According to a (widely debunked) Harvard University study that was widely touted by The Trace, 40% of firearms transactions in the United States happened without a background check. The real number is actually more like 20%. Still, the state of Washington implemented a new law last year designed to close the so-called gun show loophole which allowed citizens within the same state to transfer a firearm between themselves without going through the NICS system.
The FBI has just released a report showing that private party transfers in Washington following the new law accounted for only 2% of the total background checks.
From Only :
Only 2% of background checks in Washington in 2015 stemmed from “private party” sales of guns, according to data in the FBI’s National Instant Criminal Background Check – or NICS – system.
That number is surprising to researchers Philip Cook of Duke and Jens Ludwig of the University of Chicago, who study gun violence.
They say that their own research – and studies by others – have shown that up to 40% of gun sales nationwide are between private citizens. They’re skeptical that the 2% reported to the FBI is an accurate picture of the private gun market in Washington state.
“I suspect…there are a lot of unreported private-market sales going on,” Ludwig said in an email to KING 5.
There are a couple possible explanations for the discrepancy between the expected number (even at 20%) of private party transactions and what the FBI is reporting…and none of them are very good news for gun control activists.
Option #1: the law simply doesn’t work. Many gun owners seem to be open to the idea of background checks for all gun sales, but the system only works if it’s convenient to use for everyone involved. Forcing gun owners and buyers to go to a gun store, wait for the clerk, pay a fee (frequently as high as $50), fill out paperwork, and only then be able to transfer the firearm is a laborious process that does more to deter compliance.
All that inconvenient only results in people ignoring it, as one Washington resident admitted.
Jonathan says he’s bought or sold several guns since the law went into effect.
“As far as following the law, roughly 50% of those (sales) I followed the law,” Jonathan said.
Background check laws can work, but only if they are designed in a way to enable and empower gun owners to participate in the process instead of trying to punish gun owners and make the process complicated and annoying (like it is now). Even so, from the worst offender that the article could dredge up, it still prompted them to get background checks for at least 50% of the transactions.
Option #2: the documentation is incorrect. The system is new, and gun stores may not be filling out the paperwork correctly. From the article:
Firearms dealer Kelly Bachand, who owns Kelly’s Gun Sales in Tukwila, say the low number may also be attributed to firearms dealers incorrectly filling out federal paperwork.
“It’s not very obvious or easy to find the information as far as how it should be filled out,” said Bachand.
Reporting issues can wreak havoc on any meaningful analysis — garbage in, garbage out as they say. But even then it’s hard to believe that 95% of gun store transactions are incorrectly recorded. Gun store owners, by necessity, are rather good at paperwork.
Option #3 is one that isn’t even considered by the article in question: maybe the original studies were garbage to begin with. Maybe the actual number of firearm transactions without a background check in the United States is actually far lower than even the 20% number.
As we pointed out when the 40% number first gained traction, that figure seems to be based on a 20+-year-old phone survey of a whopping 251 people. That hits all of the usual alarm bells for a bogus survey with complete garbage results. But since that number sounds good and fits with the gun grabbers’ narrative it gets get a confirmation bias pass. Even the Washington Post gave the 40% figure two Pinocchios when they reviewed it when President Obama made the claim.
Despite all the debunking, the 40% figure continues to reign supreme in the minds of the Civilian Disarmament Industrial Complex. Just as in the Acc Mag article. No doubt reports of the disparity between the bogus 40% number and the new FBI stats will lead to a crackdown on illegal gun sales in Washington and calls to strengthen the law with enforcement and punishment provisions. Something which will probably have an even more chilling effect on the use of the process and lead gun owners going further underground.
If the law is to remain on the books, the proper response is to work with gun owners to develop a system that works and is easier to use. But don’t hold your breath. The point of the law was never to increase the number of background checks — it was to increase the difficulty and risk involved with buying a firearm so that fewer of them change hands. Same as it ever was.