Times have been tough for the anti-gun lobby. Political analysts have declared gun control a dead issue, court cases are not going its way, and gun shops are crowded with liberals seeking security in gun ownership.
During hard times it is natural to fall back on proven strategies, so anti-gun groups are trying to revive an issue that was quite successful during the glory days of the gun control movement. With the aid of a few attention-seeking senators, including John McCain, they are renewing their attack on gun shows, which their propaganda wizards once labeled "Tupperware parties for criminals."
For several years prior to the 2000 election, clever advertising campaigns in many states convinced voters that gun shows were illegal arms bazaars where sinister dealers sold machine guns to dangerous criminals and innocent children alike. Their advertising dollars were leveraged by sympathetic media outlets, which amplified and legitimized the message.
One of the most effective sound bites ever created by the gun control propagandists is "gun show loophole." This refers to the private-sale exemption that was deliberately placed into federal law. The purpose was to avoid the unproductive complications that would arise if gun sales between friends, relatives and collectors were forced to undergo the same background checks as sales in gun stores.
Nobody likes a loophole, as beleaguered gun owners discovered when the media repeated the misleading term ad infinitum.
Politically motivated police officials sometimes got into the act by reporting that a large number of criminals admitted to obtaining guns at shows. They neglected to mention that the last thing a crook wants to tell the police is who really supplied him with his illegally owned firearm. Saying "I got it at a gun show" is a very easy way out.
Another important factor was that very few voters had ever attended a gun show, so it was easy to portray these harmless middle-class gatherings as wretched hives of scum and villainy.
With such a strong hand to play, it is no wonder that anti-gun forces wish to revive this issue. However, the new offensive is marked by a distinct change in tactics. Press releases from anti-gun organizations are now claiming that gun shows are major sources of weapons for terrorists.
This wild claim is supposedly based on two isolated cases of foreign terrorists who were arrested for buying guns to be shipped to their associates overseas. But since the gun haters are constantly looking for ways to reduce the number of guns in America, it is difficult to see the problem.
It is also a very big stretch to connect gun shows with the current crop of terrorists who hijack airliners with box cutters or blow themselves up with explosives. Many observers are puzzled by this strange new theme, but there is an obvious explanation. This seemingly bizarre leap of logic is probably related to a report recently released by the Bureau of Justice Statistics.
"Firearm Use by Offenders" details the results of a 1997 survey of about 16,000 inmates in state and federal prisons. The report contains many interesting facts, but the most embarrassing item for the gun controllers is related to gun shows.
What percentage of criminals obtained their crime guns from gun shows? The anti-gun lobby has always been suspiciously vague about this critical number, but their emotion-charged statements have always been carefully designed to give the impression that gun shows are highly popular with criminals.
Judging by the intensity of their efforts, one would assume that the number must be high, perhaps 30 percent, perhaps 50, maybe more.
Now we find out the truth. The real number is... seven-tenths of 1 percent.
Shocked? Don't take my word for it, read it yourself at: http://www.ojp.usdoj.gov/bjs/abstract/fuo.htm.
The real reason the anti-gun lobby is trying to link gun shows with terrorism is that they know the "Tupperware party for criminals" game is over.
One might assume that the anti-gun lobby would simply move on to some new "gun safety" issues. But their objection to gun shows was never really about criminals, it was part of a cultural war.
For people who truly hate guns, the thought of all those evil guns and despicable gun owners gathered together in one place is unbearable. Better to lie and mislead the public than to tolerate such an abomination, they believe.
This is not the first time that a public opinion campaign was based on a false premise, but voters who cast ballots based on deceptive information deserve to know that they were deliberately misled.
Journalists who once wrote stories that were little more than digests of anti-gun press releases now seem to be viewing the issue with a bit more skepticism. Perhaps some even feel a bit of shame at the way they suspended their ethics and jumped on the anti-gun bandwagon.
It will be interesting to see if the media take note of the remarkable fact that less than one criminal in a hundred obtained their guns at gun shows.