The Effectiveness of Background Checks

Despite the (temporary to be sure) defeat of the “universal” background check amendment in the Senate recently, advocates of individual disarmament continue their assertions that such a measure is necessary to reduce violent firearms-related crime.  To that end, much and more has been made of the “common sense” need for so-called “enhanced” checks for all firearms sales, including private individual sales, in the United States.  Those of us who pay attention to political history and understand human nature have long recognized such “universal” background checks as nothing more than an incremental policy to achieve a national firearms registry system, given that such checks are entirely unenforceable absent one.


For sake of argument, however, let us look at the alleged correlation(s) between background check policies and firearms-related murder rates from a historical application perspective.  Recently, well known gun politics researcher Clayton Cramer authored a study on the possible relationship between these two factors, as evidenced by states that implemented expanded background checks during periods when relevant crime data is available.  Cramer demonstrates, by utilizing interrupted time series analysis, that assertions to the supposed causal relationship between background checks and reductions in firearms-related murders are dubious at best, owing to the very inconsistent findings.


But then, anti-gun politicians likely know all of this already.  Certainly, the information is readily available.  As has been demonstrated and reported over and over again, at this site and across a plethora of other locations throughout cyberspace, most proposed gun control measures have nothing practicably to do with reducing crime.  At best they are symbolic gestures meant to temporarily appease ideological agitation and at worst they are outright incremental disarmament policies.


By the Department of Justice’s own research institute’s reporting in January 2013, the conclusions regarding background checks and their inevitable inclination toward firearms registration are reinforced:


[Universal background check] effectiveness depends on the ability to reduce straw purchasing, requiring gun registration(emphasis added).


However, [a background check program] does not address the largest sources (straw purchasers and theft [nearly 75%]), which would most likely become larger if background checks at gun shows and private sellers were addressed (emphasis added).


The secondary market is the primary source of crime guns (emphasis in original).


Ludwig and Cook (2000) compared states that introduced Brady checks to those states that already had background checks and found no effect of the new background checks (emphasis added).


Straw purchasers are the primary source of crime guns (emphasis added).


Despite [California’s requirement since 1923 that all transfers of guns be properly documented], straw purchasing continues largely unabated (emphasis added.)


Additionally, the National Institute of Justice commented (again) on the ineffectiveness of a number of related proposed measures currently under consideration:


Assault weapons are not a major contributor to gun crime (emphasis added.)



A complete elimination of assault weapons would not have a large impact on gun homicides (emphasis added.)



The assault weapon ban [1994-2004] did not have an effect on firearm homicides (emphasis added.)


Since assault weapons are not a major contributor to US gun homicide and the existing stock of guns is large, an assault weapon ban is unlikely to have an impact on gun violence (emphasis added.)


In five cities studied closely found no change in the criminal use of large capacity magazines during the ten year [1994-2004] ban (emphasis added.)


An exemption for previously owned magazines would nearly eliminate any impact.  The program would need to be coupled with an extensive buyback [confiscation] of existing large capacity magazines (emphasis added.)


Contrary to the conventional  wisdom that crime guns were being trafficked across state borders from places with less stringent regulations… we found that a majority of the guns used in crimes were purchased in [highly local] gun markets.


Unavoidably, gun politics come back to the underlying fact that modern regulation and restriction policies disproportionately infringe law-abiding citizens’ individual rights while providing virtually no appreciable impact to criminal actors’ activities or behavior.  If background checks were so universally essential to the responsible exercise of individual rights, as many gun control advocates unscientifically presume, then I would suggest legislating  federal requirements for universal background checks prior to individuals being eligible to hold public office (whether elected or not), to exercise the right of suffrage, and to procreate as well.


In his childish berating of the Senate minority last week, President Obama insisted that the American people’s will – by an apparently considerable majority – went ignored for sake of politics.  That may be so, though I would (and always do) seriously question the validity of any supposed “majority” that can be gleaned from even multiple small-sample polls, replete with probable leading questions and often flat-out erroneous assertions.  In any event, a majority of Americans – even if by an overwhelmingly large number as purported – cannot justly override the individual protections provided for in the Bill of Rights simply because they may wish to.  This is the very nature of providing protection for individual rights after all: they are not to be subjected to infringement even at the behest of 99.999% of given individuals’ contemporaries, otherwise codification of such protections would be entirely unnecessary.  The Constitution includes a legitimate mechanism for alteration, and unless and until that mechanism of amendment is pursued this issue remains an unethical statist infringement, regardless of the harshness of the ostensible catalyzing events subsequently contrived to rationalize it.


Besides, I do not recall popular opinion being much of a concern for the president when he ramrodded his unconstitutional health care legislation through the Congress.



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  1. “More Guns, More Death!” Catchy, But Patently False. |
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