Fact-checking background check B.S.

A study of where prison inmates obtained firearms, 1997.  (Photo: Cheaperthandirt)

A survey conducted in 1997 asking inmates where they obtained firearms . (Photo: Cheaperthandirt)

I love when this happens. I love when objective journalists examine tenuous claims made by gun-control groups because when they do they typically reach conclusions that validate what many gun owners are already know.

In this particular case, the Reno Gazette-Journal (RGJ) looked into the whole background check debate as there is now a 2016 ballot initiative making headway in Nevada that would give citizens the option to vote for background checks on all firearm transfers and sales.

To garner support for the ballot initiative, the Nevadans for Background Checks put out a press release that makes the following claims that those who’ve followed the national debate over gun control will immediately recognize:

“An estimated 40% of gun transfers take place without going through a licensed dealer in the United States, including sales online and at gun shows. In 2012, millions of guns were sold with no background check. … In states requiring a background check for all unlicensed handgun sales, 38 percent fewer women are shot to death by their intimate partners and 39 percent fewer law enforcement are shot to death with handguns.”

To make a long story short, the RGJ gave those claims a 3 out of 10 on its truth meter, suggesting that, aside from the claim that millions of guns were sold in 2012 without background checks, most of it was B.S.

To quote the RGJ, “The source links given by Nevadans for Background Checks do not lead to any independent research on gun background checks, but lead solely back to statements by a gun-control advocacy group that are unsupported and ignore conflicting evidence.”

“Stricter gun background checks may be helpful in reducing gun violence. They may not,” continued the RGJ. “But using vague source citations and flawed evidence does not help make one’s case.”

The RGJ points out the 40 percent figure is bogus. It comes from a study done almost 20 years ago by the National Justice Institute, which found that 35.7 of folks who purchased a firearm in the past two years did not obtain one via a Federal Firearm Licensee. For reasons that aren’t quite clear, that number was rounded to 40 percent and propagated by various pro-gun control outfits as “An estimated 40% of gun transfers take place without going through a licensed dealer in the United States.”

The real figure is closer to 14 to 22 percent as The Washington Post found last year when it investigated the 40 percent myth.

The other major fault RGJ found was with the third claim that background checks on handgun sales make women and law enforcement officer safer.

RGJ spot checked this and immediately found that two states without the stringent background check mandate, New Hampshire and Vermont, actually had lower homicides rates for women than New York and New Jersey which have universal background check mandates in place.

More convincingly, RGJ noted that the claim which was disseminated by Mayors Against Illegal Guns was not peer reviewed and “doesn’t share the numbers used to reach its conclusions, and it treats correlation as causation, strongly implying that lower rates of violence against women and police was caused by handgun background checks without even attempting to deal with all of the factors that would make the statistics less valid.”

RGJ goes on to say that “One could just as easily come to the opposite conclusion by pointing to the surge in gun sales with a corresponding drop in murders of women over the past 20 years nationwide.”

Lastly, RGJ cites a peer-reviewed study published by the Journal of the American Medical Association that looked at the Brady Handgun Violence Prevention Act and found that the background checks and waiting periods for handgun transfers the law required were not associated with “reductions in homicide rates or overall suicide rates.”

In other words, the Brady Act didn’t lead to a material decrease in gun-related deaths.

With all that said, the reality is that background checks are not a bad thing. Most gun owners support background checks under the current system. One buys a gun from a dealer, one undergoes an FBI or state-run background check. No problem. One buys a gun from a family member, neighbor, or friend, no background check required (under federal law, some states have enacted total universal background checks on all transfers). No problem.

The issue becomes when two strangers meet at a gun show or via the Internet. They don’t know one another. Federal law currently prohibits that seller from transferring the firearm if he knows that the buyer is a prohibited person, e.g. a felon, domestic abuser, mental defective. But how does one know whether one is a prohibited person unless that individual undergoes a background check facilitated through an FFL?

Well, the short answer is one doesn’t know. So, should gun owners support universal background checks on all private transfers made over the Internet and at gun shows? In theory, perhaps. In reality, however, I’m not so sure it’s a good idea.

For starters, and to iterate the earlier point, there’s no guarantee that background checks lower crime because at the end of the day a criminal is not going to be deterred by failing a background check. That criminal will find another way to obtain a firearm, whether it’s buying one off the black market, borrowing one from a friend or stealing one from a law-abiding gun owner.

Secondly, is it fair to tax a constitutional right? Essentially that’s what’s going on with a universal background check mandate because FFLs are going to charge money per transaction. They’re not going to simply run free background checks for private parties. So, the cost of expanding background checks and how it infringes on one’s Second Amendment rights needs to be considered.

Lastly, in the wake of the NSA scandal and in the wake of newspaper publications releasing the names and addresses of concealed carry permit holders, do we really trust the government and the media with more of our personal information? Many folks oppose universal background checks because they believe it’s the first step in the registration-confiscation sequence. Once the government is able to track who owns what, they can begin forcing folks to register their firearms (some states already require the registration of firearms). Upon knowing officially who has what, the government can begin to strip property from those who it deems to be an enemy of the state. Now, I’m not suggesting that this is imminent or that it’s even likely to happen, but I’m also not saying that it’s impossible.

Bottom line, until someone can provide empirical evidence that expanding background checks will reduce crime rates, that they won’t place a financial burden on gun owners and that they won’t lead to universal registration or an increase in government intrusion, I’ll continue to oppose efforts to do so.

{ 27 comments… add one }
  • Rootie January 4, 2015, 11:14 am

    If background checks are to determine if a person is prohibited from owning a gun then why does it require the serial numbers be recorded for our government to see? Shouldn’t the check be about the owner, not the gun? I understand that dealers need to keep records of purchases but each background check tells numerous branches of our government exactly what I own. All they need to know is that I qualify as a law abider to purchase a gun from said dealer should I choose to. The dealers records are there as proof that they are no longer in possession of said firearm.

  • John Doe January 3, 2015, 6:46 pm

    ” Most gun owners support background checks under the current system. ”

    Really? Prove it.

    Most gun owners may put up with the background checks, that does not mean we support them. As noted in the article, the Brady Bill checks have had little to no effect on homicide or suicide rates. So why do we keep spending millions on operating a system that has no benefit? Not to mention that DoJ prosecutes only a miniscule fraction of those who try to buy through a dealer and are found to be prohibited persons.

    • DaveGinOly January 4, 2015, 12:31 am

      Agreed.
      I was no more inclined towards mayhem with my guns when I was buying them sans background checks. With respect to me (and most firearms owners) background checks perform absolutely zero function, and are actually just hindrances to the law-abiding. So yes, most of us just tolerate them, but don’t approve of them because we know they don’t actually accomplish anything. (And even if they did, I wouldn’t actually support them. There are many unconstitutional acts that could be effective. “Effectiveness” is not a good reason to support unconstitutional acts by government.)

  • petru sova January 3, 2015, 6:06 pm

    As I have said before the gun-ban laws are designed to slowly chip away at the Second Amendment until it is null and void and only the very rich who are always the ruling elite will be the only ones permitted to own weapons. Its like that in every country in the world.

  • B0000000000000000000000000000 January 3, 2015, 5:48 pm

    Fact if you look at the gun control that is being presented to day. You will see the same gun control was being pushed back in the Nazi germaney era. So one could assume this BS is coming back, history is repeating it’s self. So we are well into the NAZI play book and guess what. Your democrat party is pushing it. Yep the same one that got their ass kicked last November. I am thinking those Nazi are just not the democrats that were in office when the USA kicked Hitlers Butt!

  • DaveGinOly January 3, 2015, 3:38 pm

    Universal background checks require periodic registration of firearms – the only way to know if people are complying with the requirement.

    Background checks by FFLs are OK because the requirement is technically imposed on the FFL, not the buyer, and the federal government has an interest in making sure that its licensees aren’t supplying firearms to criminals. But otherwise, private sales are called private sales for a reason, they’re private. That means the government should keep its nose out of them. Private sales to criminals and others disbarred the use of arms is already a crime. If universal background checks are imposed, criminals will just go to sources of firearms that will not require them to undergo background checks. And background checks don’t catch actual criminals who have never been convicted of their crimes. So if there’s a “problem” with private firearms sales, it will not be addressed with universal background checks.

  • DaveGinOly January 3, 2015, 3:21 pm

    “RGJ goes on to say that ‘One could just as easily come to the opposite conclusion by pointing to the surge in gun sales with a corresponding drop in murders of women over the past 20 years nationwide.’”

    Gun people also confuse causation and correlation. The fact that violent crime is down and gun ownership is up does not prove “more guns equals less crime.” The relationship may merely be a coincidence. On the other hand, these facts falsify the claim that “more guns equals more violence/crime.” You can point this out to someone who shoots down “more guns equals less crime” for lack of proof of cause.

  • DaveGinOly January 3, 2015, 3:14 pm

    Where does the 40% figure come from? The NIJ report states, “We conclude that approximately 60 percent of gun acquisitions involved an FFL and hence were subject to Federal regulations on such matters as out-of-State sales, criminal history checks, and recordkeeping.” One hundred percent minus sixty percent is forty percent. This is almost certainly how the 40% claim was determined.

  • Dave January 3, 2015, 2:11 pm

    I have bought and sold firearms off the internet and at gun shows from and to people I didn’t know. I don’t want to sell or buy illegally so I ask to see a drivers license and a Conceal carry or permit to purchase. It’s not that hard to follow the law and cover yourself. There is no “government filed info” but we are both protected. That way I know that they have been through an FBI and mental health background check and they the same. The only thing is, I don’t know if the firearm is stolen. I know the local Sheriff and he will check the serial # for me without retaining any info. If it is stolen, I have the sellers info (which is discarded after everything checks out) and should be able to get my money back. Never had a problem yet. That’s how you satisfy the “gun show loophole”, just make it mandatory that any transaction requires a CCW or PTP with both parties. Much better than trying to do “on site” background checks which will be expensive and lead to government filed info for each firearm transaction, which is the ultimate goal.

    • david January 3, 2015, 6:00 pm

      Good practices. Whenever I sell to someone I do it through an FFL.

  • Mike W January 3, 2015, 12:25 pm

    If people had to pay the same fee that they pay for a background check to buy a new firearm to vote, there would be hell to pay and God help us if we suggested that they have to have a NICKS check to vote.

    • Barn January 3, 2015, 9:20 pm

      Awesome!

  • david January 3, 2015, 12:13 pm

    S.H. – After you write you support background checks when a dealer sells a customer a gun, you set up the issue very succinctly: “The issue becomes when two strangers meet at a gun show or via the Internet. They don’t know each other.”

    But then your three answers are very odd: 1) no guarantee that background checks lower crime, 2) Is it fair to tax a constitutional right, and 3) do we trust the government and media with our personal info.

    You avoided the elephant in the room: selling a gun to a total stranger. Would you really? A total stranger?

    I wouldn’t. And currently, retailers don’t either.

    As it is today, when a dealer sells you a gun, you are a total stranger and they run a background check on you. Why? Various reasons, with the big one being peace of mind that you’re not prohibited from owning a gun.

    Why not extend it to personal sales and avoid the risk of selling a gun to someone who isn’t allowed to have one?

    The answers you lay out can be addressed: 1) whether background checks lower crime has already been knocked down because you, and most others, support background checks, 2) there’s probably a way to get around the tax issue so that will go away, and 3) whether we trust the government or not, there are ways to keep list building from spreading. As it is, when you buy from a dealer, the FBI knows you bought from a dealer.

    But getting back to the main issue… would you sell to a total stranger. Someone who could be law-abiding. Or someone who could be a monster.

    Not knowing, and not having the power to know, I’d like third-party verification. Call it a pseudo endorsement that I’m not selling to someone who isn’t legally able to own a gun.

    I like to sleep well at night.

  • Vince January 3, 2015, 7:03 am

    I have an idea that would reduce straw purchasers on the gun auction sites some are complaining about. If law abiding citizens report a person who sells them a firearm online through the gun auction sites without going through an FFL they should get a small reward, like a $50 incentive. The buyer also should be allowed to keep the weapon as long as it was not stolen, as it would then be owned by a LAW ABIDING citizen. In the case of a stolen weapon, the firearm should be returned and the seller forced to repay the buyer in full. One less gun available for criminals. One less illegal seller. Also, the straw seller should then be banned from all gun auction sites for life. The rules are clearly stated and laws clearly defined, so banishment from those sites is clearly justified.

  • Rick January 3, 2015, 6:00 am

    I used to go along with that same old dog & pony show that most of you guys do, no background checks. Then I see one killing after another of innocent kids, families, law enforcement officers. I see these killings being done by perps who never should have access to a weapon. Keep this same old dog and pony show going and eventually we will all lose our guns, because we refuse to police ourselves.

    • Jim January 3, 2015, 12:38 pm

      I am a private citizen, I will sell a gun to another private citizen without doing a background check only if he or she has a valled concealed carry permit from my state, as you need a background check to get a CCW. otherwise I will go through a FFL.

  • Stephen Stewart September 22, 2014, 2:47 pm

    I thought it was a federal law that no interstate (internet sales) of firearms to individuals was allowed, that all sales must go between FFL dealers. Is this not true?

    • B September 24, 2014, 10:22 am

      In theory yes this is law. You can’t cross state lines and purchase a new Glock or what have you from someone you met on armslist. BUT. It is the duty of the seller to ask for id to make sure your actually a resident of the state that they reside in. Internet sales in your own state are fine between private buyers (federally allowed, some states restrict or even disallow this) but I believe you have to physically meet them. In any case, if they don’t show id dont buy, if the gun is illegal don’t buy.

  • JD September 22, 2014, 10:15 am

    In Washington state, they are running commercials in support of Initiative 594 that say anyone can buy a gun on-line without a background check, and show websites like “gunbroker” …and GA …..Funny. I dont know of anyone on either site that would not ship to an FFL, and if they did they would soon be booted from any such site.

  • Chris Baker September 22, 2014, 10:05 am

    Agree 100% with MH Snider. Being required to ask permission is an infringement on the right to keep and bear arms which shall not be infringed. Being required to get a CCW is asking permission and thus is also an infringement. So is not being able to buy the arms you want or to carry them wherever you want. Also be sure to note that the second amendment doesn’t say “firearms” it says “arms”. A knife is an arm, as is a sword, a machete, a bolo, a switchblade, a mace, a flail, a cross or other types of bows and arrows. They are all arms. I’m sure I left a lot out. (google “Bek de Corbin”, no it’s not a girls name) But if it can be carried and it can be used to protect yourself from a predator, be it human or otherwise (government…) it is an arm covered by the second amendment and any restriction on ANY arms is illegal. Show me ANY gun control law except one that makes it illegal to assault someone with it and I can show you just how illegal it is under the second amendment. I honestly believe that there aren’t any legal gun control laws in this country.

    • Russ September 22, 2014, 4:37 pm

      And I agree with both of you.
      Pretty dam ridiculous world we live in isn’t it?
      Lots of “Guns are Evil” brain washing going on.
      Background check on people purchasing a car.
      I’m more afraid of being killed by an idiot driver than I am a gun owner.
      Guns in the hands of good people save millions of lives and ensure Liberty and Freedom in the greatest country in the world.—–> The United States of America !
      Background check that.

  • Jack September 22, 2014, 8:34 am

    This argument will never be won based on facts. We all know what the truth is, statistically.
    Problem is, this issue is fought in the HEARTS of people. No rational thought required on behalf of the gun grabbers.
    If they told the truth, there would be NO argument.

    • Chris Baker September 22, 2014, 10:06 am

      Need a like button.

      • Bucc62 January 3, 2015, 11:34 pm

        …like this.

  • MH Snider September 22, 2014, 7:25 am

    Any gun control including background checks is 100% Unconstitutional. Period.

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