Selling A Broken Background Check System

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posted on December 13, 2016
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Last Thursday, the anti-gun groups Americans for Responsible Solutions (ARS) and the Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence (LCPGV) released a report—titled “For the Record: NICS and Public Safety”—that they claim is a “new analysis” of the National Instant Criminal Background Check System. 

But what it is, in reality, is just a rehash of the same old tired and misleading claims about gun-buyer background checks, so-called “universal background checks,” and their supposedly profound ability to reduce violent crime. 

In its press release trumpeting the report, ARS repeats several of its misleading statistics and sound bites, including the claim that “federal gun laws [are] weakened by the gun show and internet loopholes ...” … the ARS report released last week magnifies the extent of the carnage by a factor of more than 10.

Not surprisingly, the press release, like the report it promotes, ends with a pitch for so-called “universal” background checks. 

This is an important point. Because although criminalizing private transfers of firearms wouldn’t affect criminals who already ignore every law, it would ultimately database you, and every gun you own, in a central government registry, since—as even the Obama Justice Department has admitted—universal background checks’ “effectiveness depends on ... requiring gun registration.” 

To sell their policy prescriptions, ARS and LCPGV do their best to inflate the numbers of gun crimes committed in the U.S. in the report, which claims, “More than 114,000 Americans are shot every year, 33,000 of them fatally.” 

Tragically, about two-thirds of these fatalities are not homicides, but rather suicides, which, despite the best efforts of public health officials, have proven to be nearly immune to laws governing the availability of firearms, drugs, poisons, or any other instrumentality of ending one’s own life. 

Nonetheless, the ARS report uses the higher 114,000 figure—the number of Americans shot (but not necessarily killed) every year—to claim, “Over one million people have been victims of gun violence in the United States in the past decade.” 

Again, this is a grossly misleading figure. When Americans think of “victims of gun violence,” they think of murder victims—not suicides, not criminals killed while committing crimes, and not people injured in accidental shootings. By including all those groups, the ARS report released last week magnifies the extent of the carnage by a factor of more than 10. 

But that kind of misleading double-dealing is exactly what we’ve come to expect from the anti-gun lobby. 

Indeed, just two weeks ago, the Brady Campaign—formerly Handgun Control Inc.—announced to much fanfare that the so-called Brady law, which established the NICS system, supposedly had blocked 3 million gun sales since 1993. 

The ARS/LCPGV report released last week similarly tries to inflate the effect of that law, claiming that it “helps stop more than 100,000 prohibited purchasers from buying guns from licensed dealers every year.” 

It also claims that, to date, some 745,648 convicted criminals have been barred from purchasing firearms through NICS background checks. But that kind of misleading double-dealing is exactly what we’ve come to expect from the anti-gun lobby.

Now, it’s pretty clear that what they want us to believe here is that millions of criminals are now gunless who otherwise would have been armed, thanks to the Brady law. But that’s baloney. 

Because out of the 3 million—or three-quarters of a million, or whatever number you want to use—criminals who were supposedly blocked from purchasing guns by those background checks, almost none were prosecuted.  

In fact, according to an audit of the NICS system that was released by the Department of Justice in September, out of the 556,496 attempted firearm purchasers who where blocked by NICS background checks—and remember, every false statement on a background check questionnaire is a federal felony—only 254 of them were even considered for prosecution

That’s a whopping 4/100 of 1 percent prosecution rate. Yet the Department of Justice sees nothing wrong with simply letting those criminals go. 

Considering that under the Obama Justice Department, prosecution of federal gun crimes fell by more than a third—and to its lowest level in a decade—maybe we shouldn’t be surprised by this disregard of the laws. But for the anti-gun lobby to trumpet the system as such an unqualified success is a stretch at best. 

Indeed, as The Washington Free Beacon pointed out

“Investigators found that in six background checks they examined, the FBI determined that the person attempting to purchase a firearm was prohibited from doing so but didn’t inform the store processing the purchase for up to seven months. In another 59 cases, investigators say the FBI approved people who should have been denied.” 

In other words, when convicted criminals were caught trying to buy guns, they were simply sent back out to the street, where they, no doubt, were able to steal guns or purchase guns on the black market. 

In many cases, attempted purchasers who failed the background checks were cleared for the purchases anyway.

So when you hear people recite platitudes about so-called “universal” background checks, set them straight with the truth: 

There are plenty of problems with the NICS background check system already without making it “universal.” 

But “universal gun registration” in the name of “universal background checks” is the greatest danger of all—because gun registration means gun confiscation.

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