why #stopdownloadableguns has already failed

Ok, on this, the day of one of my favorite things ever – the democratization of technology – let us have a serious, sober-ish conversation about this whole #StopDownloadableGuns / #Stop3DPrintedGuns hysteria by starting at the beginning and working forward.

  • Is it legal to make your own firearms?

Absolutely (at the federal level). To put it the proper way, it has never been illegal to produce firearms for your own use. Do not sell it and do not make an illegal firearm (e.g. an SBR without an appropriate tax stamp), but otherwise? Knock yourself out.

And designs to build your own firearms at home have existed… basically since firearms have existed.  Some of those designs are painfully-simple-yet-frighteningly-effective:

Djic5PIWwAAM4nJ

Others require a bit more knowledge and tools.  And still others are literally commercially available.

All of those concepts take something that is not legally considered a firearm and turn it into something that is legally considered a firearm, at home, without registration or knowledge of anyone else.  None of those firearms have to be serialized.  None of those firearms are “traceable”.  And, again, all of those designs have been available for literal decades.  And making them is completely legal.

  • It is legal to 3D print your own firearms now?

Yup. It is entirely legal to print a firearm with a plan you have on your local machine, right now, even before the whole “end of the world” thing today.

  • So what’s the #StopDownloadableGuns fuss about?

Few years back, the State Department told an organization called Defense Distributed that if they continued to distribute firearms plans on the internet, they would be in violation of something called the International Traffic in Arms Regulations. ITAR is a pretty complicated topic in its own right, but it basically boiled down to DefDist – and its subsidiary project DefCad – being shut down. The thing is, the State Department edict exclusively applied to the distribution of the files, not the use of the files. Have them already? Knock yourself out. Share them online? Bad juju.

As of today, DefCad has been granted federal permission* to share the files as they see fit, and the predictable “gun control” organizations and extremists (but I repeat myself) are absolutely losing their minds.

But here is the thing: the files are already out there. In lots of places. And they have been added to over the past few years. As the saying goes, “the internet views censorship as damage and routes around it.” Or, “you can’t stop the signal”.

cant-stop-the-signal-1

So all this #StopDownloadableGuns / #Stop3DPrintedGuns nonsense about “letting horses out of the stable”? Yeah, they have been out for six long years, they have been multiplying like rabbits, and y’all done well and truly lost. Anywise. (And, again, this is even ignoring the firearm plans that only use parts from your local home improvement store and have been available for longer than most “gun control” extremists have been alive.)

  • Can you entirely 3D print a firearm?

Not technically, and not legally. The technical problem is that firing pins are almost invariably made of metal for a reason – you have to set off that primer to, in turn, set off the powder. And plastic just does not have the strength to do that.

The legal problem is something no-joke called the Undetectable Firearms Act. This law is literally 30 years old, and requires at least 105g of steel in any firearm ever produced, anywhere – even at home. This applies to 3D printed firearms.

Remember that scene in Die Hard 2 about the mythical Glock 7 that was made entirely out of porcelain or something? Yeah, the Undetectable Firearms Act is older than that, rendering this whole #StopDownloadableGuns / #Stop3DPrintedGuns hysteria ludicrous.

  • Can you mostly 3D print a firearm?

Short of the firing pin and enough other steel to be legal, sure. And it is good for… about a maximum of ten rounds, from what I have seen so far, and marginally accurate at five yards, if that. They are proofs of concepts, nothing more.

  • So what can you do?

Well, for example, AR-15 lowers do not have a significant amount of force or temperature applied to them at any given time. Given appropriate modifications, you could totally print a lower that is good for 500+ rounds, depending on materials.

bolty lower

And people have been, again, for literally years. The 3D-printed AR lower is kind of the holy grail of 3D printed firearm hobbyists, and the last iteration I saw was… solid. Drop a lower parts kit in it, an upper on it, and a stock, and it works, for a time.

  • So what’s the point of 3D printing firearms?

Remember “democratization of technology”. The USSR abjectly feared mimeographs and other copy machines simply because they knew they could not control the flow of information – and propaganda was, and still is, essential for socialism to “work”.

  • So, hold on, is this a Second Amendment issue or a First Amendment issue?

The end product is definitely protected by the Second Amendment, but the specific situation of whether or not the federal government – or any government – can control the distribution of information is totally a First Amendment issue.  The #Stop3DPrintedGuns folks are literally calling on the government to control what information you can and cannot read.  This is no different than if the “gun control” extremists were trying to convince the government to burn all of a specific technical journal.

Yes, #StopDownloadableGuns is morally and logically equivalent to book burning.  It is censorship, pure and simple, but even a step beyond simple censorship because they are actively trying to destroy the information.

liberator5

And the control of information never works, even if the government is involved.  The case of United States v. Progressive Inc. is probably the closest parallel to the current situation, and it pertained to publishing plans to a no-joke nuclear weapon.  And, guess what?  The government gave up the case.  The hilarious story of the RSA “munitions” t-shirt is another example where the FedGov lost.

3D printers are the modern day Gutenberg movable type press, but instead of democratizing knowledge, they democratize power. 3D printing firearms, while still in its infancy today, puts the means for people to defend themselves squarely in the hands of the people – where it always should have belonged in the first place.  How? The ability to download a file and push a button to produce a “functional” – for various definitions of the word – firearm removes licensing and registration and confiscation and all other forms of “gun control” from the table. This is why #StopDownloadableGuns / #Stop3DPrintedGuns ninnies fear it so.

And that is the ultimate irony.

These folks style themselves as the “Resistance” against the current administration, but not only are they wanting to give President Trump more power than he Constitutionally should have, but they want to deny We, The People another means of defending ourselves.

These are frequently – if not invariably – the same people who decry our current President as “literally Hitler”, and they want to remove a rather significant means for the public to defend themselves from being thrown in cattle cars and extermination camps. How ludicrous is that?

(* – Well, the State Department granted them permission, but US District Judge Robert Lasnik, who appears to be more interested in signaling his virtue than obeying the Constitution, granted a temporary restraining order against DefCad.  Not even Judge Lasnik can stop the signal, though, as Code is Free Speech is adequately demonstrating.)

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are gun sales down under president trump yet?

About a year ago, I took a look at the notion that firearm sales had gone down during President Trump’s term.  The reality?  Gun sales had, in fact, not gone down, and the average NICS checks per month during his time in office had already overrun President Obama’s numbers by about a third.

Well, here we are about a year later, with a year’s more data; are firearm sales down yet?

Still nope.

AverageMonthlyNICSCheckbyPresident

As before, the information I am examining is the NICS Firearm Background Checks table published by the FBI every month, and, also as before, there is a very important caveat here:

NICS checks are not a track of the total firearm sales in America, for two very significant reasons.

  1. Any number of firearms could be transferred on a single NICS checks.  It could be 1.  It could be 10.
  2. Some states, such as North Carolina, use their carry permit system as a replacement for the NICS background check.  You still have to fill out an ATF Form 4473, but no NICS is run on you.

At best, NICS checks can be considered a “floor” for the data, as in “no fewer than this many new firearms entered circulation in America on these months/years”.

But, still, as I said last year, NICS checks are regarded as the primary metric by both the pro-rights organization and the “gun control” extremists, so it is still a good – if incomplete – measure of overall trends.

And trends are still high:

Screenshot 2018-07-14 at 17.24.43

In fact, those trends are sufficiently high that the drop from the peak month of one year (typically December) to the low month of the following year (typically June or July) has been consistently below average for our current President:

PeakBottomComparison

Now, in fairness, that metric could indicate that NICS checks are constantly trending upwards, on average, or it could indicate that firearm sales are simply leveling off.  So, now that we have another year of data from President Trump’s time in office, let us consider the options.

How about if we look at sales in the equivalent months of each President’s term?  In other words, let us compare the first month of Trump’s term against the first month of Obama’s term, and the first month of Obama’s term against the first month of Bush’s term, and so forth.  Which month had higher NICS checks?

Weeeelllll…

I would put a pretty graphic here, but the honest truth is that there is a grand total of one month – December of 2007 – where the NICS checks were lower than its corresponding month for a previous President (in this case, December of 1999).

In other words, since December of 2006, NICS checks have been higher in a given sequential month of the current President’s term when compared to the equivalent sequential month of the previous President’s term 99.28% of the time.

Alright, TL;DR time:  no, gun sales are not down under President Trump.  Their meteoric increase during the last President’s term appears to have slowed, but that may be nothing more than the establishment of a new normal.

Also, since December of 1998, there have been a total of 291,724,502 NICS checks.  Again, this is not an accounting of firearms sold but it is indicative of one thing:  

There are a lot of firearms in peaceful Americans’ hands, and they are not going anywhere.

(I will upload the source spreadsheet for this as soon as WordPress gets over itself and lets me.  Suffice to say, all I did was take the FBI numbers and put them into a couple of charts.)

are gun sales down under president trump?

One of the favorite tactics of the “gun control” extremists for the past eight years or so is to decry pro-rights activists as “racists”, and use the massive uptick of firearm sales during and immediately prior to Obama’s administration as “proof”.  I cannot say as though I understand that rationale myself, especially since both then-Senator and then-President Obama are on record as wanting to ban semi-automatic firearms, ban handguns, ban firearms based on aesthetic features, ban lawful carry of firearms, and so forth – you know, the kinds of things that would prompt people to purchase something before it became unavailable – but the “gun control” movement has never been big on logic.

In any case, now that Obama is no longer in office, the “gun control” extremists are using the supposedly decreased firearm sales as further “proof” of the “racist” nature of the pro-rights advocates, as well as “proof” that firearm owners are a “dying breed”, and on, and on, and on.

But are gun sales actually down?  

The answer to that question is, “Given predictable, seasonal trends, not particularly.”

First, there is no 100% reliable metric for the number of firearms sold at Federal Firearm Licensees (i.e. gun stores).  Yes, the FBI does publish the number of National Instant Criminal Background Check System (NICS) checks performed every month, but the caveat at the bottom of that PDF is very important:

These statistics represent the number of firearm background checks initiated through the NICS. They do not represent the number of firearms sold. Based on varying state laws and purchase scenarios, a one-to-one correlation cannot be made between a firearm background check and a firearm sale.

For example, in North Carolina, if one has a Concealed Handgun Permit in good standing, a purchaser still has to fill out a Form 4473, but no NICS check must be performed.  Likewise, there is no limit to the number of firearms that can be purchased on a single NICS check, so one check can be one firearm, or one check can be a hundred.

All that said, most parties – both in the “gun control” camp and in the pro-rights camp – consider NICS checks to be at least an indicator of how the firearm sales market is doing.  Just bear in mind that it is not an accounting of actual sales, and does not even provide an actual floor for the numbers.

Second, how do you quantify “down”?

If one looks at the average monthly NICS checks for the past four Presidents, you will see that President Trump is actually in the lead:

AverageMonthlyNICS

But that is not a strictly fair comparison, since he has only had four months in office, while Obama had 96 (for the sake of simplicity, despite United States Presidents being inaugurated on the 20th of January, I am counting their time in office from the first of February to the 31st of January, since the data is provided on a by-month basis).

So what about the actual number of NICS checks per month?

NICSChecksByMonth

So a few things stand out on this chart.

On the one hand, firearms are apparently a very popular Christmas gift, and the NICS checks reflect this seasonal nature.

On the other hand, there has been an almost steady increase in NICS checks since 2002 – seven years before Obama took office.

On the gripping hand, yes, NICS checks did peak out at 3,314,594 in December of 2015, and, likewise, are now at 1,942,677 in May of 2017.

The problem with simply calling out those two months, however, is that it is blatant cherry-picking.  It is true that the peak checks in Obama’s presidency is higher than the lowest checks in President Trump’s time in office, but that does not even come close to telling us if the total checks are down under the new President.

For example, as I said previously, there is an obvious seasonal nature to NICS checks, with December almost invariably being “high season”, and May or June typically being the “low season”.  In fact, if one looks at the percentage drop from the peak month in one year to the low month in the following year, you will see that President Trump’s May is doing better than average, and, in fact, the second-largest seasonal drop happened during Obama’s administration:

NICSPercentageDrop

Likewise, note that this past May – likely either the low month for this year, or close to it – still had more checks than any May before it.

The fact is, firearm sales have been massively trending upwards for the past 14 years.  Given that the trend started well before an African-American President, and given that the President in question was adamantly and openly anti-rights,  the allegations of “racism” are about as valid as trying to claim that firearm sales are “down” based on all of four months of data.

That is to say, not at all valid.

(Note:  This is not to say that firearm sales are not going to drop during President Trump’s term(s), just that claiming that they are “down” already is incorrect at the time of this post.  Someone else is more than welcome to try to do predictive analytics on the numbers (*.xlsx file), but seasonal averages with an underlying trend are a pain in the ass, and I am not willing to undertake that at this time.)