Friday, March 7, 2014
There was a gun show in the area recently, and it was packed.
Not that good attendance is unusual, but the "Obama Effect" -- the huge surge in firearm sales occasioned by his election -- may not have gotten stronger, but it hasn't declined, either.
Despite stories about high sales of "black rifles" -- semi-autos based on the AR-15 -- there were plenty of them available, although the price has risen steeply. While some basic models were going for less than a grand, typical prices were hundreds of dollars higher.
It's supply and demand. The black rifle is one of the best-selling firearms of the past decade, and there are millions of them in citizens' hands.
In .223 caliber, they make excellent target rifles, are featured in many kinds of competitive events, and do a fine job ventilating varmints like coyotes. In larger sporting calibers -- .308 is not uncommon -- they're sufficient for deer and bear, and even moose. (Both calibers are also popular for home defense.) And .22 versions make good plinking guns.
These weapons are seldom used in crimes, which is why a previous ban was futile. And millions of Americans have reacted to being told they don't "need" these weapons by deciding they damn well did.
The number of women at these events has increased in recent years -- and they're buying, not just looking. Women comprise 23 percent of firearms owners, and that percentage appeared to hold at this show.
Some manufacturers offer concealable firearms in a variety of colors, including pink. And I saw an ad for pink-tipped ammunition in a gun magazine last week. Did I say "supply and demand"?
While I saw lots of sales going on, every gun transaction I could see was at the tables of licensed dealers. Many gun show operators ban private sales on the premises.
What happens elsewhere, of course, is not covered. Which means that there is no such thing as a "gun show loophole" in firearms sales laws.
There is instead a "private sale exemption" that applies anywhere. Does that mean criminals can buy guns privately? Yes, but it is illegal for them to do so -- and new laws wouldn't make it more illegal. Besides, moral sellers will insist on a check anyway, and fold the fee into the cost of the gun.
Much more threatening are "straw purchases," where a criminal pays someone without a record to buy him a gun. These are also illegal, but remain immune to background checks. Two useful reforms would be to make the penalties for such transactions far more severe, while also increasing mandatory penalties for using firearms in crimes.
President Obama has claimed new gun laws, such as the one recently defeated in the Democratic-controlled Senate, enjoy the support of "90 percent of the people." However, the poll he cited also showed only 4 percent of the populace rated gun laws among the nation's top 20 issues.
And a USA Today poll conducted after the terror attacks in Boston showed "backing for a (gun) bill has slipped" to 49 percent, less than majority support. Sixty-nine percent of respondents to a Fox News poll said they wanted to have a gun available in case of terrorist threats such as the one that locked down many Boston neighborhoods.
Finally, while the president is fond of posing in front of ranks of uniformed officers when he makes his gun-control pleas, they are often police chiefs and administrators, who owe their jobs to politicians.
An online survey taken in March by the website PoliceOne.com, which serves the law enforcement community, reported on the basis of 15,000 replies that "Virtually all respondents (95 percent) say that a federal ban on manufacture and sale of ammunition magazines that hold more than 10 rounds would not reduce violent crime."
And it added, "the majority of respondents -- 71 percent -- say a federal ban on the manufacture and sale of some semi-automatics would have no effect on reducing violent crime."
Meanwhile, the New York newspaper Newsday reported Tuesday that the New York State Troopers Police Benevolent Association has issued an "extraordinary" statement distancing troopers from a harsh new state gun law, saying that "The individual members of this union did not write the terms of the bill nor vote on its passage."
Such gun laws led Gov. LePage to ask firearms makers in affected states to move to Maine. His April 13 Wall Street Journal column was criticized locally, but these are multimillion-dollar industries providing hundreds of jobs, and he was right to appeal to them.
Besides, if the gun-banners have lost the rank-and-file police, who do they have left?
Meanwhile, ordinary, average Mainers should know there's another gun show this weekend in Biddeford, at the Ice Arena.
I'll be there. Will you?
M.D. Harmon, a retired journalist and military officer, is a free-lance writer and speaker. He can be contacted at: firstname.lastname@example.org