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The Federal Government spends a billion dollars a year on federal gun laws. Most of that money is for enforcement, but some of it is to push state and local governments toward infringing on the Second Amendment, too. From FY 2015 Budget Fact Sheets U.S DOJ(pdf):

In 2013, the Administration proposed a range of legislative remedies – along with 23 executive actions – to address mass shootings and reduce gun violence. The Justice Department is working to implement a number of these actions and requests a total of $1.1 billion in FY 2015 to address violent gun crimes, which includes $182.4 million to support the President’s “Now is the Time” initiative.

Of the total $1.1 billion, $1.0 billion in federal law enforcement resources allows the Department to ensure those who are not eligible to purchase or possess guns are prevented from doing so, and $147.0 million is to help state and local governments continue to implement the Administration’s proposals for increasing firearms safety and supporting programs that help keep communities safe from mass casualty violence.

In support of enhancing gun safety, the Department has been working to strengthen the national background check system. For example, in January 2014, the Department proposed a rule to clarify the definition of persons prohibited from receiving, possessing, shipping, or transporting firearms for mental health reasons.

Additionally, the Department is working to strengthen national background checks by addressing gaps in the federal and state records currently available in NICS. Incomplete or insufficient records significantly hinder the ability of NICS to quickly confirm whether a prospective purchaser is prohibited from acquiring a firearm.

In FY 2015, the Department requests a total of $55.0 million in grant funding to further assist states in making more records available in NICS and improving the National Criminal History Improvement Program, and an increase of $13.4 million for the FBI to maintain the substantial improvements made to NICS in FY 2014.

No one is providing a cost:benefit ratio for this money. Most of it is simply wasted. The entire structure of GCA 1968 does little that’s beneficial. There is no indication that it actually stops crime in any measurable amount. It’s as likely to be detrimental as beneficial.

The number of guns per capita in the U.S.A has gone from .45 in 1968 to 1.18 today. Numerous studies have been done. None  show measurable crime reduction as a result of the law. GCA 1968 was passed at the beginning of decades long spurt in violent crime. We have only returned to those long lost levels of civic peace in the last 25 years.

In 1968, the homicide rate was 6.9 per 100,000. It finally dropped to 6.8 per 100,000 in 1999. In the intervening 30 years, it reached a high of 10.2 in 1981, dropped a bit, came back to 9.8 in 1991, then started the long fall to present day rates, which are about the same as in the 1950s and before WWI, both of which times had either none, or nearly no federal gun control compared to today.

The NICS system does nothing measurably useful. There’s no reason to believe that the millions of dollars spent on running the system is even marginally cost effective. Of the few people who are turned away from purchasing guns (about 1.3% were denied in 2014), the vast majority were false positives or not worth any prosecutorial effort.

We have the convictions for 2010. Of about six million checks done on NICS, 76,142 were denied, at least temporarily. Of those denied, 13 were found guilty, 10 plead to a lesser charge, and 12 were pending.

About 30% of those that reached this level were dismissed by the prosecutor, so about 8 of those in process are likely to plead or be found guilty.  That would be 31 convictions for a bit over 6 million instant checks.  One conviction for about 200,000 checks.

A report from on background checks and mental illness illustrates the problem with the using the approach of attempting to prevent sales at the retail level:

Out of 23,292 individuals diagnosed with severe mental illnesses or committed to a mental institution, federal law would have disqualified only 7 percent from purchasing a gun, the study found. The majority of those studied never committed a crime, and most of those who did already had criminal records.

The final report concludes that the laws had a minimal impact on reducing gun violence.

“Background checks to enforce the federal mental health prohibitions — even if they are completely effective — will have a very small impact on overall crime in persons with serious mental illness,” according to the report. “Most of those at risk are unaffected by the law.”

The costs of the NICS program is about 100 million dollars a year. That was estimated for 2014, when there were about 21 million checks done. From

For over a decade, the FBI has been responsible for determining a person’s eligibility to possess a firearm at the point of purchase from a Federal Firearms Licensees.

The number of checks has grown over 200 percent since NICS was implemented in 1998. Since the tragic shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary school on December 14, 2012, and subsequent discussions of potential changes in gun laws, the FBI’s workload has skyrocketed.

Before the shooting, the busiest week in NICS history was the week of December 3-9, 2012, when 527,095 firearms checks were initiated. The week following the shooting, December 17-23, 2012, NICS volumes approached one million transactions and continue to exceed historical peak volume.

In fact, the first six full weeks in 2013 are among the top 10 busiest weeks in NICS history. Because of this increased workload, the FBI has required NICS personnel to cancel all leave, work mandatory overtime shifts, forego other critical tasks, such as appeals and audits, and has shifted personnel from other program areas to provide assistance.

Without a permanent addition to personnel, facility space, and technology improvements, national security and public safety are at risk, as the current FBI staff will be unable to provide timely and accurate determination of a person’s eligibility to possess firearms and/or explosives in accordance with federal law.

Therefore, the FY 2014 budget requests 524 positions and $100 million to increase the ability to process mandated background checks for firearm purchases.

The NICS program is a horrendous waste of money and police resources, precisely because its efforts are focused on the 99.9% of people who are not a problem.

The cost per instant check is about $5. The six million instant checks in 2010 resulted in about 31 convictions, at the cost of about $1 million dollars per conviction, merely for the instant checks. That cost does not count the time wasted by gun store staff, the time spent filling out paperwork, and the time wasted by customers.

One million dollars is enough to put seven full time quality police officers on the street for a year for every conviction. If those officers were dedicated to insuring that dangerous convicted felons who possess guns were sent to prison, many more convictions would result. A retired LEO source tells me that 15-20 convictions a year would be reasonable. At a minimum, that is 100 times as cost effective.

That sort of emphasis was done with Project Exile and similar programs. The results were homicide rate reductions of 20%-50% in high crime areas. If you want to save lives, stop funding ineffective federal gun programs focused on legal gun ownership, and concentrate on putting dangerous prohibited possessors in prison.

For those whose answer to every cost benefit ratio is “We do not have to be limited, we can do both!” you’re wrong. Resources have been and always will be limited. We should always strive for the best cost-to-benefit ratio.

Gun control programs aimed at the peaceful many have always had horrible cost-to-benefit ratios. Chief Constable Colin Greenwood, who first studied the issue at Cambridge in 1972, found the same thing.  Federal gun control laws are ineffective, costly and intrusive. They are based on failed theories and a false understanding of the dynamics involved. The programs should be eliminated.

©2016 by Dean Weingarten: Permission to share is granted when this notice is included.  Gun Watch

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  1. See ‘Fast and Furious’ and ‘Operation Chokepoint’ scandals…

    “Of the total $1.1 billion, $1.0 billion in federal law enforcement resources allows the Department to ensure those who are not eligible to purchase or possess guns are prevented from doing so…”

  2. Dean, you have to understand the physiology-psychological response of the female Progressive when she hears the phrase ‘New Government Program’.

    Give you a hint, it’s indistinguishable from sexual response.

    That’s what you’re fighting against, the most basic of human emotions, right there in the lizard part of the brain…

    • Which is one of the reasons why the 19th amendment was a bad idea. The first thing women did with the franchise was pass prohibition and it’s been going downhill ever since.

        • The 19th amendment made it possible for women to set up a system where they married the state and more or less forced men to provide for them at gun point without fulfilling their own end of the social contract. This results in entire generations of emasculated boys growing to adulthood with no male influence and a complete feminization of society. Historically, the collapse of such a civilization inevitably follows.

          Women vote with their feelings rather than with their brains. It’s a well demonstrated fact. It’s the reason why many of the will vote for a corrupt piece of garbage like Hillary Clinton just because they don’t like the “feels” they get from Donald Trump. Not all women, but enough to make the point.

        • Business wise, I love the whole feminist thing. I can treat them the as there male co-workers. The problem I have currently though is all my female employee’s have ether quit or been fired because they can’t handle the workload of a male. I’m actually the fairest boss I know. I don’t care about gender, race, religion, handicaps, etc. I treat everyone the same and expect everyone to preform the same amount of work as everyone else. Though sometimes hard I’ve learned to leave my emotions out of the workplace. If you’re wondering what is the biggest cause of terminate of female employee’s….it’s tardiness and excessive absences. I’m very understanding if employee’s are single parents, but when they aren’t I give everyone the same speech. If your tardiness is a result of having almost 100% the responsibility of taking care of your children, then your partner is not fulfilling 50% of there part of the bargain. Husbands have no physical impairment that prevents them from driving the children to school, grocery shopping, cooking, parent teacher conferences and the list goes on. I’ve never had a female employee disagree or accuse me of misogyny, because they know I’m 100% correct in what I’m saying. It also helps that I don’t just talk the talk, but walk the walk in taking care of my own children.
          P.S. Men, if you enjoy or want a VERY healthy sex life follow my advice. When you get home from work instead of vegging out do the following. Take charge of watching the kids so you wife has a little time relax, cook dinner every night, help the kids with homework, spend time with them, help get them ready for bed and put to sleep. As my wife tells me… you know by letting me recharge my energy when you get home always gives me a second wind after the kids go to bed and the sexist thing is watching you help them with their homework and/or watching you help build things out of Lego’s with them.

      • @pwrserge, your timeline is a bit off. Prohibition (18th Amendment) was ratified in January, 1919. Women’s suffrage (19th Amendment) was ratified in August, 1920. So Prohibition came first.

        However, it was women that pushed Prohibition through — to save their menfolk!

        • 19th amendment just qualified women’s suffrage nation wide. Most states had been bullied into giving women the right to vote long before.

        • You are correct sort of. Yes 18th amendment come before the 19th amendment……BUT, the 19th amendment is a redundant amendment. IMHO the 19th amendment should have never been added to the constitution since the 15th amendment covered the issue already. Yes the 15th amendment was enacted in 1870 vs the 19th in 1920 (50yr difference) As others have mentioned some area’s followed the Constitution (15A) and some area’s didn’t follow the Constitution. Kinda like how some area’s follow the Constitution’s Second Amendment and other area don’t. So the 19th was added to the Constitution because the government apparently is too stupid understand written once…..They need to see it written twice to be double sure! Which brings me to sad fact we absolutely need a redundant 28th amendment of the 2nd amendment. Some like the following……Every US citizen has the right to OWN anything that can be called a weapon. i.e. Assault Weapons, Weapons of War, and YES even a pair of freaking Bear arms(Yes the Animal) as long as they can be used as a weapon. Also further weapons that haven’t even been thought of or are currently only a fantasy like laser guns, plasma blasters, phasers! This right shall now be infringed! Again this right can not be infringed upon by any government, billionaire activist group, or hollywood actor! Lastly there shall be no tax or burdensome legislation obtaining weapons. Yes that means future generations can’t try to pull some BS like just taxing or something similar in an attempt to get around this Constitutionally protected law!

      • I would point out that, historically speaking, women had the right to vote and basically gave it up.

        In the 1790’s female voting was common. You can look at the original version of New Jersey’s Constitution to see that it specifically says women could vote.

        This all changed in the early 1800’s when, as a mostly agrarian society, it was argued that women voting was giving her husband two votes because her interests were the same as his and they would very often vote the same way.

        The history is a bit complicated but ultimately women voted a lot in the late 1700’s and early 1800’s and then voted overwhelmingly to give up the right. After that the subject became a way to vilify the Constitution and the Founders as misogynists. You can read all about the fascinating and largely unknown history of this topic in Chapter 3 of Vindicating the Founders by Thomas G. West.

  3. So, from the people that accuse armed civilians of wanting to “play cop”. It’s costing us a lot of tax dollars for them to play cop.

  4. I was recently reading about “Project Exile” – enlightening to say the least. A program supported by the NRA to allow more vigorous prosecution of firearms crimes at the federal, not state, level. Dropped violent crime in the cities where it was implemented.

    Opposed by elements of the Congressional Democratic Caucus.

    • I am a *huge* fan of “Project Exile”, the only problem is to implement it effectively will require a massive expansion of the Federal prison system, unless some kind of arrangement can be made with the state prison system.

      I will tell you, however I’m willing to trade prison cells for those with non-violent drug offenders to make room for the “Project Exile” folks.

      The political will for sentencing reform is yet to be seen…

  5. “No one is providing a cost:benefit ratio for this money.”

    For a government program? Bwa, ha, ha, ha, ha, ha, ha, ha, ha, ha!!!

    Has any government agency/program ever conducted a cost:benefit ratio for anything?

    • Yes. They do it all the time, on just about everything. The problem is they are horrible at estimating the actual costs of a program, they completely ignore externalities, and their definition of “benefit” is either completely different from any a rational person would use, and/or there is no actual connection between the “benefit” and the method being used to achieve it.

  6. I am surprised that people still think a billion is a lot of money. One Billion out of 3.5 Trillion is in the round off error.

    • A “billion” IS a lot of money, its just that a Trillion is incomprehensible (and unforgivable). The way a budget even gets to 3.5 Trillion is by thinking a “billion” isnt a lot in the first place.

        • Saw a figure recently that tagged $168,000 for each and every US taxpayer as their share of the national debt.

          The very best you can hope for at this point is to just make the interest payment on that debt, without any paydown of the debt itself.

          As a nation, we have hung ourselves on our national debt…

        • Geoff:

          The debt is manageable with proper and prudent planning. The federal monstrosity (this year) will take in about $1.9 trillion in income taxes, $3.3 trillion in direct revenue, $197.9 billion in ad valorem taxes and another $116.4 billion in other taxes.

          That’s about $5.5 Trillion in revenue and a debt of ~$20 trillion. (Not counting the $1.1 trillion for Social Security, but that’s earmarked already anyway.) If the government would stop being stupid about how it spends that $5.5 trillion the debt could be paid off in a decade or two.

          The real killer is unfunded liabilities, aka “off balance sheet costs”. Combined at the State and federal level, those liabilities total around $200 trillion in the next 20-25 years. That’s unworkable. I won’t bore you with the possibilities of how to deal with such a problem as that would be a pretty long and involved post. Suffice to say however, none of the options are good.

  7. “No one is providing a cost:benefit ratio for this money. Most of it is simply wasted.”

    The same could be said about almost every Federal program since the TVA.

  8. Nice write-up, Mr. Weingarten. If NICS does not produce a significant number of prosecutable denials, does that mean there is some correlation with deterrence to account for the low number of denials? No doubt the expense and inaccuracy of NICS is unjustified, but I do wonder if there is some deterrent effect that causes those who know they cannot pass NICS to avoid Licensed Firearms Dealers and go to the Black Market, which seems very healthy and pervasive as a source for Criminals to obtain firearms. Maybe the money spent on NICS would be better spent to investigate and prosecute Black Market firearms “dealers”?

    Insofar as GCA 1968 is concerned, the evidence seems to indicate it has done nothing to reduce gun-involved crime. I have criticized COTUS many times for not even discussing repealing it, but I think it is too deeply embedded in the Federal Government to realistically expect any repeal or significant loosening of its infringements on our RKBA. I am not sure what consequences, anticipated or unintended, the repeal of GCA 1968 would entail.

    Repealing NFA 1934 is probably also unlikely and I will not speculate what impact it would have because price fluctuations for full automatic weapons, introduction of new full automatic weapons, conversions from semi-automatic to select fire weapons, and other factors seem too complicated to predict (but are fun to think about!).

    Anyway thanks for a good read and making many valid points.

    • Deterrence is hard to measure, but what counts is deterrence from homicides with firearms, not just obtaining them legally. There likely is deterrence from felons shopping at gun stores. But it does not result in criminals committing less violence, which is the important measure.

      Even if criminals were deterred from obtaining guns, it would not matter if there were no effect on the homicide rate. In time series of gun control laws, we do not see any downward effect on the homicide rate, and there are several examples where the homicide rate increases a bit.

      Today, the disarmists have backed off claiming that homicide rates will be lowered, and have started making the claim that *suicide* rates will be lowered.

      • Thank-you for your response. I agree that deterrence would be hard to measure. You are right in saying that what counts is keeping certain persons from obtaining firearms altogether and criminals committing less violence is the better measure.

        Insofar as the claim on the part of the anti-gun crowd that “suicide” rates will be lowered, we have seen solid evidence that indicates suicide is independent of means. I would not give up more of our gun rights based on a speculation as shaky and unfounded as that. One might as well test to see if a household oven mitt would reduce the loss of fingers by igniting a half-stick of dynamite in one’s mitt covered hand. Either proposition is a poor gamble.

  9. Ah the price tag of tyranny.

    So instead of spending 1 billion on firearms education, enforcement and proper staffing to handle current background check criteria, mental health reform and reporting, police coverage and 2A training, LEO / civilian interaction reform, and response time improvement, justice system reform and minimizing frivolous cases, etc. they spend money on gun free zones.


    • Hit the nail on the head! Education, Education, Education! The problem with education though is it would actually work. In fact work so well it would through a huge wrench in the governments and anti-gun elites mission to get rid of the 2A and have a completely disarmed population in which they can do whatever they want to and never fear retribution.

  10. “…and concentrate on putting dangerous prohibited possessors in prison.”

    Nope! Those people are dangerous and might try and shoot those that would try and put them in prison. It’s much safer to focus on all the others, the ones that aren’t dangerous prohibited persons.

  11. It’d be far cheaper and just as if not more effective to replace NICS (and the NFA for that matter) with a database of prohibited persons made available to FFLs. If keeping guns out of the hands of such persons is the actual reason for having those systems, this is a far better method of doing so across the board.

  12. Good old NICS! I’ve never had a problem with the NICS system because every firearm I’ve purchased never went through the system. On my 21st Birthday I didn’t waste my day drinking alcohol like many of my friends….I went to the Court House and spent the day filling out forms and getting finger printed for a Georgia Concealed Weapons Permit. Less then 30 days later I got my permit in the mail and went out to make MY first firearm purchase and received NICS check/wait time, etc. Having a CCW permit in Georgia lets you forgo the NICS check and costs associated. I’ve been saving money ever since. Once my cousin from Long Island, NY was visiting me and my friend/FFL transfer agent called me to let me know the handgun I ordered came in. So we both went to his place of business/home. We chat for a bit and he says oh check this out I just got Sigs new gun, the P320! Me and my cousin check it out and of course my FFL knows what I’m about to say….I’ll take it too. He prints a 4473 with all my info already filled in(Being friends with an FFL is nice). I run down the check boxes and sign while he makes a copy of my DL and CCW, he scans the 4473 and staples the photocopy to it. We chat for a little bit more and then I leave with my two new pistols. My cousin from New York is dumb founded….he can’t believe I don’t have to have a background check, waiting period, permit for the purchase, or something I have to provide or get from the local police department. He later mentioned to me how it’s so easy to forget what freedom looks and feels like when your rights are taken away little by little that you hardly notice.

  13. I believe it’s dishonest to say that the background check system is this ineffective. Surely, the knowledge that their rap sheet puts them on the prohibited list prevents thousands of criminals from going to gun shops each year? If the NICS were taken down, I think you’d see an influx of criminals going to the gun shop that same day.
    That said, they do just get weapons anyway, not caring about the law and all. That’s the honest part of the argument that should be focused on instead.


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