Gun dealers vs. post offices (in one chart)

February 27, 2013

There are more gun dealers in the United States than post offices.

We picked up on this data point last night in a discussion with Rep. Mike Thompson (D-Calif.), who's leading House Democrats in their push to enact new gun laws. Citing government statistics, Thompson noted that as of January, there were 31,857 post offices across the country, compared with 58,344 licensed gun dealers. You can see that comparison demonstrated in this chart:


(Review the data on post offices here, courtesy of USPS, and on gun shops here, via the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives.)

Caveat: "Gun dealers" doesn't imply a brick-and-mortar retail location, but the vast majority of licensed dealers do operate gun shops.

This also means there are more gun dealers in the U.S. than the total number of locations owned and operated by Wal-Mart, Starbucks and McDonald's, because the U.S. Postal Service often brags that it operates more retail locations than those three large retailers combined.

You'll likely hear Thompson and other Democrats repeat this data point about gun shops and post offices in the coming weeks as Congress continues debating gun control. (The gun control advocacy group Mayors Against Illegal Guns says they first tipped off Democrats to the stats.) They'll probably use it to counter Republican concerns about expanding the National Instant Criminal Background Check System or about requiring people to keep records of private gun transactions.

As we reported over the weekend, ongoing bipartisan talks to expand background checks to all private firearms sales is stuck on the issue of who would keep records of private gun sales.

Senators are considering whether to establish a new online portal where buyers and sellers could conduct the background check or to allow federally licensed gun retailers like Wal-Mart or Dick’s Sporting Goods to charge a small fee to conduct checks for private dealers, aides said. A record of the sale then could be turned over to a licensed retailer, sent to the gun’s manufacturer or kept by the seller.

But aides say that GOP lawmakers, including Sen. Tom Coburn (R-Okla.), are concerned that people living in rural communities might have to travel hours, or hundreds of miles, to find the nearest licensed gun dealer.

In response, don't be surprised if you see Democrats use this gun shop vs. post office argument to make the point that there are more than enough gun shops across the country where private dealers could drop off records of a private sale or conduct a background check.

Follow Ed O'Keefe on Twitter: @edatpost

RELATED: Senators near a deal on gun background checks for most private sales

Ed O’Keefe is a congressional reporter with The Washington Post and covered the 2008 and 2012 presidential and congressional elections.
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Chris Cillizza | February 27, 2013