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.