The False Promise of Background Checks

The False Promise of Background Checks

By Jeff Knox

(September 25, 2014)

The idea of background checks for firearm purchases seems to sound sensible, but the reality is much different from the appearance.  In truth, expecting firearm background checks to stop criminals is like trying to catch a few particular salmon during spawning season by placing a rock in the middle of the stream and watching for the specific fish to jump over the rock. 

specious:  adjective:

superficially plausible, but actually wrong.

“a specious argument”

misleading in appearance, especially misleadingly attractive.

There are more than 15 million NICS background checks processed every year, totaling over 180 million checks since the program’s inception in 1998.  Between 98% and 99% of those checks were on regular, unrestricted people – most of whom already own at least one firearm. Of the few prohibited persons stopped from purchasing a firearm, the vast majority either weren’t aware of their prohibited status or thought their rights had been restored; they had no criminal intent.  In 2010, which is typical of recent years, only about 60 individuals – out of 15 million – were considered worthy of prosecution, and only 13 people – out of 15 million – were actually convicted of illegally trying to purchase a firearm.  Not a very impressive return from a program that infringes on an enumerated constitutional right – that “shall not be infringed” – and has cost taxpayers an estimated $2 billion dollars so far.


Now the same people who brought us this incredibly inefficient and wasteful system want to expand it to include private transfers between individuals.  Again, the idea seems, on the surface, logical and reasonable.  But again, it is specious, just another rock in the stream.  The arguments in favor of so-called “universal background checks” are, in part, an acknowledgement that the present system can’t work; there are just too many easy alternatives for a determined criminal.  One more obstacle will make no difference.  Criminals get guns by stealing them, buying them on the black market, or by convincing a girlfriend, family member, or paid associate to purchase them.

While the idea of “universal background checks” seems reasonable, it is a fantasy that cannot work.  The only real effect of the proposals would be to increase the cost of firearms, some by as much as 30% to 40%, encumber the law-abiding with additional regulations, and generate a paper trail that could be – and historically has been in places like California, New York, and New Jersey – later used for registration and confiscation.  It would also provide a mechanism for making all firearm transfers illegal.  Even a recent special commission set up by the President concluded that expanding background checks would be ineffective unless there was also universal registration of all guns and gun owners.

So why are advocates like billionaire, Mike Bloomberg, pushing so hard for something that they know will not produce the results they say they are after?

The answer is that anti-rights advocates have a proven, incremental approach to achieving their true goals.  They push for whatever legislation they can get, then when it proves ineffective, they point to the law’s failure as proof that their next solution is desperately needed.

Up until 1968, anyone could buy a gun just about anywhere.  Hardware stores, gas stations, and general stores all sold guns, and guns could be purchased through the mail from catalogs or ads in the backs of magazines.  That changed with passage of the Gun Control Act of 1968, but for the next 30 years crime continued to rise.  The law failed to do what its backers promised, but that failure was touted as proof that stricter measures were needed and we got the Brady Background Check Law, the Lautenberg Amendment expanding the “prohibited person” list to include certain types of misdemeanors, and the Clinton “Assault Weapons” Ban.  None of those “desperately needed” measures accomplished their stated goals, and each time, that failure was pointed to as proof that more laws were needed.

Gun control laws simply don’t work.  That’s a historical fact.  They impact the law-abiding, and often harm the innocent – like Shaneen Allen.  Criminalizing private transfers – which is what “universal background checks” really do – will not reduce crime or save lives.  It is just a reasonable-sounding proposal to increase the cost and inconvenience of exercising a constitutional right.  Ask any proponent of these laws what they will do if the law is passed.  If they are honest they will go into a litany of other laws and regulations they want to see enacted culminating in the total prohibition of firearms in private hands. 

Anti-rights zealots are never satisfied.  Each reasonable-sounding proposal is just another incremental step toward the next, more restrictive proposal, and each failure of their laws to accomplish their stated goals is their excuse for the next restrictive, unworkable scheme. 

Gun laws are not about public safety or crime reduction or even gun control.  They’re about government control over citizens.

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