Why firearms sales surge after shootings

As I knew would happen, firearms sales have risen after the July 20th spree shooting in Aurora Colorado.

The Associated Press likes to sensationalize things and declare that it’s due to fear, but that’s not the only reason, nor is it even the main reason. Of course fear will be the source of some of those increased sales, it is only a natural human reaction to want to defend oneself in the wake of such a horrible tragedy being splashed across every newpaper and news show in the nation.

One of the reasons is that incidents like this provide a catalyst. They are the final data point that pushes people who were previously considering buying a firearm to actually go do it. That’s not fear, it is simply another facet of the myriad reasons that people in this country purchase firearms every day.

Once of the commentators derisively stated that the surge is due to “ignorant gun owners being afraid that people were going to want to take their guns, just proving their ignorance.”

I’ve heard this drivel before.

I want to talk about that, the historical precedence of firearms laws being passed after shootings.

Of course as with every shooting that receives attention from the national media in the US, there are the inevitable calls for more laws to prevent these incidents. We’ve got the usual lineup of suspects, calling for banning “assault weapons” (rifles that are black and have plastic rather than wood), restricting the quantity of ammunition that a person can buy (which is just silly), and of course everyone’s perennial favorite; ban the “high capacity clips that make it possible to spray an endless stream of bullets”.

Each piece of major gun control legislation in the United States has been the result of a shooting (or several) that sparked public outrage, the four biggest being The Federal Assault Weapons Ban of 1994 (which thankfully was allowed to sunset in 2004 by Congress), the (subverted by the Hughes Amendment) Firearm Owners Protection Act of 1986, The Gun Control Act of 1968, and the National Firearms Act of 1934.

Gun owners will generally agree that those four laws have had the most severe impact on firearms ownership in the United States (individual States have some big ones of their own, but these four impact everyone).

The National Firearms Act of 1934 (NFA)


The National Firearms Act (“NFA”), enacted on June 26, 1934, is an Act of Congress that, in general, imposes a statutory excise tax on the manufacture and transfer ($200, the transfer tax for “AOW” weapons was reduced to $5 in 1938, however the manufacture tax remained at $200) of certain firearms and mandates the registration of those firearms.

All transfers of ownership of registered NFA firearms must be done through the federal NFA registry.

The NFA also requires that transport of NFA firearms across state lines by the owner must be reported to the ATF.

The following shootings are widely believed to have been directly responsible for the passage of the NFA:

Why lawful gun owners don’t like it:

At first glance the NFA doesn’t seem so onerous, until you stop to consider that in 1934 $5 is roughly the equivalent of $85 today. This meant that to purchase any weapon governed by the NFA the $200 tax (which is roughly the modern equivalent of $3400) placed those firearms well out of the reach of a vast majority of the population of the US. Even today the $200 transfer tax puts a not insignificant burden on any lawful gun owner desiring to purchase a weapon governed by the NFA (I make good money and $200 is quite a bit to me).

The NFA also required the registration of all firearms, making the mere possession of an unregistered firearm a Federal Crime. The registration requirement for firearms not specifically governed by the NFA was struck down by the Supreme Court in 1968.

But the NFA does not prevent criminals from obtaining these firearms. Interestingly enough it was not intended to. The intent of the NFA’s authors was to prevent private ownership or transfer of all effective self defense firearms by everyone except the rich who could afford the tax. This intent was thwarted by the removal of pistols from the list of firearms governed by the NFA shortly before its passage.

The Gun Control Act of 1968 (GCA’68)


The Gun Control Act of 1968 had three primary features:

Creating and defining categories of “prohibited persons” who could not legally own firearms.

Establishing the FFL system, requiring firearms not transferred between private citizens to be through a Federally Licensed dealer.

Establishing import restrictions of foreign manufactured firearms (creating and implementing the “sporting purpose” test which barred the importation of military surplus rifles and implemented a “points” system for the import of foreign manufactured handguns).

The following shootings are widely believed to have been directly responsible for the passage of the GCA:

Why lawful gun owners don’t like it:

GCA ’68 was the first instance of the Federal government banning firearms. Prior to GCA ’68 there were no Federal laws that banned firearms, with the NFA of 1934 being the only Federal law to regulate firearms. Some of the people that this law prohibits from purchasing firearms should not be barred from owning an effective means of self defense, let alone barred for life with no recourse.

The ban on the import of certain foreign manufactured firearms because they “serve no sporting purpose” is arbitrary, and entirely too vague. The whole law generally sets a bad precedent.

And yet again, we have a law that does not prevent criminals from getting their hands on these weapons. While the GCA may make it illegal for certain criminals to possess firearms, it does nothing to prevent it.

The Firearm Owners Protection Act of 1986 (FOPA)


The Firearm Owners Protection Act is legislation that was designed to protect gun owners from abuse, however it also contains a ban on the sale of fully automatic firearms (the Hughes Amendment).

The following shootings are widely believed to have been directly responsible for the passage of FOPA:

The 1986 Miami Shootout was BIG news at the time and had far reaching implications in the Law Enforcement community, the largest of which were the switch to semiautomatic pistols from revolvers and the FBI moving to the 10mm cartridge, which eventually became the .40S&W cartridge.

Why lawful gun owners don’t like it:

The inclusion of the Hughes Amendment was a controversy in it’s own right. There is video proof that this Amendment was never actually passed. Aside from the whole issue of laws being passed that were not actually, you know, voted on, legally owned fully automatic firearms just aren’t used in crimes:

Since 1934, there appear to have been at least two homicides committed with legally owned automatic weapons.

One was a murder committed by a law enforcement officer (as opposed to a civilian). On September 15th, 1988, a 13-year veteran of the Dayton, Ohio police department, Patrolman Roger Waller, then 32, used his fully automatic MAC-11 .380 caliber submachine gun to kill a police informant, 52-year-old Lawrence Hileman.

Patrolman Waller pleaded guilty in 1990, and he and an accomplice were sentenced to 18 years in prison.

The 1986 ‘ban’ on sales of new machine guns does not apply to purchases by law enforcement or government agencies.

The other homicide, possibly involving a legally owned machine gun, occurred on September 14, 1992, also in Ohio.


Since 1934?

One of which was committed by a person who is still not prohibited from buying fully automatic weapons after the law banning their sale?

The banning of the sale of fully automatic firearms manufactured after May 19, 1986 is unreasonable restriction on the freedoms of lawful gun owners. Even illegally owned fully automatic firearms are not used in violent crime frequently. It’s a red herring simply because most people who are not shooters cannot understand why anyone would need a fully automatic firearm. I’ll tell you why; they are fun as hell to shoot.

And if criminals are not using these weapons to commit crimes, we have yet another instance of a gun control law that only prevents lawful gun owners from lawfully owning guns.

The Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act of 1994 (AWB)


The Federal Assault Weapons Ban (AWB) (or Public Safety and Recreational Firearms Use Protection Act) was a subtitle of the Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act of 1994, a federal law in the United States that included a prohibition on the manufacture for civilian use of certain semi-automatic firearms, so called “assault weapons”.

There was no legal definition of “assault weapons” in the U.S. prior to the law’s enactment.

The law also banned the sale or manufacture of new firearm magazines capable of holding more than 10 rounds.

The following shootings are widely believed to have been directly responsible for the passage of the AWB:

Now I clearly remember the 101 California Street Shooting, and watching California Senator Diane Feinstein foam at the mouth to get the AWB in place. Then came the Long Island Rail shootings, and what had been a California initiative became a massive national push, and eventually Federal Law.

Why lawful gun owners don’t like it:

Let’s start with the complete and utter arbitrariness of it. The firearms that were banned were done so because they looked scary, not because they were any more dangerous than any other firearm. An AR-15 (banned by the AWB) is functionally identical to a Mini-14 (not banned by the AWB). I can fire 30 rounds into a target just as fast using two 15 round magazines (banned by the AWB) as I can using three 10 round magazines (not banned by the AWB).

Banning rifles with barrel shrouds? That’s a safety feature. It is simply the infringement of gun rights by people who are ignorant of what the things they are banning actually are.

Did the AWB prevent or reduce crime? Let’s look at the research from the people who pushed for the law:

The United States Department of Justice National Institute of Justice found should the ban be renewed, its effects on gun violence would likely be small, and perhaps too small for reliable measurement, because assault weapons are rarely used in gun crimes.

In 2001, Koper and Roth of the Jerry Lee Center of Criminology, University of Pennsylvania, published a peer-reviewed paper called The Impact of the 1994 Federal Assault Weapon Ban on Gun Violence Outcomes: An Assessment of Multiple Outcome Measures and Some Lessons for Policy Evaluation. They found that:

“The ban may have contributed to a reduction in gun homicides, but a statistical power analysis of our model indicated that any likely effects from the ban will be very difficult to detect statistically for several more years. We found no evidence of reductions in multiple-victim gun homicides or multiple-gunshot wound victimizations. The findings should be treated cautiously due to the methodological difficulties of making a short-term assessment of the ban and because the ban’s long-term effects could differ from the short-term influences revealed by this study.”

The Brady Center to Prevent Gun Violence examined the impact of the Assault Weapons Ban in its 2004 report, On Target: The Impact of the 1994 Federal Assault Weapon Act. Examining 1.4 million guns involved in crime, it determined that since the law was enacted, “assault weapons have made up only 1.61% of the guns ATF has traced to crime — a drop of 66% from the pre-ban rate.”

I’d like to point out that the 66% drop that the Brady Center claims there is disingenuous: there was no legal definition of an “assault weapon” prior to the passage of the AWB, and statistics on them were not collected.


So yes, gun owners tend to buy guns they want after shootings, because we are capable of logical and rational examination of historical precedent, and concluding that there is a reasonable chance that some ignoramus will manage to whip up enough fear in the general populace to get a law passed that would prevent us from owning it.

That’s not fear, nor is it ignorance; that is critical reasoning.


One Response to Why firearms sales surge after shootings

  1. Pingback: How many bullets needed to kill a deer? - US Message Board - Political Discussion Forum

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