An Objective Response to the Exec Director of Coalition to Stop Gun Violence’s “Truth About Gun Sales”

Josh Horwitz is a regular contributor to the Huffington Post and the Executive Director of the Coalition to Stop Gun Violence. 

A few weeks ago, he wrote an article for Huffpo entitled, “The Truth About Gun Sales.” 

I’ve decided to write an objective response to challenge some of the claims Horwitz’ makes in his article. 

And, in an attempt to make this objective response to Horwitz’s article as clean and as easy to read as possible, I’ve broken it down into two separate Sections: “Where Horwitz is Right,” and “Where Horwitz is Wrong (or Misinformed).”

Where Horwitz is Right:

In the article Horwitz made several cogent points about the lack of transparency with respect to the sale of firearms in the United States.

One of his central points is that how does the public know that gun sales are booming if we don’t have accurate and reliable gun sales information to review? 

As many of you are aware, direct information related to the sale of firearms is not available to the public.  Therefore, the media, the government, and anyone else who wants to calculate the number of firearms sold in any given year has to resort to crude calculations that are based off of ancillary information. 

One of the more common ways to estimate the number of guns sold in a given year is to examine the number of federal background checks run through the FBI’s National Instant Criminal Background Check System (NICS).

But there are, of course, certain flaws and/or limitations in attempting to calculate an accurate gun sales figure off of the number of background checks. 

Horwitz does a good job of pointing out these flaws and limitations.  For example background checks that have to do with pawn transactions, concealed handgun permits, or administrative oversight do not necessarily correlate to firearms transactions (you can read more of his breakdown here). 

And, so, Horwitz conclusion regarding this particular issue is accurate.  He wrote, “At the moment, we do not have enough information to accurately assess the number of guns being sold each year in the United States.”

He continued, “By itself, the FBI’s background check system cannot provide an accurate sales figure.”

And then concluded, “So while 2011 could very well turn out to be the best year for gun sales dating back to 1998, a great deal more research would have to be done to arrive definitively at that conclusion.”

Okay, he’s right in making those statements.  The gun industry lacks transparency. 

But does that mean that, as he also argues in his article, that the “number of Americans who own firearms has been steadily declining over the past 30 years?”

Where Horwitz is Wrong (or Misinformed):

If Horwitz had stopped arguing after making the ‘lack-of-transparency-with-respect-to-gun-sales’ point, his article would have been tough to criticize.  

But he didn’t stop there; he forged on – to the article’s detriment. 

See, Horwitz believes that the National Rifle Association and the National Shooting Sports Foundation are purposely keeping sales figures from the public eye to protect a “harsh reality.” 

He wrote, “So why do the NSSF and NRA continue to refuse to give reporters access to actual sales data (which they get from every other industry in America)? The answer to that question is obvious. The gun lobby is desperate to perpetuate its image as The Lobby That Cannot Be Crossed by Politicians in the face of a very harsh reality: Declining gun ownership in the United States.”

Well, is gun ownership declining in the United States? 

Horwitz pointed to a recent study to back up his argument, he wrote:

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%. GSS data also soundly debunks another specious claim that the gun lobby circulates to the media–that gun ownership among women is on the rise. In reality, gun ownership among American women has remained flat over the past three decades, with 10.5% of women reporting owning firearms in 1980 compared to 9.9% in 2010.

I looked up the study and found that the information “was obtained in March 2011 from the National Opinion Research Center (NORC) by the Violence Policy Center.” 

What is The Violence Policy Center?  Well, according to its website, it’s a “A national educational foundation working to enhance gun control in America.”

Do they have a dog in this fight?  Are they an objective source for information related to firearms? 

I’ll let you answer those questions.

Nevertheless, here’s the GSS graph on “The Continuing Decline in Household & Personal Gun Ownership:

And here’s its graph on the “Household Gun Ownership in the United States, 1973-2010:

Now, if one compares those charts with ones produced by Gallup as part of a survey on gun ownership this past October, he/she will notice obvious discrepancies.

Gallup Graph 1 – U.S. Gun Household, 1991-2011:

Summary of Gun Ownership 2011

What are those obvious discrepancies?

Gallup says that 34% of all Americans personally own a gun (GSS contends only 20.8% personally own a gun).  And that 47% of Americans have a gun in their home or elsewhere on their property (32.3% on the GSS graph). 

Who do you believe?  Gallup or GSS? 

Before you answer that question, you may want to consider the following.

First, this graph by Gallup showing increased support for the lawful possession of handguns:

Next, this graph showing the increased support for concealed carry across the country:

The point is this, even if one accepts the GSS stats and assumes for a moment that gun ownership is declining, one would still have to explain the increased support for gun ownership and concealed carry across the country.

It stands to reason that if fewer people were purchasing firearms and the gun community was actually shrinking, then the states would be less inclined to expand gun rights.  But as we’ve seen over the past decade, increasingly, states are embracing gun ownership and gun culture.

In short, all signs suggest that the gun community is growing, not shrinking.

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