In a viral video of a Portland, Oregon Lincoln Day dinner address to promote the recently-released Manchin-Toomey “Public Safety And Second Amendment Rights Protection Act” background check bill, Mr. Alan Gottlieb, chairman of the Citizens Committee for the Right to Keep and Bear Arms, made a number of curious remarks, including this one about gun shows:
“I can’t justify morally, that a person who walks into a gun show, buys a gun from somebody, without getting his name, the guy can hardly speak English, and walk through the door with that firearm, with no check, nothing at all. It goes on every day at every gun show.”
We share Mr. Gottlieb’s goal of keeping guns out of the hands of those ineligible to possess firearms, like violent criminals and mentally ill people. However, it’s perplexing that it would be suggested – incorrectly – that gun shows have some substantive nexus with crime. (We would also offer that the language spoken by a gun buyer is immaterial to the analysis and that the new gun rights culture enjoys diverse support and wide socioeconomic, political, and ethnic representation.)
For instance, in California, all private sales of firearms – at gun shows and otherwise – must be conducted through a firearms dealer that is licensed by both the federal government and the State of California (and, in most cases, by local authorities as well). Each private firearm transfer is processed through the State’s Dealers Record of Sale (DROS) system and every gun purchaser or transferee is subjected to a rigorous background check that goes far beyond the federal NICS program. Even more, the buyer or transferee’s firearm is subject to a 10-day waiting period. ZERO guns sold at California gun shows are lawfully transferred outside these strict requirements except to those explicitly allowed by the State, such as sworn law enforcement officers with identification and an official directive on department letterhead.
In Gottlieb’s home state of Washington, the Washington Arms Collectors (WAC) – for which Gottlieb is a board member – promotes and manages the largest gun shows in the state, “filling up to 1,200 tables” of gun dealers, gun seekers, and collectors peacefully exercising their First and Second Amendment rights in one venue alone. In order to buy a gun at a WAC gun show, one must first be subjected to (and pass) a background check and be a certified WAC member; similarly, one cannot sell any guns to a non-WAC member at a gun show — all transactions have background checks on both sides of the ledger.
Noted historian and scholar Clayton E. Cramer addresses the “gun show loophole” fallacy in his January 18, 2013 article “Does ‘Gun Show Loophole’ Actually Result in Gun Crime?”, in it saying:
“They [Mark Duggan, Randi Hjalmarsson, and Brian A. Jacobs, professors at the University of Maryland and the University of Michigan, respectively] studied murders and suicides in the three weeks following gun shows in these two states. What they found was that suicide and homicide rates in California were unaffected by gun shows; this is not terribly surprising because California prohibits private party sales without background check. (Gun suicides increased, but non-gun suicides fell by the same amount.) In Texas, where there are no restrictions on private party sales, they found that gun homicides actually fell following gun shows, while suicides and non-gun homicides were unchanged.”
That 2008 scholarly paper, “The Effect of Gun Shows on Gun-Related Deaths: Evidence from California and Texas“, can be viewed at http://closup.umich.edu/research/workingpapers/oldpapers/gunshows-sept08-final.pdf.
In a 1997 (revised 2002) Federal Bureau of Justice Statistics report entitled “Survey of Inmates in State and Federal Correctional Facilities: Firearm Use by Offenders”, the federal government found that only 0.7% of the firearms used in crimes were acquired through gun show transactions.
In 2010, The Calguns Foundation researched the nexus between the ban on gun shows at public property enacted by the County of Alameda (California) and crime. That organization subsequently filed an amicus brief to the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals in the federal lawsuit Nordyke v. King. The Foundation’s brief, which argued that the County’s gun show ban was unconstitutional, concluded that
“The crime rate data show that the County’s ban on gun shows at the [Alameda] Fairgrounds has not had any perceptible positive impact on either the murder rate or violent crime in Alameda County. The County has witnessed their murder rate increase by 7.13% since enactment of the Ordinance while the 10 County Mean murder rate only increased 0.35% over the same period.
The violent crime rate increased in Alameda County by 2.21% after enactment of the Ordinance while the same violent crime rate decreased by 2.43% over the same period in the 10 County Mean. From this raw data and the associated trends it is obvious that banning gun shows on County property in Alameda County has had no discernable positive effect on public safety in Alameda County.”
While there may be Constitutional ways to ensure that prohibited persons cannot easily acquire firearms through gun transactions outside of well-managed and highly regulated retail establishments like those of our dealer members, misrepresenting the facts about “every gun show” does a disservice to the national conversation on this important issue and our culture of proudly law-abiding, Second Amendment-exercising Americans — even if it is done to promote an alternative federal legal schema that could, in some ways, positively affect gun owners.
It’s possible that Senator Tom Coburn’s proposed free and simple online background check system represents an appropriate vehicle to achieve a goal that everyone agrees on — keeping guns out of hands of the violent and mentally ill — without infringing the fundamental rights of free Americans. Time will tell, and we will consider and judge the measure only after its full text is available.
The bottom line, however, is that the Manchin-Toomey proposal is no more the right solution for America than gun shows are responsible for gun crimes. Where some see it as Christmas tree with a million ornaments, we can’t help but view it for what it is: a big lump of coal.
Brandon Combs is the president of California Association of Federal Firearms Licensees (http://www.calffl.org). CAL-FFL is California’s premier non-profit industry association of, by, and for firearms manufacturers, dealers, collectors, training professionals, shooting ranges, and others, advancing the interests of its members and the general public through strategic litigation, legislative efforts, and education. For more information or to join Cal-FFL, please visit calffl.org.