The First comes from the American Rifleman's Industry Insider called Why The Gun Business Defies Analysis? In this case, the Insdider admits that:
Unlike other industries that can be analyzed, quantified, objectified and measured, the metrics of the gun business are largely unknown. It’s amazing how mysterious the industry is when you think about it. Even an industry analyst like the Insider cannot get hold of basic data that other industries take for granted.Better yet:
Why such scanty information in the gun business? Two reasons: first, many companies in the firearms industry are privately owned, so there are no quarterly statements or annual reports available to the public; second, even though firearms production is licensed by the federal government and theoretically should be easy to track, the ATF embargoes the annual firearms manufacturing data for one calendar year, meaning 2008 data is released in 2010.The conclusion is pretty good:
Without solid, timely market data, the shooting industry remains an enigma compared to other industries, but that’s not the only aspect of the gun business that makes it so hard to plumb. Next time we’ll look at how the distribution channel is even more confusing.Yes, even the firearms industry admits, when pushed that the statistics related to firearms are just not there.
Yet, Josh Horowitz points out in a Huffington Post blog that:
The media has been awash this holiday season with stories about a "dramatic increase" in gun sales in the United States. CNN, for example, declared, "December holiday shoppers were not just interested in buying the hottest electronics and toys--they also were purchasing record numbers of guns." USA Today claimed, "Along with millions of Kindles, Angry Birds and gift cards, Santa left a record number of guns under Americans' Christmas trees." Reuters gushed about "16.5 million queries from firearms sellers" in 2011. Even "The Last Word" host Lawrence O'Donnell talked of a "100%" increase in gun sales over the holiday season.
The source of these stories? Reporters, as always, were being pitched to by the gun lobby--specifically the National Shooting Sports Foundation (NSSF) and the National Rifle Association (NRA). 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).
The problem is that the FBI has made it patently clear that this is not gun sales data ("These statistics represent the number of background checks initiated through the NICS. They do not represent the number of firearms sold.").
Why is that the case? For the following reasons, among others:
- 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. So the checks are run, but the guns are never actually sold.
- 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). Some states like Utah and Kentucky are now running their concealed carry databases through the NICS system on a quarterly or monthly basis.
- 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.
- 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.
- In some states, a concealed handgun permit exempts permit holders from having to undergo additional background checks when they purchase new firearms. Currently, there is no way to track such sales.
- FBI background check statistics encompass the sale of both new and second-hand firearms. Federally licensed firearms dealers frequently sell used firearms, as do unlicensed private sellers. And some states require background checks to be conducted on the private sales of firearms. How many used firearms are included in the FBI's background check data? It's impossible to tell. But no other industry in America would include used/second-hand merchandise in its reporting of sales for a given year. It would be the equivalent of Sony including used televisions hocked through Craigslist in its sales figures.
- There are instances in which the NICS database is checked multiple times for a single firearms purchase application. This would happen, for example, when there is confusion about the identity of an individual because his/her name receives multiple hits in the NICS database (e.g., an individual named John Michael Smith initially submits an application without his full middle name and causes a check to be run on a different John M. Smith). NICS also technically consists of three separate databases (the National Crime Information Center, the Interstate Identification Index, and the NICS Index) and if any one of those databases is down at a given time, checks will frequently be repeated to make sure all databases have been queried.
The thing is that the Firearms industry doesn't really want any scrutiny. If anything, it wants to keep firearms in a statistical black hole so that they can pop out with fairy tale studies which "prove" that guns reduce crime, or that there is a significant amount of "defensive gun uses".
We've gotten into this before on the issue of how many concealed carry permit holders probably shouldn't have permits. The methodology for addressing this required comparing CCW holders to the Local, State, and FBI arrest databases, which in and of itself is prohibitive. I should also add that criminal arrest data isn't always accurate, which is why one needs to check mulitple databases to come out with any reliable data on this.
I can also get into the fact that quite a bit of negative firearms related data is not allowed to be published. Or at least discouraged from being published. That's not something that the pro-gun side wants to make too widely known though.
But, the fifty cent army who defend gun rights will happily point out that we "can't back up our assertions". The problem is that their side wants it that way--even if it proves harmful to their own industry.
Ultimately, even their claims about how many people actually own firearms can't really be backed up since any claim that "gun ownership" is on the rise would have to be backed up with some form of proof in actual registrations as opposed to the data that Josh mentions above.
Anyone with a brain would be asking why isn't there better data out there so that the policy makers can make actual informed decisions, but the gun lobby doesn't really want that either.
It's a whole lot easier working all this on emotions and propaganda rather than reality. Especially since the reality tends to show that the "pro-gun" side pretty much has it all wrong.