Freedomnomics

Article published Monday, October 24, 2016, at New York Daily News.

Feds can fight gun crime by fixing flaws in universal background checks

By John R. Lott, Jr.

Just in time for the election, the New York attorney general has released a new statewide study showing that many crime guns originated from other states. Attorney General Eric Schneiderman's office describes the report as containing "an unprecedented amount of information about traced guns." He is using it to push for stronger federal gun control laws, in particular background checks on private gun transfers also known as "universal" background checks.

But the laws being pushed will not stop gun crimes in New York or elsewhere. They will just make guns more expensive.

It is not easy to stop criminals from getting guns. Indeed, just look at how difficult it has been to stop people from getting illegal drugs. Guns are just as easy to smuggle as drugs are.

The issues of drugs and guns are intertwined, since gangs arm themselves in order to protect turf and valuable merchandise. Obviously, gangs can't go to the police to settle disputes with rival gangs. Even if we could magically make all guns and illegal drugs in this country disappear, they would immediately come flowing back into the country.

Gang violence is an incredibly serious problem. The Obama administration estimates that gangs are responsible for as much as 80% of crime in the U.S. But banning guns or just handguns doesn't work. Every country in the world for which we have crime data has seen an increase in murder rates following the passage of gun bans.

Guns crossing state borders is no more a result of other states having lax gun control laws than New Yorkers owning cars that were purchased in other states.

But Hillary Clinton has promised to solve the problem with further dictatorial, executive orders. But she could get Congress to pass background checks on private sales, if only she would address a few simple and reasonable changes.

What never gets mentioned is that these gun control laws lead to expensive fees and can disarm our most vulnerable citizens poor minorities who live in high crime urban areas.

Clinton's website claims that 2.4 million prohibited or dangerous people have been stopped from buying a gun because of background checks. In fact, there have been 2.4 million "initial denials" about 99% of which turned out to be mistakes.

Unlike private companies that do criminal background checks on employees, the government only uses names (not even bothering to check whether the middle names are different) and a person's birthdate. Even though gun buyers provide their Social Security numbers and addresses, the background check system does not use this information to identify people. Private companies are again held to a different standard, being required to use this additional information when conducting criminal background checks.

People of certain ethnic or national backgrounds are often relatively likely to share similar names. Hispanics have names similar to other Hispanics. Blacks tend to have names similar to other blacks. Thirty percent of black males are legally prohibited from owning a gun because of criminal records, and their names are more likely to be confused with those of law-abiding black males.

Worse, the Obama administration has reassigned people who previously checked for mistaken denials. Law-abiding Americans who don't want to wait for the byzantine system would have to hire a lawyer for thousands of dollars. This is beyond the means of most Americans, especially for poor inner-city minorities.

The fees for universal background checks range from $55 in Oregon to $125 in New York City. These costs are born by law-abiding citizens. It isn't as though gang members are going to pay these costs.

Democrats argue that free voter IDs unfairly burden poor people, yet they seem okay with making guns unaffordable.

If background checks are for everyone's benefit, then they should be paid for out of general revenue. But what's the point of paying for a background check system that doesn't even work? Most importantly, we have to make the government abide by the same rules that private companies do when performing background checks.

I have suggested these simple fixes for 15 years, but gun control advocates have refused to consider them. When Colorado Republicans proposed to exempt people below the poverty level from the new, 2013 state tax on private transfers, all but two Democrats voted against the exemption.

If Democrats really believe that universal background checks are so important, making these simple changes will eliminate the opposition. If they don't want to make the changes, it shows that the real purpose of the law is to reduce gun ownership or to blame Republicans for obstructionism, not to stop crime.

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