Article published Sunday, October 9, 2016, at Fox News.

Guns, the Second Amendment and what you should hear from Clinton and Trump

By John R. Lott, Jr.

At this Sunday’s town-hall style presidential debate the public is able to vote for their favorite questions. The ABC News and CNN moderators plan on using the 30 questions that receive the most votes.

Largely because of efforts by gun control organizations, the current top two questions are both on gun control.

The first is, “Would you support requiring criminal background checks for all gun sales?” and the second is, "How will you ensure the 2nd amendment is protected?”

By Sunday morning at this writing, those questions had received 73,844 and 64,041 votes, respectively, well ahead of the third-place question on Social Security (40,846 votes).

I've researched guns in America for over 20 years, writing four books and dozens of academic articles on the subject. Here is how I would have answered these two questions.

— “Would you support requiring criminal background checks for all gun sales?”

Everyone wants to keep criminals from getting guns. The problem is that the current background check system is a mess and harms our most vulnerable citizens — primarily disarming law-abiding minorities. Virtually every time that the government stops someone from buying a gun, it is done mistakenly. These are people who are legally eligible to buy a gun, so we're not talking here about preventing guns from falling into the wrong hands.

Hillary Clinton will likely claim, as she has in the past, that background checks have stopped 2.4 million prohibited people from buying a gun. But that is false. She should really say that there were 2.4 million "initial denials." Over 96 percent of "initial denials" are errors that are dropped during just the first two stages of review. More cases are dropped later.

It is one thing to stop a felon from buying a gun. It is quite another thing to stop a law-abiding citizen from buying a gun simply because his name is similar to that of a felon.

That massive error rate occurs for a simple reason: government background checks focus on only on two pieces of information: similar names and birth dates, ignoring social security numbers and addresses. The government looks for phonetically similar names (e.g., “Smith” and “Smythe” are assumed to be the same) and ignores even different middle names.

These mistakes affect certain racial groups more than others. Hispanics are more likely to share names with other Hispanics; the same is true of blacks. Because 30 percent of black males are forbidden from buying guns because of their criminal records, law-abiding African American men more often have their names confused with those of prohibited people.

The problem could be fixed if the federal government simply did what it requires that private companies do when they do criminal background checks on employees — use all the information that the government already has on name, social security number, address, and birthdate.

Background checks on private transfers have another problem: they make gun buyers and sellers pay for the costs of conducting them. This includes state fees and the costs of paying federally licensed dealers to perform the checks.

In Washington and New York City, the total cost is at least $125. In Washington State and Oregon, it is about $60 and $50, respectively.

These costs can present a very real obstacle to poor people living in high-crime, urban areas. The most likely victims of violent crimes are usually least able to afford these costs. Again, law-abiding individuals are the ones being harmed — it isn’t like gang members are going to pay these fees.

Democrats claim that requiring free voter IDs imposes too much on poor minorities who want to vote. But they see no irony in requiring so much more of those who purchase guns.

Yet, gun control advocates really believe that background checks reduce crime. If everyone benefits, why not pay for the background checks out of general revenue?

But the Democrats keep showing their true colors. When Colorado passed its private transfer background checks in 2013, Republicans proposed an amendment to exempt people below the poverty level from having to pay the new state tax on transfers. All but two Democrats in the state house voted against the amendment. Don't Democrats normally believe in tax exemptions for people below the poverty line?

On Friday, WikiLeaks revealed that Clinton is planning on using executive orders to implement these background on private transfers. Even President Obama didn’t think that he had the power to mandate these regulations. And Clinton's actions will not fix any of the problems that exist with the current system.

— "How will you ensure the Second Amendment is protected?”

This question is poorly worded, and Hillary Clinton will evade it. She will claim that she supports the 2nd Amendment and is merely seeking reasonable regulations.

A much better question is: Would you appoint judges to overturn the 2008 Heller decision so that guns can be banned? This is the real risk that the 2nd Amendment faces from the U.S. Supreme Court.

The 2008 Heller decision struck down Washington, D.C.’s ban on guns. Getting that decision overturned, as Hillary Clinton has promised to do, would again give the government the power to ban guns. Some places such as Washington would immediately ban guns again. California, under the banner of “safety” regulations, would also soon be banning handguns. And people shouldn’t say they didn't see it coming in California. Since 2001, the state has banned over 1,200 types of handguns while introducing only one new model to market.

The War on Guns is real. If Hillary wins in November, I predict that guns will be banned in some parts of the U.S.

Clinton will also likely impose highly questionable executive orders with regard to background checks and gunmaker liability.

Many of the poorest, law-abiding Americans will find guns to be too expensive for them.

Clinton’s claim that she isn't “looking to take people's guns away” is not consistent with her promise to overturn existing Supreme Court decisions.

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Appalachian law school attack

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The Merced Pitchfork Killings and Vin Suprynowicz's quote

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Interview with National Review Online

Lyonette Louis-Jacques's page on Firearms Regulation Worldwide

The End of Myth: An Interview with Dr. John Lott

Cold Comfort, Economist John Lott discusses the benefits of guns--and the hazards of pointing them out.

An interview with John R. Lott, Jr. author of More Guns, Less Crime: Understanding Crime and Gun Control Laws

Some data not found at

Updated Media Analysis of Appalachian Law School Attack

Since the first news search was done additional news stories have been added to Nexis:

There are thus now 218 unique stories, and a total of 294 stories counting duplicates (the stories in yellow were duplicates): Excel file for general overview and specific stories. Explicit mentions of defensive gun use increase from 2 to 3 now.

Journal of Legal Studies paper on spoiled ballots during the 2000 Presidential Election

Data set from USA Today, STATA 7.0 data set

"Do" File for some of the basic regressions from the paper