ThinkProgress Unfairly Demonizes NRA, Suggests Gun Lobby Protects Criminals

There are two sides to every story.  Such is the case with a recent hit piece that slams the National Rifle Association for secretly protecting “people who commit crimes with guns” by supporting legislation that supposedly inhibits the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives from doing it’s job.

I’ve included the author’s three main allegations followed by my own commentary and analysis.  Essentially, I’m telling the other side of the story.

Banned the ATF from managing its own data. Through riders, the NRA has stripped the ATF of its independence and limited the agency’s ability to manage its own data. Since 1979, the ATF has been banned from consolidating its gun sales records into a centralized database, making it extremely difficult for the agency and law enforcement to track guns in crimes. As the [Center for American Progress] report notes, “ATF receives an average of 1.3 million records from out-of-business dealers each month, and it is forced to keep these records in boxes in warehouses or on microfiche.” In 2004, the ATF was further restricted from disclosing any data on guns found at crime scenes to the public. Research indicates that real ATF prosecution can deter gun dealers from selling to criminals; currently, one percent of gun dealers sell half the guns used in crimes. Obama’s gun prevention plan, smeared as “tyranny” by gun advocates, would finally appoint a director to the ATF for the first time in six years and give the agency better resources to create a gun trafficking database.

Yes, no kidding!  Of course, the NRA opposes a centralized database – also known as a national registry of law-abiding gun owners.  Why?

Well, for one thing, it’s against federal law for the government to have direct access to gun records.  To explicate, the Firearm Owners Protection Act clearly states the following:

No such rule or regulation prescribed [by the Attorney General] after the date of the enactment of the Firearms Owners Protection Act may require that records required to be maintained under this chapter or any portion of the contents of such records, be recorded at or transferred to a facility owned, managed, or controlled by the United States or any State or any political subdivision thereof, nor that any system of registration of firearms, firearms owners, or firearms transactions or disposition be established. Nothing in this section expands or restricts the Secretary’s authority to inquire into the disposition of any firearm in the course of a criminal investigation.

But the real reason why the NRA and so many gun owners oppose a national registry or giving the government direct access to gun owner information isn’t because it’s against the law, but because of history.  Now, on this front there are many examples to list (Stalin, Mao), but the most notorious is Hitler’s Third Reich.

As Research Director of the Independence Institute David Kopel wrote in an article entitled, Hitler’s Control: The Lessons of Nazi History:

“Significantly, the Weimar law required the registration of most lawfully owned firearms, as do the laws of some American states. In Germany, the Weimar registration program law provided the information which the Nazis needed to disarm the Jews and others considered untrustworthy.”

And we all know how that ended.

Plus, even if one wants to ignore the lessons of history, he/she should ask himself/herself why is Canada recently scrapped its national gun registry if it is such an important tool for crime fighting and curbing gun-related violence.  (HINT: It’s costly, it’s in an intrusion on one’s privacy, and it doesn’t do much in the way of catching criminals).

Prevented the ATF from tracking stolen guns. The ATF is officially responsible for inspecting and overseeing licensed firearms dealers. But in 2004, the gun lobby successfully pushed a rider to specifically prevent the ATF from requiring dealers to conduct an annual inventory. As a result, tens of thousands of lost and stolen guns go unreported every year. In 2011, nearly 18,500 guns were unaccounted for during 13,100 firearms inspections. Due to this rider, the ATF has no way of discovering or penalizing gun dealers regularly lose track of firearms. Nor can they determine what guns were lost or when — until they show up at crime scenes.

By law, FFLs are required to report stolen firearms:

Any Federal Firearms Licensee who has knowledge of the theft or loss of any firearms from their inventory must report such theft or loss within 48 hours of discovery to ATF and to the local law enforcement agency. (Regulations at 27 CFR § 478.39a and implementing section 923(g)(6)require that the report of theft or loss be made by telephone and in writing to ATF).

That’s the law.  Moreover, it’s specious to say that the ATF doesn’t track stolen guns.  It does.  A 2010 survey showed that the ATF had 330,000 records in its Firearms Tracing System, which compiles reports submitted by FFLs and interstate carriers.

The question one has to ask is: would a government-mandated annual inventory report really help the ATF?

Well, considering that the ATF already has the authority to conduct on-site inspections on an FFL’s premises on a yearly basis, it seems superfluous to require them to conduct an inventory report.

Additionally, there’s a point to be made about an ATF study, conducted in 2000, that showed more than 57 percent of crime gun traces came from just 1.2 percent of gun dealers.

Sounds to me like these aren’t gun dealers, but criminals who own gun stores.  Consequently, even with an annual inventory in place, is it reasonable to assume that these unscrupulous dealers are going to honestly report guns “missing” from their store?

Food for thought.  One needs to remember that there’s a few bad apples in every bunch.

Included in that gun trace data are those gun stores who are frequently victimized by straw purchasers, individuals with no criminal history that buy guns only to sell them to drug dealers and gang members.

In the past, the ATF has had no problem spotting straw purchasers.  The problem, however, is the agency’s ability to interdict and make arrests… Operation Fast and Furious, anyone?

Strangled research into gun violence. The Center for Disease Control and Prevention released a comprehensive gun violence study as part of their public health research in 1993. Infuriated by the study, the NRA successfully lobbied to kill almost all funding for gun violence studies. Many of the statistics used in the gun debate today are decades-old, as new gun violence research has become virtually nonexistent. Since the 1996 rider preventing the CDC from spending money to “advocate or promote gun control,” gun research has dropped 95 percent, from $2.5 million in 1993-1996 to $100,000 in 2009-2012. Obama’s gun violence prevention plan would lift the ban on gun research funding and order the CDC to initiate a new comprehensive study.

On it’s face, it only makes sense that the NRA would oppose studies that have a predetermined objective to “advocate or promote gun control” because those studies are not unbiased research, they’re a function of agenda-driven politics.  But also the broader notion that there’s a dearth of research on gun control or gun violence or gun owners is complete balderdash.

In 2003, the CDC studied the Clinton-Era ban on ‘assault’ weapons and found “insufficient evidence to determine the effectiveness of any of the firearms laws reviewed for preventing violence.”  Other government agencies, including the DOJ reached similar conclusions about the ban.

More recent and extensive research on the subject can be found at universities across the country.  Take, for example, one study conducted by Virginia Commonwealth University Professor Thomas R. Baker.

Baker examined crime data and gun sales in Old Dominion from 2006 to 2011 and found a negative relationship between gun sales, which increased 73 percent over those five years and gun-related violent crimes, which fell by 24 percent over the same period (when adjusted for population growth, those numbers are a 63 percent increase in sales and a 27 percent reduction in crime).

One of his central findings?

“While there is a wealth of academic literature attempting to demonstrate the relationship between guns and crime, a very simple and intuitive demonstration of the numbers seems to point away from the premise that more guns leads to more crime, at least in Virginia,” Baker, told the Richmond Times-Dispatch last November.

“So while it’s difficult to make a direct causal link [that more guns are resulting in less crime], the numbers certainly present that that’s a real possibility,” Baker added.

The truth is that there are plenty of empirical studies on gun owners and crime rates.  However, since many pro-gun control proponents find them vexing they willfully choose to ignore them, or so it seems.  But lucky for gun owners, the data is hard to ignore:

Crime Rates

Crime Rates

Concealed Carry Expansion by state infographic

Concealed Carry Expansion


So yeah, the NRA is not evil despite what some people would have the public believe.   Nor does the nation’s gun lobby protect criminals by opposing a national gun registry, superfluous inventory reports and agenda-driven gun control studies.

The NRA sticks up for gun owners and fights for the Second Amendment.  Does it make some mistakes along the way?  Sure, but no organization is perfect.

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