Fact-Finding Takes Siesta in New Pro-Control "Study"

Posted on June 14, 2013

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This week, we stumbled upon The Way of the Gun: Estimating Firearms Traffic Across the U.S.-Mexico Border, one of the strangest and most half-asked gun control-related "studies" to come down the sendero in a long time. It contends that a quarter of a million firearms are smuggled from the U.S. to Mexico annually--a figure far in excess of estimates offered by the BATFE, the GAO, and Mexican law enforcement officials--and that 47 percent of firearm dealers in the U.S. would go out of business if they were unable to sell guns intended to be smuggled across the border. And, it proposes several actions for our federal or state governments to take, without explaining why.

First, the study--and in this instance we're using the term as loosely as the English language will allow--says that laws on our side of the border should require public disclosure of local gun purchase statistics. But in any jurisdiction, all or almost all firearms purchased have nothing to do with smuggling or Mexico. If you're looking for a needle in a haystack, why add hay? Furthermore, most firearm-related murders in Mexico are committed with handguns and, though the handguns used in such murders do not necessarily originate in the U.S., FFLs are already required to notify the BATFE whenever a customer acquires more than one handgun within a 5-day period.

Second, the study recommends that federal or state law prohibit buying guns with cash in states that border Mexico. However, forcing people who buy guns to identify themselves by using checks and credit cards seems pointless, given that after FFLs examine buyers' driver licenses, and the buyers' names and addresses go on the Form 4473s that document retail firearm transfers.

Third, the study proposes to require "background checks geared toward identifying straw purchasers," based upon "profiles" to be developed by the National Institute of Justice. The obvious problems with that idea are twofold: First, background checks screen prospective firearm purchasers through the NICS, Interstate Identification Index, and National Crime Information Center databases to determine whether they are prohibiting from possessing firearms; they have no ability to determine why eligible purchasers acquire firearms, nor should they. Second, what sort of "profiles," beyond "prohibited or not," wouldn't risk violating people's rights under the 14th Amendment? We only half-jokingly ask whether the study's authors are suggesting that background checks should be expanded to include computerized analyses of prospective gun buyers' transactional phone and email traffic.

Whether restrictions relating to the acquisition of firearms might violate someone's rights is usually of little or no concern to gun control advocates, and it is pretty clear that "gun control advocate" is a fair description of the study's authors' predispositions on the subject. One of the co-authors is the research director of both the international gun control-promoting Small Arms Survey project and the Igarape Institute, a Brazil-based think tank affiliated with George Soros' Open Society Foundations. The study also cites the Violence Policy Center, the Small Arms Survey, and anti-gun public health field researchers such as Matthew Miller and David Hemenway, whose bias against gun ownership is well established.

Moreover, the study's authors "talk like a duck," so to speak: "Government efforts to regulate firearms trade and trafficking across the U.S.-Mexico border are largely ineffective," "the United States has been negligent in preventing illegal firearms trafficking," "the U.S. has a highly permissive regulatory environment for the production, sale, purchase, and ownership of firearms," "the United States is the most heavily armed country on the planet," and "powerful U.S. gun lobbies have hamstrung efforts to enforce existing laws or otherwise regulate access to deadly, high-powered weapons in the United States," they quack.

Indicative of the thoroughness (we're kidding) of the authors' research, or the extent of their bias, they repeat the claim that "90 percent" of firearms seized in Mexico come from the United States, even though it has repeatedly been shown that, at most, the 90 percent figure applied only to firearms that Mexico has asked the BATFE to trace, which are a minority subset of all firearms that Mexico has seized from crime scenes in that country.

Of course, no anti-gun advocates' discussion of Mexico would be complete without false statements and conclusions about the federal "assault weapon" ban of 1994-2008. For example, the authors point to a "study" that contended that expiration of the ban in 2004 was responsible for a 16 percent increase in Mexico's homicide rate between 2004 and 2008.

That's a laughable notion, for at least three reasons. First, expiration of the ban meant only that it was no longer illegal to install an adjustable stock or other such external attachment on various semi-automatic firearms. Second, only a small percentage of murders in Mexico have been committed with semi-automatic rifles that anti-gun advocates label as "assault weapons" (a fact even the study's authors admit), and some involve military-grade weapons from other countries (which the study's authors also admit). And third, Mexico's surge in murders began two years and four months after the ban expired, for no other reason that the fact that it was at that time that then-Mexican president Felipe Calderon launched a war upon the Mexican drug cartels.

If anyone ever needed to know why we often put the word "study" in quotations when referring to anti-gun advocates' make-believe scientific papers promoting gun control, they would need to look no further than this "study's" discussion of the federal ban, California, and relative murder rates in the U.S. after the ban expired.

In 1989, California imposed an "assault weapon" ban far more restrictive than the federal ban that was imposed in 1994. When the federal ban expired, California did not retain the federal ban's language, it kept its own, more restrictive ban. And since the federal ban expired, California's murder rate has been higher than the national rate every year, which is not surprising, given that the last time that California's murder rate was lower than the national rate was in 1974, the year before the state imposed a 15-day waiting period on all firearm sales (later modified to 10 days).

Never mind the facts, we guess, because the study's authors claim that after the federal ban expired, California retained it, and that its murder rates "remained relatively low" to those of other states.

To further bolster the false notion that the federal ban reduced firearm production and importation, the authors also claim that during the 10 years of the ban, firearm production and importation in the U.S. was low, in comparison to preceding and subsequent years. The facts, however, show otherwise. Except for a spike in firearm production and importation in 1992, 1993 and 1994--inspired by the impending imposition of the Brady Act and the federal ban--figures during the ban were at about the same level as they had been prior to the spike. And, sales did not begin to surge with expiration of the ban in 2004; they rose gradually from year-to-year from 2003 until 2009, when they surged because of the inauguration of President Barack Obama. Furthermore, the federal ban of 1994 had virtually no effect on firearm importation, because importation was more heavily restricted by the BATFE's shameful "reinterpretation" of firearm importation law in 1989.

There are several other far-fetched notions contained within the study, but in the interest of space we will mention only the most far-fetched. The study's authors apparently really believe that there are more FFLs in the southwest not because there are more gun owners, but because FFLs have joined in a vast conspiracy of some sort--we're not making this up, by the way--to set themselves up individually, instead of as some sort of collective, to make it more difficult for the BATFE to conduct dealer inspections.
 

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