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Wednesday, January 9, 2013

Some More Reflections On Gun Control, The Gun Culture, And The Underground Economy

Today, January 8, 2013, I had two brief encounters less than an hour apart which showed me a great deal about the gun culture in both America and Appalachia and also about the underground economy and how deeply it is involved in the sale and transport of guns all across the country.  It is also significant that these encounters happened on the second anniversary of the shooting in Arizona which severely wounded former Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords and killed six others.  Giffords and her husband also announced ongoing efforts with their non-profit corporation Americans For Responsible Solutions to raise money and take part in the effort to bring about changes in American gun laws.

I was in a business meeting with an individual who asked me if I ever get guns in my practice as an auctioneer.  He loves to buy and collect guns and made the statement that he never sells a gun if he buys it unless he finds a "better one just like it".  I do not sell guns as a part of my practice as an auctioneer unless I know that I am in strict compliance with federal law and told the man so. Here is a link to great article about federal law and how it applys to auctioneers . A few minutes later I left that meeting and drove about 6 miles down the road where I saw two people I know selling merchandise by the side of the road which is common today all across Appalachia.  I stopped to talk to the two and actually bought an item from one of them, a "smalls box", to be used in my practice to display small, valuable items.  The man had one single shot 12 gauge shotgun displayed on the ground outside his van.  I picked it up, asked the price, and talked about it briefly.  The man then said "I've got a whole van full of guns if you want to look at them." Then he turned, opened the back door of his van and showed me more than a dozen guns of all shapes, sizes, and descriptions including several automatic weapons.  He also made a statement that he had more at his home for sale.  But what was most significant about this encounter is that only a few months ago this man's brother was sentenced to life without parole for killing the man's daughter and son-in-law in the presence of four of their children.  The man who was selling the guns is now attempting to earn money to raise his six orphaned grandchildren whose parents died by gunfire in the presence of most of those children.  This encounter obviously has a lot to say about the gun culture in general, attitudes about guns in this family and about how the underground economy plays a significant role in the sale, transport, and use of guns all across the country.  It is also very significant that the person I was dealing with in the earlier business meeting was a licensed professional and a key player in the investigation of the murder and the burial of the childrens parents. 

Gun use and gun ownership have become so widespread in this region and the country as a whole that this man apparently sees nothing wrong in the continued presence of large numbers of guns in the home in which he is raising grandchildren who have been orphaned and traumatized by the murder of their parents in the presence of most of the children.  Admittedly, this man is poorly educated and of what I would believe is low normal intelligence based on my knowledge of him and my training and experience as a mental health professional.  But, I have no doubt that his intelligence is high enough to understand at least the basic implications of such a trauma on the children. 

I have known about the underground economy most of my life since I grew up in a country store, sold door to door for years, and now work as a self-employed auctioneer in Kentucky and Indiana.  All across the country, hundreds of thousands of people make at least part of their living from the underground economy, that part of the overall economy which functions outside the normal bounds of taxation and regulation such as yard sales, flea markets, illegal auctions, gambling, prostitution, drug dealing, and other forms of crime. A relatively good discussion of the underground economy can be found here: What Is The Underground Economy? .  Gun sales to shadow buyers is a very large part of the underground economy and generally operates totally outside the ability of law enforcement or taxation agencies to measure, monitor, or control it.  Anyone with any kind of criminal record, criminal intent, mental condition or combination of the three can go to the average gun show,  flea market, or roadside sale and find hundreds of guns for sale for cash without a single question being asked. Here is link to a somewhat dated, but very well researched and written article about guns and the underground economy . The Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms attempts to intervene in at least a portion of these illegal sales, primarily bulk sales, but is generally far too overloaded to effectively control the sale and transport of guns in this manner. 

The underground economy, especially as it relates to criminal enterprises, moves and sells hundreds of thousands of guns every year in this country.  A large portion of these sales are facilitated by gangs and criminal syndicates and for years it has been common for major northeastern groups to buy guns in states with little or no state regulation and transport them to cities along the eastern seaboard for sale on the street.  Untold millions of dollars of guns are transported and sold in this manner.  This is one of the primary areas in which stricter gun control laws, better regulation, and improved funding for the ATF and other law enforcement agencies could stop, or at least slow, the flow of guns to criminals and criminal groups. 

My encounters with these two men on the second anniversary of the Tucson mass murder was significant to me in my reactions to the underground economy, the gun culture, and the need for strict gun control laws and adequate funding for the enforcement of those laws.  I hope it is to you also.

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