Monday, January 9, 2012

Nebulous Gun Statistics.

As someone with a pretty good familiarity with how firearms statistics are collected and disseminated, I have to laugh at a couple of interesting articles.

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.
When you screen out certain categories of NICS data that clearly do not represent gun sales (pawn transactions, concealed handgun permit checks, administrative oversight), you come up with a very different set of numbers than what is being reported in the national media.

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.


  1. Anyone with a brain, eh? How about this: Our side doesn't want your side's policy makers creating rules and laws that take away our rights. In general and in specific here, it's best to starve the data-hungry beast.

  2. If you assume these "flaws" in NICS data are stable over time, the differenced time series of NICS checks can be used to extrapolate % changes in the level of gun purchases.

    In regards to the complaint that manufacturing data is available on a two year delay - WAAAAAAAAAAHHHHHH.

  3. Yes, NICS itself is not a real indication of actual purchases but do you really think that the massive numbers of NICS checks the week of Christmas were declined or sales did not go through?

    Also absent are the fact that people buy multiple guns under a single NICS check.

    Now factor in all of the private sales that didn't go though NICS.

    Sorry, I believe the FBI, news services and the gun industry over any Sugarmann nonsense.

  4. MAgunowner,

    I am still laughing ... that was good.

  5. Well, I can tell you that I am WAY ignorant about a lot that goes on in here. But I did realize another thing, that is I have only went thru one NICS background check a long time ago and that was to get my license. Since then all I need is my license to buy my firearms, to which I have bought three this year. So as I understand it, those purchases went thru a FFL dealer without any further check. So my purchases would not be counted thru the NICS and are not considered as personal sales since I bought them from a dealer.

    Or am I all wet?

    I still read on here from time to time. Ya'll move so fast from one topic to another, I cant hardly keep up!

  6. Texas Colt carry,

    The same is true here in Arkansas. Gun sellers love it when I show them my carry license. It means no standing around with a telephone up to their ears, waiting for some bureaucrat to confirm what I already know. I've bought several firearms on the strength of that license. So much for numbers. . .

  7. Texas Colt Carry, I think your example is a good one. Also what FWM said about mulitple purchases of guns with one background check.

    But, what your side often tries to infer with the number of NICS background checks is that they're new buyers. This is not even close to the truth.

    My belief is that the average number of guns owned per individual has gone way up. The total number of gun owners may have gone up a little.

  8. Funny how the progun side can't come up with something substantive to say when it's shown that they are spouting bullshit.

    Yeah, just keep talking about rights and freedom. Unfortunately, you've really lost the argument once someone realises that is a propaganda technique.

    There is no right to own deadly weapons outside the context of a well-regulated militia.

  9. "There is no right to own deadly weapons outside the context of a well-regulated militia."

    There's no right to own knives and cars and toothbrushes if you're not in the militia? Wow that's a pretty extremist argument. No wonder gun control is dead.

  10. Laci,

    I am progun and I believe NICS checks correspond mainly to firearms purchases. I do not see any way to glean whether those purchases are for new or used firearms and whether the purchasers are first time or existing firearms owners. Any claims about the nature of purchases corresponding to NICS checks have to be based on additional information.

  11. Laci,

    Now on to your comment, "There is no right to own deadly weapons outside the context of a well-regulated militia."

    Tell us about the right of people to keep and bear arms. Specifically, tell us the source of that right, who had that right and for what purpose they could exercise that right at these times:
    1775 -- before the Declaration of Independence
    1788 -- after the Constitution was ratified
    1791 -- after the Bill of Rights was ratified
    2012 -- today

  12. Re, the U.S. Constitution:

    There are several versions of the text of the Second Amendment, each with slight capitalization and punctuation differences, found in the official documents surrounding the adoption of the Bill of Rights.[5] One version was passed by the Congress,[6] while another is found in the copies distributed to the States[7] and then ratified by them.

    As passed by the Congress:

    A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed.

    As ratified by the States and authenticated by Thomas Jefferson, Secretary of State:

    A well regulated militia being necessary to the security of a free state, the right of the people to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed.[8]

    BOTH versions, and the correspondence relating to the drafting of the 2nd Amendment clearly identify that this relates to people forming an armed militia. It does not mention personal self defense, nor does it address that issue, and it does not specify the carrying of firearms for any other purpose than militia service.

    As to any prior existence of a right to bear arms:
    Beyond the United States of America, the general concept of a right to bear arms varies widely by country, state or jurisdiction.

    In other words, different people have claimed different things at different times in different places, but there has been no establishment of a 'natural right' to do so by any consensus or tradition or custom.

    Now for example, if you want to claim a right in the U.S. based on Sharia law, there is an intrinsic right........but not if you are Christian, Jew, or any other religion than Islam. It is not a 'natural' right, more of a religious privilege. But on the up side, that goes back to the 8th century or so.

  13. To address specifically English common law from which U.S. law somewhat, but not exclusively, developed there was NOT an intrinsic, natural, basic or fundamental right to bear arms there.

    It is more along the lines of a custom that has evolved over time to be very very very regulated weapons ownership.

    English law and Scots law do not in general talk about rights. Modern law exists only to curtail certain actions which are deemed illegal for the common good. There is an English common law right to keep and bear arms for self protection but the possession of certain arms is controlled for the common good.

    It would seem intellectually dishonest to claim a prior right without taking into account how that right at any given point in time has evolved and changed, in other words to cherry pick a year or decade or quarter of a century you like, while ignoring everything else. In case you were thinking for example of the Bill of Rights of 1689 in England.

    Crunchy, Laci has written about this very very well and often, with extensive documentation. He is something of an expert on the subject, among the contributors here, since he holds law degrees from both accredited U.S. and U.K. Law schools, and has worked specifically in DC for the DoJ on gun law.

    Rather than have him duplicate the effort, I am going to suggest he point you to a specific selection of those posts in our archive.

    I think you will find us fairly well read on the topic, and in Laci's case, extremely well read. You might want to bone up yourself before tackling an argument with him.

  14. dog gone,

    I enjoy listening to "experts" on any subject matter. I am also extremely cautious about what "experts" say. No matter how learned someone is in a subject area, they can be mistaken. And "experts" can be hugely biased -- in the best case arriving at incorrect conclusions because of their bias and in the worst case intentionally advocating incorrect conclusions because of their bias.

    The most poignant illustration of this is Laci's assertion that the U.S. Supreme Court made an incorrect decision on Heller. Both sides cannot be right. And yet 5 "experts" decided one way and 4 "experts" the other way. Whether or not your agree or disagree with that decision, you must agree that "experts" can be wrong. The tricky part is figuring out where "experts" had false facts or where they let their biases get the best of them.

    That said, I am happy to hear what Laci has to say. I anticipate this will all boil down to two simple points. But I want to hear his simple assertions.

  15. Dog Gone,

    You do love that term, intellectually dishonest. You need to add a few more phrases to your random comment generator.

    Just because people have disagreed about something over the period of human history, doesn't mean that one view is right or wrong. In the same manner as I don't view rights as subject to popular vote, I don't see truth as a thing to vote on, either. Specifically on the topic at hand, the views on the idea of a natural right may change with time, but that doesn't tell me whether a natural right exists or not.

    Laci the Dog,

    Funny how your side makes a big deal out of irrelevant topics.

  16. Greg, you are intellectually dishonest.

    That term has not only been used by me here, please note, in reference to you. There is a certain consensus on that based on your comments over time.

    There is nothing 'random' about it; it is used because you ARE demonstrably so.

    Let me outline how that is true, but I will do so on a recent post where they apply.

  17. Dog Gone,

    You're just demonstrating my point about your method of arguing. When you can't address the main idea of someone's comments, you attack the person instead. Your primary technique is ad hominem.

  18. Regarding my earlier comments about "experts", the other trouble I see is that experts always assume they are right and place the burden of proof upon others to prove them wrong.

    And then even if you do prove them wrong, they have to admit when they are wrong. And in my experience, it is next to impossible for someone to admit when they are wrong.

    Is Laci the type that will readily admit when he is wrong?

  19. Crunch, in my experience, Laci is incredibly gracious and willing to admit it when he is wrong. I find him meticulous in being honest and thorough about facts; if facts don't support something, he admits it and changes his position.

    The same cannot be said of Greg.

    And - possibly in part because he has a degree in Logic- I also find him to be good about the sources he uses.

    So, when we discussed earlier today the assertion that there is some sort of 'right' to bear arms for example, and I brought up that Sharia law has that right - but only for Muslims, not as a natural right intrinsic to everyone and moved on to the English Bill of Rights, Laci was able to point out that it was a right not only highly regulated and limited by law, but also that it was specific ONLY to protestants. It was not a broader law; too few people are familiar with the text which makes this clear.

    I've slogged my way through more of Vatel's Law of Nations and his ideas on natural law, and frankly it is time I wish I had back.

    While this may have been an influence on the founding fathers, it is frankly crap. It is entirely based on emotion rather than reason and the basis of the concepts in it are far more about diplomacy and not much at all about these individual rights.

    The reality is that I do not find anywhere that I have read any consensus on a broad, widespread right to arms among all citizens.

    I cannot find in any religion or philosophy any such assertion either, as a right to self defense instead of a greater reliance on law and law enforcement for protection from harm a civil society.

    It is in the present form largely the creation of people looking for a pretext, no matter how bogus, to do what they want to do under the false guise of some noble right that doesn't exist and never has.

    There is nothing in ANY of the writings of the founding fathers, or which influenced the founding fathers - like Vatel, Locke, Hobbes, etc. - which suggests they would tolerate the quantity of criminals who have access to guns that we have now, or the quantity of domestic violence - like the frequent murder suicides - without limiting guns for the common good.

    Greg fails to demonstrate that the concept of a right to bear arms as currently practiced was ever understood to be an intrinsic 'right' for everyone. He has failed to demonstrate that rights are not in fact derived from consensus, always, for good or ill.

  20. Greg has utterly failed to demonstrate any such consensus, or that the more recent, and more legitimate definitions of rights is invalid. And he has been so dishonest as to assert that something is true because it comes from an earlier time. THAT does not in and of itself validate anything. It is no more true of gun rights than it was true because of being an old idea that the earth was flat, or that the sun orbits the earth.

    What I proved was that there was no consensus for his assertion of a right, and that just wanting to have his way did not make it a right.

    Instead he talks about 'a few people' supporting an idea. The damned tea party is a 'few people'; the majority of the nations of the world is not. Nation after nation using a document as their template for their constitutions is not an insignificant set of concepts either.

    So rather than admit there is an argument contrary to his position, he tries to pretend it is a few people, not most of the world. THAT is dishonest. He tries to define false criteria, arbitrarily claimed. That is dishonest.

    If you want to cite docment texts from historic codes, like the English Bill of Rights from 1689, or Vatel, etc.--- you had better read them first. And be very sure you understand them.

    We will.

    I will admit to be a little lazy; I have read Vatel in translation, not the original. So, I'll be willing to cut you slack on not reading docs in their original language too.

  21. Dog Gone,

    As I've told you before, I don't care what many nations of the world believe, nor do I need a consensus to be right. However, I do keep pointing out to you that for more than two decades now, state after state has gone shall issue, Congress won't even vote on gun control laws, but passes one measure after another to loosen the same, the Supreme Court has given us a promising set of rulings, and state after state is now considering allowing concealed carry without a license. That's a kind of consensus, no? You could claim that one or two of those is an aberration brought on by the NRA, but the totality of the trend is hard to argue away.

  22. "Now for example, if you want to claim a right in the U.S. based on Sharia law, there is an intrinsic right........but not if you are Christian, Jew, or any other religion than Islam. It is not a 'natural' right, more of a religious privilege. But on the up side, that goes back to the 8th century or so."

    Darn. I was hoping we would be able to decapitate women for sorcery like they do in some of those Islamic countries.

  23. GC writes:As I've told you before, I don't care what many nations of the world believe, nor do I need a consensus to be right.

    You need something. You have nothing on which to base your claim of a fundamental 'right'.

    And you have not successfully argued against the premise that rights exist only by consensus, as both a practical and philosophical position. You have no argument whatsoever.

    You have a sort of ill-informed pseudo-religious belief. That is not up to the quality of a philosophical concept.

    You want firearms, you appear to need firearms to bolster yourself, regardless of how clearly firearms pose a danger to large numbers of people where firearms exist in quantity, and relatively unregulated.

    That is not a right, and it takes more than slapping the label on it to make it so.

    You're trying to put lipstick on a pig, and not doing a very good job of it.

    I don't care whether or not states are changing their laws or not. There is a lot of resistance, a lot of push back against that happening; it is largely being forced through over the objections of a lot of people, including most law enforcement organizations. Those changes do not represent support or agreement or consensus within the U.S. any more than pushing through prohibition proved people wanted to stop drinking... and you have at best a far more ambiguous amendment for it than the one that created prohibition. There is no unity behind that trend, just a lot of money from gun manufacturers, and some easily led low-information voters.

    You have a poor grasp of what constitutes a right. You live in a delusional fantasy world about what a gun can and cannot do for you, and you try to force everything to fit that delusion.

    You personify the thinking that if you have a hammer, everything else is defined by you as a nail.

  24. Dog Gone,

    The hammer and nail claim? Please, as I've shown here, there's a lot more to me than just guns. I don't need guns to be a man, nor am I solely interested in guns. I do observe that you discuss little else here, while I participate in discussions about music and politics and physics.

    Here's my argument about the natural rights of human beings. We have free choice (do you want to debate that as well?). That is a fundamental aspect of who we are. Our right to live and to govern our own lives comes from our ability to choose. As long as we harm no one else, we should not be constrained in our ability. A right to firearms is derived from our right to live and to govern ourselves. We have the right to property that we use and own without harming others, and we have the right to defend our lives.

    I agree that anyone who harms an innocent person has violated the requirements of that right. I've told you that before.

    I suppose that we'll continue this debate.

  25. dog gone,

    Now we are getting some where. You raised the topic of "rights", especially their source and validity. The argument about the right to keep and bear arms is really a larger argument about rights in general.

    So what is your position? What is the source and validity of rights in the U.S.?

  26. DG is of the "might makes right" mentality in that your rights extend only as far as those in power allow them to extend. She thinks that if enough people agree on something then that is what will be lawful. In her view of rights, it would be perfectly legal for the states to re-institute slavery if enough people voted for it and the courts agreed to it. She may not personally agree that slavery is right, just that it would be lawful in that instance. The thought that an individual has any natural right does not compute with DG or Laci because they only acknowledge the power of the government. Whatever the government says is what is allowed.

  27. Anonymous said...

    DG is of the "might makes right" mentality in that your rights extend only as far as those in power allow them to extend.

    It is precisely how, in practical terms, legal rights work. It is what made it a right to own slaves, which is supported broadly across history, geography and world religions and philosophy, including the major religions particularly.

    But you are largely wrong here in your criticism.

    I understand that our concepts and formalization of how we understand moral rights forms the basis of what we legalize as civil rights. And UNLIKE you, and some of the highly regressive and reactionary right wingers, I recognize that just as we came to understand that slavery was wrong in terms of morality, it was subsequently translated into civil law. The resistance to that evolving of moral and civil right is just one example of how what we consider a 'right' does evolve. To do so it requires a consensus to develop, for all of us to move forward.

    What I object to from Greg was the failure to recognize that our philosophical thinking IS evolving, and it is not static or stagnant, which is a good thing, because that would prohibit us from improvement.

    She thinks that if enough people agree on something then that is what will be lawful.

    Oh, wake up - that IS what is lawful, that is in an oversimplified way how it works.

    In her view of rights, it would be perfectly legal for the states to re-institute slavery if enough people voted for it and the courts agreed to it.,

    It would be legal whether I personally approve of it or not. It would not be moral. However it is highly UNlikely that will ever happen, precisely because of our evolving understanding of moral and civil rights.

    It's only you few gun loons who fight that evolution in thinking, and cling to a failed standard model of rights.

    Inertia is on our side, not yours.

  28. Dog Gone,

    I see that you've picked up on the "standard model" term. You talk about an evolutionary process in our understanding of rights, but evolution is amoral and has no ultimate purpose. It moves in whatever direction is best adapted to the current situation. From a standpoint of morality, though, that doesn't mean that the best will win out. My position is that any sentient being has basic rights, no matter what that being's society accepts. You acknowledged exactly the problem with your thinking when you agreed that it is possible to form a consensus about slavery that would allow it to exist legally again. The pragmatic benefit of my position (though I'm not a pragmatist, so let's not debate that) is that it holds a fundamental notion of rights at its center. By believing in natural rights, I'm not tempted to accept a consensus of convenience that is morally wrong.