This past weekend I went to the gun show. This is the big annual show at the Kentucky Fairgrounds that brings in hundreds of dealers. In that one building there was probably over a quarter million firearms of various types and sizes. Gone are the days of the late 90s where certain types of guns were hard to come by. Today’s gun market is wide-open.
It’s interesting how much the gun debate has changed in the last 7 or 8 years. There have been four major events on the gun debate landscape since the Assault Weapons Ban was allowed to expire in 2004. Fatal shootings bookend the period from 2004 to present. The first was the Virginia Tech shooting in 2007. The second was the swearing-in of President Obama whose record as a state legislator made fears of an anti-gun presidency feel justified and sent the ammunition market into a boom. Third was the Heller case in 2008 which made it legal for citizens to own guns in the District of Columbia. The last event was the Gabriel Giffords shooting in 2011.
The Virginia Tech shooting put ease of access to guns on the radar. The shooter was clearly mentally unstable and people wondered how he got his hands on guns so easily. An interesting sidebar conversation was the call from some to begin allowing concealed carry for students on college campus as a way of preventing a future attack.
President Obama’s administration has thus far not gone after guns as many of us feared. Whether it means our concern was unnecessary or maybe the weak economy has re-ordered his priorities, this is a welcome situation. The Heller case was certainly a victory for gun owners but with over three years having passed it is clear that it was an incremental win, however an important one. The Giffords shooting sparked a discussion surrounding magazine capacity and took an ugly turn when partisans tried to use it to link political rhetoric with random violence.
Taken as a whole it has been a quiet eight years if you are a gun owner. We now enjoy more rights than we have held in decades. The most significant change in gun law has been the move towards ease of carry. Thirty nine states now allow some form of concealed carry. In my own state I can keep my gun fully loaded in the glove box without even having a permit. This is a development none of us could have imagined 20 years ago. As a longtime gun owner I am amazed at the ease at which guns are carried in most states.
According to the NY Times:
The number supporting stricter laws has been gradually declining over the last 20 years. When Gallup first asked the question in 1990, 78 percent favored stricter laws. That was down to 60 percent in 1999, 54 percent in 2004 and 44 percent in 2009 and 2010.
The 1999 Columbine shootings and 2007 Virginia Tech shootings appear to have had little, if any, effect on these views. Perhaps one reason for that is skepticism about the effectiveness of stricter laws. In a New York Times/CBS News poll conducted shortly after the Virginia Tech shootings, just 30 percent said they thought that stricter gun control laws would have done a lot to prevent the violence there. Instead, 66 percent said such laws would have had little effect (21 percent) or no effect at all (45 percent).
A lot of this is the product of gun legislation that targets the wrong problem. Gun laws that go after certain types of guns are simply not effective and the public knows this. It seems that the murder rate is the most accurate predictor of support for gun control. From Gallup :
The higher public support for banning guns and strengthening gun laws seen from about 1988 through 1993 — the year the Brady Bill was passed in Congress — corresponds with the relatively high U.S. murder rate recorded during those years. According to the FBI, there were more than 8 murders per 100,000 inhabitants in the United States in each year from 1988 through 1994, peaking at 9.8 murders in 1991.
The current environment strikes me as a good opportunity to tackle gun control from the Right. The last such major effort was Project Exile which rolled out in Richmond, VA in 1997. I think now is the time to tackle gun trafficking which is the primary source of inner city gun crime in the United States. Democracy Journal had a fantastic piece about this several years ago that made this case:
Nearly 40 percent of all crime guns recovered in New Jersey and New York came from Virginia, Georgia, Florida, and the Carolinas. Nine out of 10 crime guns changed hands between the first purchase (which was likely legal) to the last purchase (which was certainly illegal). What we need, then, is a new national strategy to reduce gun violence: Don’t restrict gun rights, but instead deepen the sense of gun ownership.
The first step is to make gun trafficking a federal crime, not a term of art. There is only one statute on the federal books that deals even indirectly with gun trafficking–a vague, loophole-ridden law that allows only federally licensed gun stores “to engage in the business” of dealing in firearms. Since federal law allows any individual to sell his or her own firearms to anyone else, the “engaged in the business” bar is virtually insurmountable. And since any individual may also sell firearms without performing a background check, asking for identification, or keeping any sort of record, the requirement that individuals not knowingly sell to criminals is merely a suggestion. That is why federal prosecutors in 29 states filed five or fewer cases related to trafficking behavior over a recent three-year period.
At the gun show last weekend I sold a gun and bought another. The sale of my gun to a private dealer took exactly one minute, was a cash transaction and no paperwork was exchanged. I don’t know the buyer’s name and he doesn’t know mine. More than likely he resold the gun before the day was over. As much as I love the convenience, I have to admit this gives me pause. It is not uncommon for buyers to purchase numerous guns in this manner and take them north to sell in cities at an inflated rate.
The gun I bought was from a licensed dealer and therefore I had to fill out paperwork and submit to a background check. It was a painless process that only took five minutes of my time and now that gun is documented.If I were so inclined, the chances of it ending up in the hands of a gang member in New Jersey just got reduced significantly. For this reason I am in favor of closing the so-called ‘gun show loophole ‘. As much as I believe in 2nd Amendment rights, this presents too large of a problem. We close this and we will not only see fewer guns in the hands of criminals but also a solidification of the positive pro-gun climate we have today. For me it’s win-win.
And that’s a snapshot of gun ownership today. The U.S. has close to 400 million guns within its borders. I don’t believe they are going anywhere. The question is really just about what level of oversight we are willing to tolerate.