Article published Thursday, October 13, 2016, at Las Vegas Review-Journal.

The gun question

By John R. Lott, Jr.

Let’s say a stalker is threatening a female friend of yours. She asks you if she can borrow your handgun. She is trained and has no criminal record. Should you loan her your gun?

If you live in Nevada, doing so may soon land you in jail.

And forget about Boy Scout shooting trips, on which adults lend troops shotguns and rifles so that the scouts can earn their firearm merit badges. Stick with this annual ritual, and those adult leaders may soon find themselves facing criminal charges.

Those are just a couple of the hidden consequences if Nevada voters pass Question 1.

Everyone wants to keep criminals from getting guns. But the current background check system is a mess. It primarily disarms our most vulnerable citizens, particularly law-abiding minorities.

Gun-control advocates claim that nationwide background checks have stopped 2.4 million prohibited people from buying a gun. But what they should really say is that there were 2.4 million “initial denials.” And more than 96 percent of “initial denials” are errors that are dropped during just the first two stages of review. More cases are dropped later.

That massive error rate occurs because government background checks focus on only two pieces of information: names and birth dates, ignoring Social Security numbers and addresses. The government looks for phonetically similar names and even ignores 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 due to their criminal records, law-abiding African-American men more often have their names confused with those of prohibited people.

The problem could be easily fixed if the government simply did what it requires of private companies. When businesses perform criminal background checks on employees, they have to use all of the information that is already available to the government: 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. In Washington, D.C., 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 law-abiding victims of violent crimes are usually least able to afford these costs. It isn’t like gang members are going to pay these fees.

Democrats claim that requiring free voter IDs burdens poor minorities who want to vote. But they see no irony in requiring IDs (not free ones) and much more for those who purchase guns.

When Colorado passed its private transfer background check law in 2013, Republicans proposed an amendment to exempt people below the poverty line from having to pay the new tax on transfers. In the state house, all but two Democrats voted against the amendment. Don’t Democrats normally believe in tax exemptions for people below the poverty line?

As I show in my new book, “The War on Guns,” states with these background checks experienced a post-2000 increase of 15 percent in per capita rates of mass public shooting fatalities. They also saw a 38 percent increase in the rate of injury. Nor is there evidence that expanded background checks reduce rates of any type of violent crime. Other academic research by economists and criminologists consistently confirms this.

Michael Bloomberg’s Everytown for Gun Safety — the source of glowing praise for these laws — never actually examined how crime rates change before and after the laws are adopted.

The poorly written and confusing initiative is going to turn a lot of well-intentioned Nevadans into criminals. Furthermore, the fees and regulations attached to the initiative will make it more difficult for law-abiding citizens to obtain guns for self-protection.

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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