Background Checks Work

Gun ShowRecently the US Senate fell short of passing the most reasonable gun control measure ever brought to the Congressional floor by six votes (54 votes -- just a few shy of blocking a filibuster).  The legislation was centered on closing background check loopholes involving private sellers at gun shows and through online sales.  The legislation would not create a national registry of gun owners (although this was the main point of the disinformation campaign of the NRA), nor did it ban any specific weapon or magazines.  The legislation was written by a bi-partisan senatorial duo, Republican Pat Toomey and Democrat Joe Manchin, and was supported by 85%-90% of American citizens according to every major poll.

Currently there is a background check system in place that is used by all licensed sellers.  In the past year there were 150,000 firearm applicants denied.  Since 1994 a staggering 1.9 million applicants have been rejected.  These applicants were denied because of mental illness, criminal record, drug usage, illegal alien status, domestic abuse, and various other reasons.  Even more telling, only 1% of all firearm rejections are ever appealed; revealing the applicant always complied with the verdict.

Even in the face of such overwhelming data I have heard opinions from several friends that background checks do not work, and a criminal will find a way to purchase a gun regardless of laws.  This same type of argument was used against The Brady Bill in 1994 in regards to waiting periods.  President Ronald Reagan responded “Critics claim that ‘waiting period’ legislation in the states that have it doesn't work, that criminals just go to nearby states that lack such laws to buy their weapons. True enough, and all the more reason to have a Federal law that fills the gaps.”  Background check legislation, like the Brady Bill legislation, is designed to “fill the gaps."

It appears that Congress has fallen for the faulty logic of the opposition.  While I agree with critics that motivated criminals will find ways around laws, they will have a tougher time navigating market dynamics.  If background checks prohibit a single purchase, the price of firearms will rise for those unable to go through licensed sellers.  A criminal will have to find a different way to acquire a weapon than from an online seller or an unlicensed dealer at a gun show.  Expanding background checks will also facilitate responsible sales between family, friends, and acquaintances.  These constraints on the supply will have negative pressure on price, and increase the risk of a potential gun buyer being caught through illicit acquisition.

If opponents to background check legislation believe that any such law is inefficient and impacts our second amendment rights, would they be willing to support a total repeal of all background checks?  Highly unlikely.  Why? Because opposing this legislation has little to do with the implied efficacy of the law or the second amendment, and more to do with political ideology.  Background check legislation died with the divisive spirit of our representatives, who would rather shoot themselves in the foot than shake hands in the center.

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