Article published Thursday, December 3, 2015, at National Review.

Mass Shootings and Gun Control

By John R. Lott, Jr.

On Sunday, Hillary Clinton slammed Republicans for not being serious about protecting Americans from terrorism. “How many more Americans need to die before we take action?” Clinton asked in response to Friday’s shooting at a Planned Parenthood clinic in Colorado Springs. She believes that stopping such attacks involves “common-sense steps like comprehensive background checks, closing the loopholes that let guns fall into the wrong hands.” Within minutes of the attack in San Bernardino, Calif., yesterday, Clinton pushed again for more regulations.

Clinton also wants to crack down on terrorism by prohibiting people on the no-fly list from buying guns. “If you are too dangerous to fly in America, you are too dangerous to buy a gun in America.”

Are Republicans really putting Americans in danger by opposing new gun-control laws?

After every mass shooting, Clinton and President Obama have called for “comprehensive” or “universal” background checks, which would apply not only to the purchase of guns from a dealer but also to private transfers of guns. However, it wouldn’t have stopped any of the mass shootings during Obama’s tenure. Last weekend, Clinton, Obama, and other Democrats issued their calls for new legislation before anyone even knew how the Colorado shooter had obtained his rifle.

Colorado had already expanded background checks two years ago. So had Oregon before the Umpqua Community College shooting in October. France also has a background-check system. So too does California, which experienced yesterday’s attack. Yet, while the existing laws didn’t stop shootings of the very kind Clinton claims that they will stop, she uses these failures to justify imposing similar laws on the rest of the country.

The American background-check system is supposed to prevent the purchase of a gun by anyone who has been convicted of a felony or certain misdemeanors. The Feinstein amendment would also ban the sale of guns to anyone who is on the terrorist watch list. Now, being on the watch list sure sounds bad, but it doesn’t mean that a person has been convicted of anything. In fact, it is pretty easy to get on the watch list; you can be on it simply because the FBI wants to interview you about someone you might know. According to the TechDirt website, about 40 percent of the people on the watch list are considered to be under “reasonable suspicion” even though they have absolutely “no affiliation with known terrorist groups.”

The number of people on the list has grown dramatically during the Obama administration; by 2013, there were about 700,000 people on the list. As of 2014, about 50,000 people were on the no-fly list. This is a ten-fold increase since Obama became president.

Between February 2004 and December 2014, over 2,000 people on the watch list bought one or more guns. The government has not identified a single one of these people as using a gun in a crime.

• Lott is the president of the Crime Prevention Research Center and the author of "More Guns, Less Crime" (University of Chicago Press, 2010).

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