We’ve taken plenty of shots at things like the NRA, toxic masculinity, and the problems of implicit bias in policing. We’ve also taken shots at overreaching legislative attempts (some successful, some not).
Today though, there’s something bothering us and not only is it wrong headed, it may well ensure that we have a second term of arguably the worst president in our history. And no, not because of the Green New Deal or conversations about Medicare for all. Instead it seems the one thing all the announced democratic candidates for president support is poorly considered gun control. The house is also getting ready to pass gun control (which is nothing more than trying to build liberal credibility, despite it not being a truly liberal position at all, as neither the senate nor the president will move it along although with Trumps tendencies, you never know)
You might say, “But LGC, we’ve got to do SOMETHING to stem the flow of violence! Doing nothing is not an answer!” Well, we can absolutely agree on that. Let’s talk first about what’s been proposed and then we’ll discuss what we think might be more effective.
So far, the first thing on the table is Universal Background Checks. Some folks have been making noise about getting this “common sense” piece of legislation, in one form or another, passed for years. And if one were to just give is a passing thought, you’d say sure, that sounds pretty reasonable, let’s get it done! Especially after a mass shooting event which is when this stuff is usually trotted out. The devil of course, is in the details. What these actually do is prevent someone from selling a friend or family member a gun without going to a federal firearms dealer first to run the background check. Fees for a transfer can range up to $125 depending on where in the country you are at. This increases the cost of a commonly available and reliable (if frequently mocked) Hi Point 9mm, which is very suitable for personal protection, by nearly 100%. And much like the lack of red state abortion clinics, the cost and difficulty of even getting to an FFL may remove your access to even that affordable Hi-Point, which may well be your only option in exercising your constitutional right to self-defense. This has the effect of making it even more difficult for the poor to defend themselves when they need to.
The other detail about this proposal which is frequently overlooked or glossed over is the measurable impact, or lack thereof, on harm reduction. After all, if this is such a “common sense” proposal, we must have some stellar data showing that it will have a dramatic impact on reducing mass shootings, right? Nope. Even the cited example in the linked article, Virginia Tech, wouldn’t have been stopped with Universal Background Checks. The background check system was used for his purchases- the failure was on the reporting infrastructure side, which is why we supported Fix NICS and continue to advocate for making the system better. Adding more transactions to the system when it’s broken doesn’t help.
Well, if it wouldn’t help out with mass shootings, it will at least help with reducing everyday homicides, right? Well, California and Texas are the two largest states by population, one has universal background checks, the other doesn’t. What’s the net impact? Nothing. Results, year after year on the previous link show that the murder rate is virtually the same. Some years TX has a lower rate than CA, in other years it’s reversed. There was even a study done by UC Davis that looked at the issue in depth- There was no measurable impact on homicide due to the passage of this law.
Largely guns that are used in crimes are gotten through either straw purchases (which are illegal already, and done through an FFL), are stolen, or through a corrupt FFL who is breaking the law. Moving to Universal Background Checks does nothing to impact the three largest sources of black market guns in the country today. And the number of people who are prosecuted for the largest problem, straw purchases, is miniscule. We also almost universally fail to prosecute people who attempt to buy firearms and lie on their background checks already – there were only 12 prosecutions out of 112,000 denials last year.
So what can be done? Well, we’ve already put forth a number of ideas with our discussion about Root Causes. In addition, continued fixes to the existing background check system are a must. Prosecuting folks who enable straw purchases, corrupt FFL’s, and those who lie on their 4473’s should be ramped up. That’s hundreds of thousands of cases every year alone.
And if we’re hell bent on universal background checks, regardless of their lack of impact on violence, how about a compromise? Universal Background Checks, able to be done as a private citizen, merely by providing an application number to the seller, at no charge. In exchange for that, the Concealed Carry Reciprocity Act or the Hearing Protection Act is incorporated into the legislation as well- compromise is a give and take, not just pushing something through that one side wants.
It may seem like this proposal is a winner for the current folks running for president on the Dem side, but remember, despite winning the popular vote, the place where the presidency was lost in 2016 was in the Midwest. And in the Midwest, gun control isn’t nearly as popular as it might be in your home town – use the filters and look for yourself.
In Pennsylvania, Ohio, and Wisconsin, the places that Hillary lost in 2016, these issues cost her the election. With the Democratic candidates jumping on the bandwagon for this issue, the NRA is salivating at the opportunity to pull themselves out of the hole they’ve dug for themselves by campaigning on fear of exactly the kind of legislation the house is embracing. In the counties that Trump won in these states, they are the first counties that are holding rallies and fundraisers for the house and the 2020 presidential election campaign. There is a significant risk and no reward for pursuing this path.
We can do better. We should do better. We must do better. Not only because the Second Amendment is a Constitutional right just as all the others are, but because the costs of failing to do this right are too high. We must pay attention to the topics that matter to people who live in areas that matter with the political system we have, even if people in safely Democratic areas dislike them. We ignore them at all our peril.