The Problem With Universal Background Checks – Part 1

A couple of years ago I had one of my occasional “moments of unusual interest” with some local police officers who were still unaware (7 years after ‘shall-issue’ passed for the first time) that Minnesota’s is a “carry” law, not a “concealed” carry law state. During the interrogation which followed, one of the officers asked me if I was a member of the N.R.A.? “No” I replied, “they are too wishy-washy on the subject of gun civil rights for my taste.” The officer chuckled in appreciation of my humor, never realizing that I wasn’t joking. I fully agree with L. Neil Smith’s that . . .

“The freedom to own and carry the weapon of your choice is a natural, fundamental, and inalienable human, individual, civil and Constitutional right — subject neither to the democratic process nor to arguments grounded in social utility” and David Codrea’s “If a person can’t be trusted with a firearm then they can’t be trusted without a custodian.”

Thus you can imagine my lack of surprise at Wayne LaP’s Congressional testimony and answers in the Q&A session. I have to say I was disgusted rather than disappointed in his performance because he provided exactly the sort of mealy-mouthed namby-pamby platitudes that made me a lifetime member of Gun Owners of America.

Wayne, bubelah, the thing to do with unconstitutional gun laws is not to “enforce” them, it,s to get rid of them. Although, realistically, that’s not going to happen with background checks any time soon. So right now we need to work on letting people know why the private sale “loophole” is justified in order to retain the last tiny bit of freedom which it affords us. My suggestion is multi-pronged, because there are multiple problems with the current system.

First and foremost, we must never accept the antis’ premise that “some people just shouldn’t have guns” because if we do, we will have instantly lost a lot of ground in the argument. After all, if we admit that there are some people who shouldn’t have guns then the obvious conclusion is that we should require checks on all sales. Fortunately, this is an area where we can use the antis’ own hoplophobia and hypocrisy against them. See, back in the mid-1990s there was a concerted — and successful — effort to shut down “kitchen table dealers”. These were dealers who probably sold a couple of dozen guns a year, mostly to

family, friends and co-workers. They had an FFL not because they wanted to compete with local retailers or national big box stores, but because with their FFL they could get wholesale pricing on guns (and sometimes ammo and accessories as well).

The first TMC on my sub had his FFL and it was from him that I bought my first few guns. But the antis didn’t want to afford people the ease and convenience of being able to buy guns from a neighbor or coworker, and the big box retailers happily joined their crusade, happy to cut out some of the competition.

What does all of this have to do with universal background checks? Simple — if the antis hadn’t pushed to get these smaller dealers shut down, then when the NICS system came online in November of 1998 we could have had 280+ thousand dealers ready, willing and able to do checks. So if they were really serous about having more sale go through NICS, the antis would be clamoring for the ATF to lower the cost of an FFL to $5 and work to remove every impediment possible (like shutting a dealer down because a customer answered ‘N’ instead of ‘No’ on a form, or fining a dealer for keeping their 4473s in monthly folders with each month’s forms sorted alphabetically instead of by date of sale) in order to encourage “kitchen table” dealers.

As I stated earlier, my preference would be to get rid of them altogether; if someone is so dangerous that they can’t be trusted with box cutters, um I mean a buck’s worth of gasoline and matches walking the streets with a firearm, then what are they doing walking the streets at all? But as I have conceded, trying to get rid of the checks entirely would cause legions of antis to soil themselves while shrieking that:

The good news is that background checks work. They help keep guns out of the hands of dangerous people. Since 1994, 1.9 million gun purchases by dangerous people have been stopped, said Paul Helmke, President of the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence.

Except that the 1.9 million figure is what most people would call, well, a lie. You can’t even call it an honest mistake, because I personally have sent letters to both Paul Helmke and Dan Gross explaining the problems with their numbers.

The first problem is that according to the FBI, between November 30, 1998 (when NICS first started up) and December 31, 2012 there were 987,578 denials. According to the Bureau of Justice Statistics, between when the Brady Bill was passed and NICS got up and running there were approximately 312,000 denials for a total of 1,299,578. Since there are, like, no records from that period I am going to pass lightly over it and just use the (much more accurate and documented) NICS figures.

Second those are initial denials, and an analysis of 2009 NICS data by Dr. John Lott showed that approximately 94.2% of that year’s 70,010 denials were false positives. So assuming that 2009 was an average year, the NICS system has prevented not 1.9 million prohibited people from buying guns, nor even 987,578, but rather 57,280 (or about 4,067 per year).

Third, as everyone knows, in our judicial system, people are innocent until proven guilty. So just how many people have been proven (or pled) guilty for violations of the Brady Act? I found five reports on the NCJRS website for 2006, ’07, ’08, ’09 and ’10 and totaled up the number of convictions for those years. This amounted to a whopping 209 convictions (and no, that 209 number is not a typo).

According to the figures in Table 1 of the reports, in those five years there were a total of 347,455 denials which gives us a conviction rate of 0.060%. When we apply that across the decade and a half of NICS checks we find that a mammoth 594 “dangerous people” who were kept from getting guns. Over the course of 14 years and one month. Which boils down to a whopping 3.5 people a year.

Seriously? We don’t have anything better we could be doing with those resources?

And speaking of resources, just how much will it cost to make the program universal? Well according to this table, in 2003 there were 8,481,588 NICS checks and in 2012 there were 19,592,303, so over the last 10 years we have had an average annual increase of 5.64% in the number of NICS checks. According to the testimony of James S. Kessler Jr. (a Section Chief of the FBI’s Criminal Justice Information Services Division) before the House of Representatives’ Subcommittee on Crime in 1998, the FBI believed a user fee of $16.00 per call would cover their costs. According to this table we’ve had a total of 36.35% inflation since 1998 so the current rate would be about $21.82. Finally, according to the Brady Campaign, the President and various and sundry government and media mouthpieces, 40% of guns are sold through private sellers.

So what do all those numbers add up to? Assuming a steady increase in NICS checks, next year there will be 8,278,924 private sales which, ignoring further inflation, will cost $180,646,121.68. Less than $200 million? Pfah, that’s less than the .gov’s rounding errors, right?

Or put another way, that’s 3,649 new cops on the streets.

In Part II I’ll address (among other things) the implications of “Universal” checks for criminals, law-abiding gun owners, and law-abiding gun show operators. Stay tuned.