole possessor of all sorts of proprietary sales information which is entrusted to it by the dozens of competing companies trying to gain market share in a cutthroat economy? And they call us conspiracy nuts!
Anyway, again according to Josh, there is no way to verify this information and the FBI’s NICS data is a highly inaccurate measure of actual sales. Josh believes this, first because the FBI says right up front that:
These statistics represent the number of firearm background checks initiated through the NICS. They do not represent the number of firearms sold. Based on varying state laws and purchase scenarios, a one-to-one correlation cannot be made between a firearm background check and a firearm sale.
Now while there may be no one-to-one correlation, you can certainly ascertain broad trends and, given that NICS checks have gone up 83.79% since 2005, it’s perhaps not unreasonable to thinks that there might have been a corresponding increase in sales.
Josh’s second point:
Thousands of background checks each year result in denials when it is determined that individuals in question are prohibited under federal and/or state law from purchasing firearms.
And he is quite correct. According to the FBI’s NICS 2010 Operations Report, in 2010 alone there were 72,659 denials. Now that sounds like an awful lot until you realize that there were 14,409,616 checks done in 2010, so about 0.5% of checks resulted in denials.
Another point Josh fails to address is the fact that there are denials every year. In other words, when NICS checks jump from 10,000,000 to 11,000,000 that is a 10% rise. So with a 0.5% denial rate, in year 1 there would be 9,950,000 approvals and in year 2 there would be 10,945,000 approvals. So instead of a 10% increase in sales we would be looking at, ummmm, hmm, now that’s odd, we are still seeing a 10% increase in sales. You mean Josh threw out a red herring? Sacré bleu! Who would believe it!
The next point Josh brings up is:
Background checks are performed under a number of circumstances that do not involve gun sales. For example, when an individual pawns a weapon and later redeems it, federal law mandates that a background check be performed on that individual.
Millions of background checks are run each year on individuals applying for permits to carry a concealed handgun, or individuals who already have such permits (to determine if there have been updates in their criminal records that might disqualify them).
Did you catch that? Josh changed from saying NICS checks to saying background checks. That’s because he wants you to think that the NICS check performed when you pick up your gun at the pawn shop is the same as the background check that is run on people getting or renewing permits to carry. For the most part they are two entirely separate animals. And even if they were the same, the NSSF doesn’t just release raw NICS numbers, as they state on every press release:
The adjusted NICS data were derived by NSSF research by subtracting out NICS purpose code permit checks used by several states such as Kentucky, Iowa and Utah for CCW permit application checks as well as checks on active CCW permit databases.
Josh next tosses out these little gems:
Transactions are sometimes stopped at the point of sale because of declined payments (i.e., bad checks, canceled/refused credit cards, etc.).
Some states prescribe a waiting period for firearm sales. Sometimes, individuals never return to pick up a gun(s) after that period is concluded.
Okay, Josh, seriously, that’s what you want to go with? Sometimes a sale is not completed or a person fails to pick up their weapon? And he again fails to address how this has changed from year to year, because if it hasn’t then the percent increase in sales remains unchanged (see icky math stuff above).
Josh then backtracks a bit and admits:
Thousands of checks each year involve the purchase of multiple firearms. This means that background check statistics are understating firearm sales in some cases. But typically this is not a large number. Out of 14,320,489 background checks reported by the FBI in 2010, only 180,609 involved the purchase of multiple firearms.
So about 1.25% of sales involved multiple weapons, a number Josh passes off as insignificant even though it’s two-and-a-half times the NICS denial number he found significant. See what I mean about ignoring facts you don’t like?
But there are other ways besides NICS checks to track changes in gun sales. Lets look at this story from Virginia stating they had record sales this past year. That doesn’t come from the NICS checks, those numbers are from the VA State Police. Interestingly enough, it’s reported that Virginia had a 16% rise in gun sales from 2010 to 2011 which is remarkably close to the 14.4% rise in NSSF adjusted NICS checks nationwide during that same period. Another way to track sales trends is by way of corporate financial reports. In November of 2009, Smith & Wesson reported a rise in sales of 13% during fiscal year 2009 and anticipated an increase of 30% in FY10.
Of course, according to Josh, neither N2 nor the evil gun manufacturers can be trusted so who can we trust? What media source might Josh find authoritative? Perhaps the New York Times. According to this article from June of 2010, the U.S. Treasury Department’s Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau reported a forty-five percent increase in the Firearms & Ammunition Excise Tax from FY ’08 to FY ’09. Unfortunately changes in the law (from semi-monthly to quarterly payment) make it impossible to compare the growth in revenue from 2009 to 2010.
But even after Josh has crunched his own numbers, and proved to his own satisfaction that gun sales aren’t rising, he still refuses to face reality. By his own numbers, since 1999 Americans have purchased over 102 million firearms, but Josh seems to think that gun ownership is really falling:
The number of Americans who own firearms has been steadily declining over the past 30 years. According to the General Social Survey (GSS), the most respected source of data on social trends in the U.S., just 20.8% of Americans owned a firearm in 2010. This is down substantially from the 1980 figure of 29%.
Ah yes, because if someone calls my house and starts asking me about gun ownership I’m just going to open right up and tell them all about the guns I own. Or, maybe not. I notice that the real drop started right about the time the Clinton AWB passed; gee, why would anyone during that period not feel comfortable talking about guns they own?
Now, I may be biased because my grandfather Bruce went to college with George Gallup and my mother grew up playing with George Jr., but I trust the Gallup poll a huckuva lot more than the General Social Survey. So when the GSS says that between 2004 and 2006 household gun ownership dropped from 37.3% to 34.5% and personal gun ownership dropped from 25.5% to 21.6% in that same period and the 2005 Gallup poll on gun ownership shows that between 2000 and 2005 personal gun ownership rose from 27% to 30% and household ownership rose from 40% to 41%, I’m going to lean toward the Gallup poll numbers. Sorry GSS.
But for those who don’t have my personal connection with the Gallup family, perhaps you’d be interested in the results of an ABC News/Washington Post Poll conducted between Jan. 13-16, 2011 which found that 44% of people reported a gun in their household (up from 41% in April, 2009)? Or how about the CBS poll found on the same page that reported 29% personal gun ownership and 40% household gun ownership? Okay, I’m going back to the Gallup poll again, this one taken October 7-10, 2010 which reported 39% household ownership. But according to the GSS, in 2010 only 20.8% reported personal ownership and 32.3% household ownership.
When you have a whole bunch of polls that return very similar numbers and then a single one which is off by one-third or so, the outlier is usually the one you reject. But it seems in this case, that was the one chosen by the VPC and our friend Josh. Go figure.
I was at a family gathering a few years back and the subject of gun control came up. One of my nieces (who was in 7th grade at the time) asked why people couldn’t just look at the facts and decide what to do. I had to explain to her that there are some people in this world who are unwilling or unable to accept certain realities, either because they have an emotional aversion, or because their “common sense” tells them that some things (like how more guns equals less crime) just can’t be true. She looked up at me and said “Well that’s pretty stupid.” Who could argue with that?