Americans Want Expanded Background Checks – and It Looks Like Obama is Going to Deliver

As we head into a new year, President Obama is expected to take long-awaited action on gun law reform by expanding when background checks are required for gun purchases. Obama is meeting with Attorney General Loretta Lynch on Monday to discuss a three-month review of what actions he could take to help reduce gun violence.

As it stands today, only purchasers who buy guns through a seller with a federal firearms license (FFL) are subject to background checks.  They are considered “engaged in the business” of selling guns.  Private sellers, including those who buy and sell guns as a hobby are not required to conduct background checks on prospective buyers, nor are people who purchase guns through online gun exchanges like Armslist.com or via private Facebook groups.  A gun seller could easily and without their knowledge sell a firearm to someone who is a prohibited purchaser.  Estimates suggest that as many as 40% of guns in American trade hands without background checks.

Since the of  NICS (the National Instant Check System) inception 17 years ago, the FBI counts over 1.2 million “federal denials”, most due to the individual’s criminal history. Other reasons include “adjudicated mental health” (20,687) and the purchaser being an “illegal/unlawful alien” (16,246).  The relevant and pressing question is, of course, how many more dangerous people could be prevented from buying a gun if the definition of “engaged in the business” was extended to include private sellers?

Although a loud and very vocal minority will no doubt be angry about the President’s actions – whatever they actually turn on to be, it’s very important to note the broad, even overwhelming, support for measures to expand background checks.

Depending on the poll, Americans support expanding background checks to all guns sales by anywhere from 85-89%.

A Pew Research Poll conducted over the summer showed that 85% of those polled supported background checks for gun shows and private sales – including 88% of Democrats pulled and 79% of Republicans.

Screen Shot 2016-01-03 at 6.04.07 PMIn October, a Gallup poll showed that 86% of respondents favored background checks for all gun sales.

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And, even more recently, a Quinnipiac University poll conducted in December showed that 89% of respondents – including 86% of household with guns – support expanding background checks.

Screen Shot 2016-01-03 at 4.37.51 PMIn two recent polls conducted in Tennessee, one by MTSU and one by Vanderbilt, the citizen of Tennessee support background checks for all gun sales by 84% and 85% respectively. What other issue do that many Tennesseans agree on?

Screen Shot 2016-01-03 at 6.06.57 PMAlthough there will be outcry over the President’s stance on the issue, he’s only doing what the citizens want, what congress has refused to do, and what, in the face of the never ending gun violence epidemic in our country, his own conscience compels him to do.

The NRA and its supporters say that expanding background checks would not have stopped Newtown or Charleston or Chattanooga or Aurora. And they’re probably right. However, “spectacle mass shootings” that get 24 hour news coverage are but a tiny fraction of the gun violence in our country. They are horrifying and scary and absolutely require attention and thoughtful and measured response. But, as jarring as they are, it’s the “everyday” gun violence in our nation that takes the most lives and that can actually be reduced by expanding background checks. In fact, a recent study shows that states that have implemented expanded background checks have seen significant reductions in key areas such as women murdered by men (46% fewer), suicide (48% fewer), police killed with handguns (48% fewer), and guns trafficked to other states (64%).

Screen Shot 2016-01-03 at 6.10.34 PMIn a state like Tennessee, ranked 6th for women murdered by men (most commonly with a gun) and 12th for suicide by gun (500 Tennesseans kill themselves every year with a gun – nearly 50 every month!), these reductions are huge. With such dismal statistics, any attempt to reduce lives lost to gun violence is at the very least worth trying, especially as nothing about expanding background checks would prevent any law abiding citizen from going to the gun store of their choice and buying a gun and ammunition.

Let’s look at the last few days of never-ending gun violence in America.

We are only a couple of days into the new year and according to the nonprofit Gun Violence Archive, a website that collects and aggregates news stories of shooting incidents, there have already been 62 deaths, 146 injuries, 2 children under 11 killed, 13 kids between the ages of 11 and 19 killed, 1 mass shooting, and 8 accidental shootings. These numbers are undercounts – it sometimes takes a day or so for the new story to cycle through to GVA and not every incident makes the news, especially accidental shootings. The number has undoubtedly gone up by the time you’re reading this.

These numbers also don’t include suicides which make up the bulk of gun violence deaths each year. Based on statistics from the CDC, around 58 people per day use a gun to kill themselves, so based on averages, we can assume that close to 180 people have put a gun to their head and pulled the trigger since the ball dropped on New Year’s Eve.

These are just a few of the hundreds of incidents that occurred between midnight New Year’s Eve through midnight January 2nd…

The shootings started soon after the New Year. For reasons that are unclear and often associated with alcohol consumption, Americans like to shoot guns into the air on New Years. Exercising the second amendment rights by displaying a staggering level of irresponsible negligence and perhaps a total lack of understanding of gravity, revelers fire bullets into the air with no concern whatsoever as to where the bullets will land. Every year, these bullets often land in the bodies of kids.

A teenager in St. Petersburg was watching fireworks outside her boyfriend’s home when a bullet struck her in the leg. Meanwhile, just to the east in nearby Orlando, a 9-year-old child was struck by a bullet as she and her family left a church service early New Year’s Day. Law enforcement have no suspect information because the round “seemed to be from the voluminous amounts of gunfire” happening at the time.” In Nevada, another teen was struck outside his home by a bullet investigators believe was fired nearby in celebration.

Here in Tennessee, celebratory gunfire isn’t even against the law. Tennessee Firearms Association executive director John Harris considers firing rounds in the air indiscriminately to be “perfectly acceptable conduct.” Harris says if someone wants to celebrate that way, the government shouldn’t stop them.

To the north in Wisconsin, a 27-year-old father shot and killed his 2-year-old little girl early in the hours of New Year’s Day and then turned the gun on himself- all for reasons that no one knows.  She was about to turn three.

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2 year old Skylar Hartman was shot and killed by her dad before he killed himself.

Driving home from a New Year’s party, a 20-year-old University of North Texas student was shot in a road rage incident. She died after being taken off life support.

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Sara Mutschlechner, 20-years-old. Dead because of road rage.

Police in Kansas City, Missouri were called to a ballpark early New Year’s Day to investigate a shooting.  They found a 24 year-old woman shot dead.  They took a 21-year-old man into custody.  Police believe the two had had an argument.

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21-year-old Jay Bowman got into an argument with 24-year-old Stephanie Bradberry so he shot and killed her.

Mourners at a Tampa Bay funeral on New Year’s Day got into an altercation. The fight spilled outside and someone produced a gun. Three people were shot in the melee.

New Years afternoon, a 62-year-old man in Altus, Oklahoma was trying to chain up the family dog when his gun fell to the ground and discharged. A bullet struck him in the upper thigh, killing him.

Just a day later on Saturday the 2nd, in Enid, Oklahoma, a 59-year-old man shot and killed his ex-wife and a friend of hers. Another friend was critically wounded but survived.

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Vincent Ray Perosi shot and killed his ex-wife. He also shot two of her friends, killing one and injuring the other.

Also Saturday the 2nd in Colorado Springs, a shooting at a Hooters in the Citadel Mall left 2 injured and created a panic.

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Preliminary investigation shows there was a disturbance between two groups of people leading up to the shooting.

Colorado Springs has been in the news a lot lately. Known as one of the most conservative cities in the nation and referred to as the “evangelical vatican” for the number of religious organizations with regional or international residing in the city, it’s the same place where a man open carrying a rifle shot and killed 3 people on Halloween and where less than a month later, a man shot up a Planned Parenthood Clinic. He killed three including a police officer and wounded nine.

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The day after Thanksgiving, a man known to be mentally unstable and vehemently anti-government shot 12 people in a Planned Parenthood clinic.

Meanwhile and still on the 2nd, in Lake County, Indiana, a 49-year-old man with a history of child molestation shot and killed his ex-wife at her place of employment in Lake County, Indiana. Her murder was caught on surveillance tape. He is still at large.

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Richard Kalecki Jr., 49, shot and killed his 37-year old ex-wife Alessandra De Moraes-Emiliano at the local Edible Arrangements where she worked.

And Saturday night, news outlets began reporting a group of protesters and purported militiamen led by the sons of Cliven Bundy occupied a federal building at an Oregon wildlife refuge vowing to stay there indefinitely to highlight the plight of two ranchers accused of burning federal land. The men are armed and have posted videos urging their fellow “patriots” to take up arms and join them.

These “militia men” have draped themselves with both American flags and Gadsden flags. Anyone familiar with the gun rights debate is familiar with the Gadsden flag. The “Don’t Tread on Me” flag, has been co-opted by these anti-government militia groups and is regular fixture at pro-second amendment protests and rallies. Jared and Amanda Miller also draped the Gadsden flag over the body of the two police officers they gunned down in cold blood as they shouted about revolution in 2014. The Millers had spent time at Cliven Bundy’s ranch earlier that summer. After killing the two officers, they then shot and killed an armed man who tried to stop them. Ultimately, under siege by the police, the pair shot and killed each other.

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The Gadsden Flag favored by pro-second amendment advocates and antigovernment militias.

Will expanding background checks mean an end to gun violence. Of course not. Will expanding background checks mean an end to mass shooting. No. Will “bad guys” still be able to get guns. Sure, but shouldn’t we all be focused on making it as hard as possible for them to do so? Instead, based on this “if it won’t stop every gun crime, why bother?’ approach, the gun lobby has managed to thwart every single attempt to make it harder for prohibited purchasers to get guns. Then, they say the solution to the thousands of gun deaths each year is to make it easier for more people to arm themselves and carry their guns more places. It makes no sense.

After ever mass shooting, the NRA scares its members by saying that government is coming for their guns. To them, everything is part of a government scheme to disarm and confiscate.  Despite the fact that the vast majority of Americans – even gun owners – support taking moderate and common sense steps to make it harder for domestic abusers, felons, other dangerous people from getting their hands on weapons, the NRA and the politicians who fear them, scream “tyranny!”  And the NRA and the gun manufactures they support make millions. (Did you know that the NRA made $348 MILLION in the year after Sandy Hook?)

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Candidates running for president are already vowing to repeal, “unsign”, and reject any measure the president takes – without even knowing what steps he will take. If the steps President Obama takes actually do reduce the number of gun deaths each year, would a pro-second amendment President still “unsign” Obama’s orders? Unfortunately, the answer is yes.

But, who exactly are these candidates trying to please? Not the 89% of Americans who support background checks. Not the 79% of Republicans who favor background checks for all gun sales and not the 86% of gun owning households who are in agreement that background checks do not infringe the second amendment and could keep us all safer.

The President is doing what congress and the gun lobby who finance many of them won’t – listen to the voice of the American citizens who have said ENOUGH and are desperate for a leader to finally at least try to reduce the number of mothers, fathers, sons, and daughters whose lives are taken each year by a bullet.

Gun violence is a complicated issue but doing nothing isn’t an option.  Not anymore.

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That Time Facebook Blocked the Ad for my Blog Post

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Recently I wrote a lengthy blog post on online gun exchanges and the ease with which a prohibited purchaser can locate and purchase a firearm.  It pointed out the fact that numerous reports link some of the rifles purchased by the Chattanooga gunman to Armslist.com.  Guns that he used to kill 5 US military service members and injure a police officer.  It also referenced a story about a man in Wisconsin who, after his estranged wife filed an order of protection against him, used Armslist to purchase a gun he then used the next day at her workplace to murder her, two others, himself, and critically injure four others.

The clear and obvious point of the blog post was that these online gun exchanges make it frighteningly easy for anyone who wants pretty much any type of gun to get one.  Quickly.  With no legal requirement for background checks. And, that sometimes those guns are sold to people who shouldn’t have them who then use them to kill innocent people.

The Safe Tennessee Project posted the blog on their Facebook page.  The blog itself walked readers through the Armslist site and demonstrated just how easy it is to find guns for sale through private parties who aren’t required to background check purchasers.  The blog used Tennessee and major cities in Tennessee as an example specifically because the Chattanooga shooter is known to have used the site.

When a Facebook page creates a post, the page can choose to “boost” the post.

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Using algorithms that are honestly confusing to the average user, Facebook is able to suggest the post to other Facebook users based on what it understands about them.

fb ad boost detailsIf you choose to “boost” a post, you can allow Facebook to “push” it to the page’s audience (people who like the page) and their friends or the page can customize an audience to target.  This is done by choosing specific key words that you think reference your post.  For example, with a post like the one on Armslist, key words might be: background checks, gun show loophole, online gun exchanges, gunsense, and gun violence prevention.

These “boosts” are also referred to as ads and they are an inexpensive way for Facebook pages to increase views and promote posts and stories that they think are important or of interest to their audience.  Anytime a story pops up in your feed that says “sponsored”, it’s because someone paid to have that post boosted.  You can pay as little as a couple of dollars to hundreds of dollars for these boosts/ads.  The amount you spend is tied to the number of people Facebook estimates they can reach with your post.

When you choose to “boost” a post, Facebook reviews the boost/ad first.  They have certain rules about how the ad can look (here’s an overview of their ad policies) and of course content.  Certain content is prohibited.

Screen Shot 2015-08-05 at 10.06.03 AMAs far as I am concerned, this is great.  I agree that ads shouldn’t promote the sale or use of any of those things.  As a gun violence prevention advocate, I especially appreciate that they prohibit ads that promote the sale of use of weapons, ammunitions, or explosives.  Good for you, Facebook!

You can imagine the surprise, however, when the Safe Tennessee Project was told that their ad wasn’t approved because, according to Facebook, the ad promotes the sale of firearms.

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But, this blog post was in no way promoting the sale of firearms.  In fact, it was actually calling out those who promote the sale of firearms online and on Facebook.  They suggest that you “get in touch” if you feel that there was an error.  So, we got in touch.

fb 2This post was a link to a blog about the dangers of allowing guns to be sold to prohibited purchasers with no background checks or accountability.  To characterize it as promoting the sale of weapons is clearly just a big misunderstanding, right?

Except, apparently it’s not.
final FB determinationWow.  Perhaps Ashley didn’t bother to look at the actual post.  Or maybe if the post had been a link to one of the numerous news stories that link the Chattanooga shooter to Armslist, it would have been rejected, too.  They at least reassured us that the post will remain published but also let us know that the decision is final.

The standards for Facebook pages are apparently much more permissive.  All of the details of their policy are here but this is what specifically pertains to page content…

Screen Shot 2015-08-05 at 10.38.56 AMBecause pages like Armslist actually promote the sale of firearms.

Screen Shot 2015-08-05 at 10.47.18 AMThere are also plenty of closed groups and pages that promote the buying and selling of guns.

Screen Shot 2015-08-04 at 10.47.58 AMScreen Shot 2015-08-04 at 10.43.41 AMThese groups are technically breaking no laws and they meet Facebook’s page and group requirements.  Armslist’s Facebook page is fine because it doesn’t post their users’ listings of guns being offered for sale, just a link to the website where their users post guns being offered for sale.  Facebook is technically following through with the commitment they made last summer to crack down on gun sales on their site.

They made this commitment after a 15 year old boy in Kentucky used a Facebook group called them “Portsmith Pickers” to purchase a 9mm handgun which he took to school.  Yes, a grown man in a Facebook group sold a 9mm handgun to a 15 year old boy.  This kind of horrible PR has to lead to policy changes, right? (The grown man who sold the gun was himself a convicted felon.)

Part of the new policy included a promise to delete gun sale posts that are flagged by users.  Of course,  the vast majority of the Facebook gun exchanges are closed groups which means you have to be approved before you can view the content.  Which means you’re far less likely to flag any posts.  Which means the new policy is not all that effective.

Look, I get it.  These groups can have Facebook pages and closed groups.  The question isn’t whether they fall within Facebook’s guidelines and are legal.  The question is should they be?

And, why is a blog post that calls out the dangerously unregulated practice of online gun exchanges considered a violation of Facebook policy?

 

 

 

The Wild West World of Online Gun Exchanges

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Did you know you could legally buy all of this with no background check and no record of sale?

When gun violence prevention (GVP) advocates speak about the need for universal background checks and the need to close the gun show loophole, there is always push back from the gun lobby. When those advocates speak about the prevalence and ease of buying guns online, the gun lobby and their followers loudly and condecsendingly point out that you cannot purchase guns online and to even suggest such a thing is proof that you don’t know what you’re talking about.

That is a complete fallacy. Let’s look at the facts.

Yes, it IS true that you cannot purchase a gun online and have it shipped to you. You cannot go to cabelas.com, add an AR-15 to your shopping cart, check out, and then have it show up on your front porch 5-7 business days later. We know that. They know that. That’s not what “online gun sales” mean. They also know that but they believe that diverting the conversation into “Everybody knows you can’t buy guns online” shuts the argument down.

The term ‘online gun sales’ may be misleading. When you hear GVP advocates use that term, what they are referring to is online gun exchanges where buyers and sellers can connect and transact offline. Think of it like an online classifieds section of the newspaper. Actually, think of it like a Craigslist for guns.

In fact, the largest online gun exchange is called Armslist.com and it was created by two Air Force Academy graduates. They started Armslist after Craigslist banned the buying, selling, and trading of firearms on its site. Screen Shot 2015-08-04 at 1.47.31 PM Armslist allows both FFLs (“premium vendors” who pay $30 per month) and private parties (who can list and purchase with no fee) to buy, sell, or trade firearms and firearms accessories. An FFL is a Federal Firearms License. In the US, an FFL enables an individual or a company to engage in a business pertaining to the sale, manufacture or importation of firearms and ammunition, or the interstate and intrastate sale of firearms. It has been a legal requirement to hold an FFL to engage in these types of firearms-related activities since the enactment of the Gun Control Act of 1968.

In that same Gun Control Act of 1968 was language that allowed private individuals to have an “occasional trade.” These are the same words used today to justify private party sales and they are (intentionally?) vague. Does an “occasional” trade mean you sell one shotgun once in your lifetime or does it mean you sell 3-5 semi-automatic tactical rifles with 30 round magazines each month?

These “private party” sales are what concern GVP advocates. These private party sales are what “closing the gun show loophole” means and what “universal background checks” mean (to sell guns as a licensed dealer inside a gun show requires an FFL but not all vendors are licensed – meaning they can engage in an “occasional trade” without conducting background checks  -and it’s anything goes in the parking lot between private individuals, just as it is when it comes to online exchanges that connect buyers and sellers). GVP advocates want these loopholes closed because these private party sales can legally take place without any background checks. The online gun exchange sites have disclaimers that instruct you not to sell firearms to people outside of your state and that they can’t be felons and that you have to be 18 to even look at the site. Of course there is no way to enforce any of this. No way whatsoever.

Back to Armslist…The site is designed much like Craigslist. The interface is extremely easy to navigate and there are multiple filters that allow you to narrow your search criteria. Like Craigslist, you see a listing that interests you, click on it and look at the details and photos. If you decide you might want to buy it, you contact the seller. Like Craigslist, there is a “contact seller” button where you send a message to the seller and sometimes the seller will provide their actual email or phone number. You then negotiate price, just like Craigslist, and then agree to meet somewhere to complete the transaction. No record. Often times in cash.

These transactions COULD happen with a background check but that would require the buyer and the seller to both agree to it and then they would have to find an FFL to do the background check. And, there’s a nominal fee for a background check. And, it’s a hassle. And, there are a number of second amendment advocates who feel that background checks are unconstitutional to begin with. So, you can guess how often private party sales include background checks. It’s likely that many occur without even verification that the buyer is a legal resident of the state.

Besides, in most states, including Tennessee, private party transfers of firearms do not require a background check.   Sure, Tennessee law prohibits any person from purchasing or attempting to purchase a firearm knowing that he or she is prohibited by state or federal law from owning, possessing or purchasing a gun.  Obviously, this whole system requires a lot of taking people at their word – that sellers will ask and buyers will tell the truth.  When it comes to selling weapons designed to  fire dozens of bullets in a matter of seconds, should we really rely on the honor system?

On The O’Reilly Factor one night after the Chattanooga shooting, O’Reilly was speaking to a correspondent in Chattanooga and asked him about reports that the shooter who killed 5 US servicemen purchased a gun through an online exchange. O’Reilly and the reporter both spoke of reports that the exchange used was Armslist. O’Reilly then castigated Armslist for being essentially a “back alley” way of obtaining firearms. He also said these words: “I think even the NRA would say, listen, you can’t have back alley gun dealings at this level and that’s what this is. I don’t think any Second Amendment people are going to object to figuring out how to regulate this kind of stuff.”

Bill’s words to God’s ears. The NRA and gun lobby have historically had no problem whatsoever with these kinds of websites. They also vehemently reject the push for universal background checks and viciously attack anyone who dares to say otherwise. Screen Shot 2015-08-04 at 2.00.07 PM But, let’s think about this for a minute. According to FBI reports at this point, the Chattanooga shooter looks to be either a homegrown, self-radicalized terrorist or, more likely, a mentally unstable depressed substance abuser on a downward spiral or maybe a combination of both. Some suspect that he may have had outside help or be part of a larger terrorist cell.

Even the fiercest second amendment advocate should be concerned by the idea that someone in any of those categories could easily purchase a firearm- in cash, with no background check or record of transaction. What if the Chattanooga shooter was an angry drug addicted young man bent on hurting as many people as possible? What if he WAS a terrorist or even part of a group of terrorists? Should we make it as easy as possible for him to purchase high capacity semi-automatic rifles?   It boils down to just two people meeting in a parking lot somewhere exchanging cash for a gun. No record. No witnesses.  No one’s the wiser.

So, let’s say you are an abusive spouse whose partner has filed an order of protection. Or maybe you have a felony conviction for armed robbery. Maybe you’ve been involuntarily committed to a mental health facility recently because your family was concerned that you were a danger to yourself or others. Or, perhaps you’re a homegrown terrorist who wants to take out as many people as possible and you know you might be on a watch list. Maybe you’re an angry extremist who wants to make a violent statement.  You want a gun and you know you can’t go to a FFL dealer to buy one. So, you visit armslist.com.

The landing page includes a terms of agreement statement that you must agree to in order to access the site.  The terms of agreement include statements promising that you’re 18 and legally allowed to buy and sell weapons and that you won’t proceed with a sale if you suspect someone is a prohibited purchaser.  But, of course there’s no way to verify your age or your legal status or even your state or residence.

You click “I agree” and you’re in.

armlist 1 - terms

Well, that was easy. So, you then just select your state. I picked Tennessee.

Armslist 2 - ALL TENNESSEE

On the left side of the page, you can refine your search. You can choose a category (firearms, firearms accessories, etc). You can also choose whether you want to purchase from a premium vendor (licensed dealer) or private party. You can indicate whether you’re buying or selling or interested in a trade. Then, you can choose to search by manufacturer, caliber, action, and type.

I’m interested in a couple of things:

What’s the total number of guns for sale in Tennessee today?

What percentage of those guns for sale are through private parties and thus, do not require background checks?

Because the listings are broken out by various categories, I’m going to look specifically at semi-automatic rifles.  According to his friends, the Chattanooga shooter purchased at least three rifles through Armslist.

So, I’m going to select these filters: Firearms, For Sale, Semi-automatic, and Rifles. Armslist 3 - ALL Tennessee semiauto rifles I haven’t yet selected private party. So the number to the side of semi-automatic and rifle represent the total number of semi-auto rifles being offered for sale in Tennessee. The total number is 630.

Now, let’s see how many are for sale by private party. Remember, I’m someone who can’t pass a background check. I only want to deal with a private seller who can legally sell me a gun without any official verification or way of finding out that I’m a prohibited purchaser. I’m going to commit a crime and don’t want any record of the gun I’m about to buy.

To find these sellers, all I have to do is add “private party” as a search criteria. Armslist 4 - ALL Tennessee semiauto rifles PRIVATE So, we see that the total number of semi-automatic rifles for sale in Tennessee by private parties is 600. That means that 95% of the semi-automatic rifles for sale in Tennessee via Armslist are through private sellers and could be purchased without a background check.

In Chattanooga, where 5 US service members were gunned down, there are a total of 69 semi-automatic rifles for sale. Armslist 5 - Chatt All semiauto rifles Of those, 60 are for sale through private sellers. That means 87% of the semi-automatic rifles for sale in Chattanooga via Armslist are through private sellers. Armslist 6 - Chatt Private semiauto rifles About two hours to the west of Chattanooga in Nashville, there are 193 semi-automatic rifles for sale. Armslist 7 - Nash All semiauto rifles And, 187 of those are offered by private sellers. Armslist 8 - Nash Private semiauto rifles So, 187 of 193 are for sale by private parties. That means 97% of the semi-automatic rifles for sale in Nashville via Armslist are through private sellers.

In Knoxville, just over 100 miles to the east of the Chattnooga shooter’s home, there are 150 semi-automatic rifles for sale through Armslist. Armslist 9 - Knox All semiauto rifles Now, let’s see how many are offered by private party: Armslist 10 - Knox Private semiauto rifles Oh, ALL OF THEM. 100% of the semi-automatic rifles for sale in Knoxville via Armslist are offered through private sellers. Without background checks.

Here are just a few listings for semi-automatic rifles for sale that were listed Sunday August 2nd and Monday August 3rd in the state of Tennessee.  Some sellers note in their listings that they require proof of residence and a bill of sale to be recorded.  None of these do.  Also, these are listings that have been posted in the last two days only.  Postings, like on Craigslist, go back for days, even weeks.  Sellers remove them once the gun has been sold. For Sale - AR10 - Knoxville For Sale - AR15 - Monteagle For Sale - Bushmaster - Henderson For Sale - Colt M4 - Nashville For sale - DPMS - Lenoir City For sale - M&P - Chattanooga For Sale - new build AR15 For Sale - remington 7400 Murfreesboro For Sale - ruger 10:22 Tri-cities For Sale - SIG 556 SWAT For Sale - SKS Yugo - Ooltewah For Sale - Windham Weaponry Carbon Fiber - Nashville For Sale - Yugo - Johnson city Remember, these are just semi-automatic rifles for sale via private party on Armslist. In the state of Tennessee today, there are also 917 pistols and 192 revolvers also for sale via private party.  And 276 shotguns.

That’s a lot of firearms potentially being bought without background checks and in most cases, no record of sale.  If you wanted to buy a gun, couldn’t pass a background check, and wanted to no record of the purchase, wouldn’t this be the easiest way possible to acquire that gun?

Let’s say you wanted to buy one of these.  All you have to do is contact the seller.  You maybe email back and forth about specifics and price.  Then you figure out a place to meet.  You take a look at the gun.  Check it out.  If you want it, you give the seller the agreed upon amount and he gives you the gun.  He goes home with cash in his pocket and you go home with a new semi-automatic tactical rifle to use for hunting or target practice.  Or shooting your ex or maybe some military service members. Screen Shot 2015-08-04 at 2.07.47 PM Armslist.com has actually been cited as the method by which several murderers have obtained their guns. In one example in Wisconsin, three days after his wife obtained a restraining order against him, for domestic violence, a man purchased a gun from a private seller through Armslist after posting an ad that certainly should have raised red flags:

“Looking to buy ASAP. Prefer full size, any caliber. Email ASAP. I constantly check my emails. Hoping it has a high mag capacity with the handgun, ammo, accessories. I am a serious buyer. Email me ASAP. Have cash now and looking to buy now. I am mobile.”

The next day, after purchasing the gun, he went to the salon where his wife worked and killed three people including his wife, wounded four others and then killed himself. The man would not have been able to pass a background check through an FFL.

And, although Armslist.com is the biggest and best known exchange, these online gun exchanges are all over social media, too.  On Facebook, there are multiple exchanges operating as closed Facebook groups.  In Tennessee, for example, Middle Tennessee Gun Exchange has over 11 thousand members. And, Tennessee Firearms Sell or Trade has over 18,000 members in their closed group. Screen Shot 2015-08-04 at 10.43.41 AM Screen Shot 2015-08-04 at 10.47.58 AM And there are more.  And they’re in most all states. And, they are all perfectly legal thanks to the “gun show loophole” that allows the “occasional trade” of firearms between private citizens.

And, yes, the vast majority of armslist.com users and closed Facebook gun exchange group members are law abiding citizens and are good people who simply want an easy to way to sell or buy a gun and maybe find a bargain.  They would never intentionally or knowingly sell a gun to someone they suspected was going to use it to commit a crime.  But, all it takes is one seller knowingly or inadvertently selling a gun to one buyer who wants to hurt people.  Then, you have victims and devastated families who will spend lifetimes coming to terms with their loss.

Bill O’Reilly is right.  Online gun exchanges are a “back alley” way of obtaining a firearm.  And, yes, the NRA should follow the lead of many of its own members who believe that all gun sales should require a background check. Would universal background checks mean “bad guys” would never get their hands on a gun?  No, of course it wouldn’t.  But, you have to ask yourself- why on earth do we make it as easy as possible for them to do so?  Why do we all go along with a system clearly designed to make it easier for the those who shouldn’t have guns to easily get their hands on them?  How has the NRA convinced congress that we must allow those who can’t pass a federal background check to be able to easily acquire a firearm? Meeting a stranger in a parking lot to exchange cash for something is how you buy a couch. It shouldn’t be how you buy a gun.

NRA uses Money and Intimidation in Tennessee to influence Legislative Votes

As gun violence prevention advocates and outspoken critics of the excessive amount of gun-related legislation filed in 2015- and especially with regards to the guns in parks bill- Gun Violence Prevention (GVP) advocates are often asked: “Why do they keep pushing these bills that no one seems to want but them?”

While some legislators undoubtedly believe in the bills, for others, the answer of course is money.

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Nationally in 2014, the NRA donated $978,902 to candidates and campaigns, spent $3,360,000 for lobbying efforts, and $28,029,871 in “outside spending.” In 2014, the NRA donated only $3,100 here in Tennessee. However, in the 2012 election cycle, the NRA dropped a whopping $141,114.29 in Tennessee. Some of that was spread around in smaller financial support of various campaigns but the largest sums of money were spent to elect new NRA-favored Tea Party candidate Courtney Rogers and to destroy her incumbent opponent Debra Maggart. Records show that Rogers was given $37,126.34 in monetary contributions and ads, mailers, and other campaign materials. Records also show that the NRA spent $50,213.19 on attacks against Maggart.

The power being leveraged by the NRA isn’t really about how much money they’ll donate to a candidate or even whether they’ll donate. It’s the implied threat of how much money they’re willing to spend to get you out of office if you don’t vote the way they want you to. Do what we tell you to do or else.

Case in point- Debra Maggart.

In 2011, a bill was filed to force private business owners to allow employees to store firearms in their vehicles. Many private business owners objected to this as did various chambers of commerce. Also speaking out against the bill was the largest employer in the state, FedEx, based in Memphis.

Republican Rep. Debra Maggart of District 45 had served as chair of the House Republican Caucus, was a handgun permit holder, life-long NRA member, had an A+ rating by the organization and had worked in a family business that sold firearms. She had been a staunch supporter and reliable voter on previous pro gun legislation and had co-sponsored 10 bills to loosen gun laws. But, as a conservative focused on the rights of business, she found herself in a quandary when she looked at the guns in trunks bill.

In an interview with Anderson Cooper, Maggart described what happened to her. The NRA wrote the bill requiring all property owners to allow guns on their property in direct violation of Tennessee’s property owners’ rights and then refused to allow compromise with the legislature. No opt out and no immunity for property owners whose property, through no fault of their own, was the site of a tragic accident or crime. The NRA would not compromise and Maggart could not betray her constituents’ most basic property rights, a strong tenant of conservative ideology. She was left with no choice but to vote against the bill.

Retribution was swift and merciless. 2012 was an election year and the NRA intended to oust Maggart and make an example of her. Her former A rating with the NRA was downgraded to a D. The NRA launched a massive smear campaign with 12 full page newspaper ads. They bought radio ads, robo calls and hired a web developer to create a professional “Defeat Maggart” web site. A YouTube video featuring their chief lobbyist explained to NRA members why she “should be defeated” as did the nine mailers they sent to members. They placed three billboards with her picture alongside President Obama’s to designed specifically to link Maggart to the Democratic President in her staunchly conservative hometown.

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Maggart penned an op-ed about her experience in the New York Times in December of 2012. It details not only the attacks against her but the bullying tactics used by the group:

“Because of NRA bully tactics, legislators are not free to openly discuss the merits of gun-related legislation. This stifling of discussion does not serve the interest of the public nor of the gun owners. But the NRA. gets their way because they know how intimidating they are and they know that lawmakers are afraid to speak openly about what needs to be done.”

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Days later, in a New York Times op-ed piece titled “The NRA Protection Racket” , Richard Painter, former Chief Ethics Counsel for President George W. Bush, detailed the NRA’s use of intimidation tactics to get their legislation passed (He is also interviewed in the Anderson Cooper clip). Painter compares the tactic to an “old world” protection racket. Candidates live in relative security so long as they pay their dues to the “boss”. If they do as they are told, the “boss” will help them fend off incoming attacks from the other side, but step out of line just once and their political life is over.

Painter opines:

“The message to Republicans is clear: ‘We will help you get elected and protect your seat from Democrats. We will spend millions on ads that make your opponent look worse than the average holdup man robbing a liquor store. In return, we expect you to oppose any laws that regulate guns. These include laws requiring handgun registration, meaningful background checks on purchasers, limiting the right to carry concealed weapons, limiting access to semiautomatic weapons or anything else that would diminish the firepower available to anybody who wants it. And if you don’t comply, we will load our weapons and direct everything in our arsenal at you in the next Republican primary.’ ”

Screen Shot 2015-08-04 at 2.32.26 PMBut, in Tennessee, it’s not just the NRA who influences Tennessee gun legislation with money and the threat of “primarying”. The Tennessee Firearms Association, which calls itself “Tennessee’s Only No-Compromise Gun Group”, spent $15,387.53 in 2012 to help Rogers defeat Maggart. And, in 2014, the candidate they gave the most money to was Republican Steve Gawrys, a Brentwood business man, who was running against longtime House District 61 incumbent Charles Sargent in the Republican primary.

Their problem with Sargent? He voted against the Gun in Parks bill last year.

Sargent barely survived the attempt to “primary” him, winning his seat by a margin of only 255 votes, but he seems to have learned his lesson. This year, of course, he has defended and spoken in favor of the guns in parks bill, despite its confusing language and the fact that no one seems to understand exactly what it means.

I compiled a spreadsheet of both NRA and TFA contributions from 2009 – 2014. The information was obtained from the online database of campaign finance disclosures and exported in an excel spreadsheet that could be sorted. The first worksheet is an overview and a screenshot of it is included below. The other worksheets are breakouts of the contributions by organization, by candidate, and by year.

GVP advocates are asked constantly why we think legislators continue to sponsor these kind of bills and double down on that support even in the face of tremendous opposition. The truth is some of the legislators do believe in this “more guns, more places with less regulations” mentality. But, when you look at these numbers and when you look at the “examples” that have been made of legislators who don’t follow orders, it’s obvious that some of them are too afraid to ever speak out.

This is not the kind of politics we need in Tennessee. We don’t need to live in fear of the “mob”, and we don’t need to cater to politicians who do.

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