Are you mad or criminal, asks US gun seller

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Media captionJon Sopel reports from a gun show in America

Six months ago, President Barack Obama told the BBC that his inability to do anything about gun control was the greatest frustration of his presidency.

Despite his efforts, Congress wouldn't pass tougher legislation so now - via executive action - the president is trying to go it alone. But he knows how closely scrutinised his efforts will be.

So for much of Monday afternoon, the president was holed up with Attorney General Loretta Lynch to ensure that his plans were legally watertight and housed in a Kevlar, bullet-proof container. Because as sure as night follows day, the plans will come under attack, scrutiny and high-velocity fire.

Part of it is that the issue of guns is a live rail in American politics - something that is hard to grasp if you don't live in the United States. But the right to bear arms is enshrined in the US constitution. It is part of the national psyche. It is an important constituent of national identity.

Just as you can band around words like freedom and liberty - for many Americans the right to own a gun for self-defence is an essential, integral part of that.

You might call this the philosophical objection to any assault on what the pro-gun lobby sees as the sanctity of the Second Amendment - which sets out that controversial (and for many who live outside the US, incomprehensible) right.

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Media captionMr Obama told the BBC that gun control was his biggest frustration

And then there is the practical. The pro-gun lobby will deploy statistics which they say show that tightening background checks would not have stopped any of the recent mass shootings, and that in cities where people are allowed to carry guns concealed, there is less crime.

To which those backing the president will ask why is it that in America tens of thousands die each year from guns (and before I get caught in the cross hairs of this battle - yes, I know that a huge numbers of those deaths are suicides).

They will ask why last year there was, on average, a mass shooting (four or more people hurt) about once a day.

I think I'm correct in saying there were 27 gun death homicides in the US on Christmas Day. That's about the total for a whole year in the UK.

I recently visited a gun show at Chantilly, Virginia.

The overwhelming majority of weapons on sale were from registered dealers. But there were unregistered dealers as well.

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Image caption Barack Obama is about to announce an executive action on guns - but its scope will likely be limited

One charming man I spoke to had a stall of fine old pieces, including a Remington rifle from the 1970s. Because he wasn't registered, all I had to do was show him a driver's licence - and answer this question: am I a felon or mad?

Say no to that, and all I had to do was hand over the cash and the gun was mine with as much ammunition as I could carry. And as he pointed out to me, if I lied, how would he know?

There were also individuals walking around the show carrying rifles and revolvers, with flags coming out of the muzzle saying "for sale" - again no restrictions at all for people who just wanted to flog their old firearm.

These are some of the issues that the president wants to address with his executive action.

The issue will be fought over as if it is a massive change - it probably suits both sides in this battle to portray the battle as bigger than it is. But these are tiny changes in the grand scheme of things.

And allow me to apply and amend something I learnt about politics and polling a long time ago. It is this - don't look at the polls, look at the betting markets.

And though I wouldn't dream of being so crude as to suggest that our stock markets are akin to casinos, I couldn't help but notice a market report from the Associated Press - despite a "severe sell-off" across all major markets on Monday, "shares of companies that make guns surged as new data pointed to strong sales at the close of 2015".

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The report also mentioned recently released numbers from the National Instant Criminal Background Check System - requests for checks jumped about 38% last month compared with December 2014.

"It's the biggest growth of the year," an analyst told the AP. "Probably safe to say gun sales were up a lot in the month of December."

As they say in All the President's Men - follow the money. The gun industry is in rude health, and little that Barack Obama is going to do is going to change that.

Which also probably means there is going to be little change in the extraordinary number of gun deaths here in the United States.

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