The Gun Show.

Since 2009, when President Obama first began talking about gun control, gun sales have increased. The stock market value of gun manufacturers like Smith and Wesson and Ruger rose by 900 percent.[1] Now the president has begun taking executive action to extend federal control.

How big is the problem of unlicensed gun sales? A study of “Armslist.com” found that 600,000 guns were offered for sale on-line by unlicensed dealers. Of these, 4.5 percent were sales by “high volume dealers”–people who sold 25 to 150 weapons a year.[2] So there are a small number of people knowingly skirting the law in much the same way, perhaps, as many drivers ignore the speed limits[3] or sell marijuana. Guns purchased on-line will not be sent directly to the purchaser. They will be sent to a licensed gun-dealer who can carry out an on-line background check before turning over the gun to the purchase. Many, if not most, gun show sales also require a background check. (Lots of people have a Wi-Fi connection.)

When President Obama issued his executive order on gun-sales, he sought to bring all those who sell or trade guns under federal control.[4] Specifically, anyone who sells guns could be considered a “gun dealer.” Any of them who do not have a federal license—which will not be issued to applicants in the same way that federal lands are to be closed to coal miners by executive order—could be subject to heavy fines. White House spokes-person Josh Earnest[5], claimed that the penalties to be levied on people “hiding behind the hobbyist exemption” would force many people to seek federal gun-dealer licenses. So, that’s the end of that. These dealers are thought to sell hundreds of weapons a year. Some of these hundreds of weapons may be used in the thousands of gun homicides that happen each year. Both small gun dealers and knowledgeable federal officials doubt that the new order will have any effect.

How does it play in Peoria? As of early January 2016, 51 percent of Americans were opposed to tighter gun laws; while 48 percent supported tighter laws.[6] As of mid-January 2016, more than half (54 percent) of Americans opposed President Obama’s use of executive orders to alter the gun laws [relating to who is a gun-dealer], while 44 percent approved it. So, Americans are clear in their own mind about what they believe on this matter. At the same time, however, two-thirds (67 percent) of Americans supported President Obama’s directive for expanded background checks for gun-buyers.[7] What about the party-affiliation breakdown? Well, virtually all Democrats (85 percent), two-thirds (65 percent) of Independents, and just over half of Republicans (51 percent) support expanded background checks. 

What’s the difference? Well, we have an existing system of back-ground checks and anyone can see that the system doesn’t catch enough of the killers. So extending it makes sense without changing the law by presidential ukase. Changing the legal definition of who is a gun-dealer smacks of President Obama’s all-too-evident belief that he is the ruler of the French Second Empire, rather than president of the United States. The former adjunct professor of law appears to have a problem with many Americans about how he understands the Constitution.

[1] Compared to 800 percent for Apple and 147 percent for the benchmark Standard and Poor’s 500 index.

[2] The NYT did not report on the hand gun versus long gun balance of this trade. Hand guns are the chief killers.

[3] See: Route 202 southbound at 6:30 AM. Just reporting on what I have seen.

[4] Hiroku Tabuchi and Rachel Abrams, “Obama’s Gun Initiative Seen as Having Limited Effect on Unlicensed Dealers,” NYT, 8 January 2016.

[5] “Josh” is an old term for “joke.” “Earnest” is an old term for “I’m serious.” So, which is it?

[6] “Poll Watch,” The Week, 15 January 2016, p. 17.

[7] “Poll Watch,” The Week, 22 January 2016, p. 17.

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