Virginia Firearms Trafficking Research Update

Hey guys,

I have now attended two gun shows, one in Chantilly–the Nation’s Gun Show– and one in Harrisonburg. Both shows were great learning experiences in their own right. The Chantilly gun show was a bit intimidating, as I had not yet had direct contact with any firearms dealers and had never been to a gun show before. Needless to say, it was definitely a bit of a culture shock, but I think I can honestly say that I jumped right in and did my best to test out my first two surveys there. It took me 3 hours to get 10 dealers with FFLs (Federal Firearms Licenses) to answer the two short surveys that I had prepared. The dealers did NOT receive the surveys well and many wrote notes about how the questions could be improved (as well as made other less polite remarks). After the show, I took to the drawing board and read a well written article about Political Science survey writing and watched some videos about good survey writing.

This left me in a much better place to redraft and compile the survey questions into one shorter survey for the Harrisonburg show last weekend. That show went much smoother. It was a smaller show, so there were less tables, and I already knew many of the dealers there. They remembered me and were much more willing to answer my questions. The survey was received with less complaints. At this point, I am contemplating emailing the revised surveys out to as many FFLs as I can via GunBrokers.com, a database of all of the licensed dealers in Virginia, but I’m not sure that the questions are quite good enough to do so yet.

My goal with the surveys is to make them as non-biased as possible (obviously a critical element of any survey research) but still have them relate to relevant, research-backed policies that might reduce firearms trafficking out of a locality. I want the dealers to consider how each policy/regulation/practice might impact their own sales, and the scale on my survey is a 5 point meter, ranging from “Very Negative” to “Very Positive.” At this point, it is difficult to see many overarching trends in the data, since I really only have 9 respondents, since the Chantilly surveys were edited. These respondents will most likely be a test sample that will not be included in any final data sets for my thesis (if I get enough respondents to run a real quantitative study). One potential trend in answers is a general feeling that any new laws/regulations would not impact dealers’ sales at all. That being said, I have heard such a range of information, many times conflicting, depending on who I talk to, that I’m not sure that survey questions could every capture the complexity of this market. It is simply overflowing with ideology and paperwork.


  1. emmamerrill says:

    Hi Dara! First of all, thanks for your encouraging words about my research!

    I definitely think it would make a difference to survey dealers in states with stricter gun laws versus those with weaker laws (like Virginia for example!) That is definitely one path down which I could take my data collection. So far, I have received 92 responses to the online survey that I sent out via a gun brokers’ website. Although I have yet to really analyze the results, it is certain that I won’t get enough responses to really make any substantive claims about Virginia’s dealers…the subset of FFLs that I was able to reach on the website is simply too small to make broad generalizations for the over 2,000 licensees in our state. If I had to guess, I would say that dealers in states with stricter laws would probably be less responsive and feel that their sales would be impacted less by greater regulation, since they already would have versions of some of the policies I have included on my survey. That being said, I have also found that there is a completely separate side to policies that impact trafficking outside of potential legislative efforts–operations of law enforcement, especially those of ATF agents (the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms) that differ on a state to state and office to office basis. Whether ATF agents are focusing their operations on stolen guns, straw purchases, or oversight of local corrupt dealers makes a big difference in what dealers think regarding what policies are worth pursuing to combat trafficking. In other words, if ATF is already cracking down on dealers, then the dealers do not think that more oversight of other FFLs is necessary (duh). Of course, like most peoples’ beliefs about any gun legislation, many dealers also form their opinions on new policies from ideological concerns about Second Amendment rights and a general reluctance for any additional regulation, even if it has the potential to reduce trafficking. So far, I have found that the dealers who have responded to my survey have EXTREMELY VARIED opinions on how regulation of private gun sales would impact their businesses (some think it would help their sales, others think regulating private sales would either not impact them or hurt their businesses significantly) and most already think that they receive enough oversight from ATF and perform sufficient employee training to recognize potential illegal sales.

    I love the idea of looking at another state though, so maybe I will try to contact some FFLs somewhere with stricter laws! Thanks for the input, and I will keep you and everyone else updated!

  2. darabright says:

    Hi Emma,

    I have been following your research and I think it is truly intriguing. I have a few questions about your data collection: from my understanding, gun shows & gun dealers travel from city to city, but do you think it would make a difference to have survey results from gun shows +dealers in states with stricter gun laws (CA) as opposed to Kansas or Vermont? I am curious to know whether where one sells their product affects their attitudes towards firearms trafficking. Would that help you make more meaningful data if you could categorize the gun dealers by region & their background? Possibly make the data a bit easier to muddle through since you said you were having a difficult time finding overarching trends? All thoughts, but nevertheless, I loooove your research and can’t wait to see what you come up with!!!!!

Speak Your Mind