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Universal Background Checks: Shouldn’t We Review the Statistics?

At least 13 states have enacted them, with no effect on murder rate.

by
Clayton E. Cramer

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May 20, 2013 - 12:50 am
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From all the discussion of requiring universal firearms background checks, you might assume that this is an entirely untried idea in the United States. Not at all: there are at least thirteen states that have had, for some years, some sort of mandatory background check for firearms transfers.

Six states require them for all private party transfers of firearms: California, Hawaii, Illinois, Maryland, New Jersey, and Rhode Island. Six more states have, for many years, required them for all handgun transfers: Iowa, Michigan, Nebraska, New York, North Carolina, and Pennsylvania. At least one state, Missouri, used to have such a requirement for private party handgun transfers, but repealed it in 1997.

One of the wonderful aspects of America’s experiment with federalism is that it gives us fifty laboratories, where each state can experiment with different ways of solving social problems and see what works. What troubles me about the current headlong rush towards a national universal background check requirement is how little attention we have paid to the thirteen states that have already performed the experiment.

I have recently finished a detailed paper using interrupted time series analysis of the relationship between background check laws and murder rate. This article is something of an advance warning — and yes, was conducted because a vote was coming up in Congress (and which, who knows, may come up again).

What startles from my paper’s findings is how ineffective those laws have been at what should be the most important measure: murder rate.

Of the twelve states that still have these private party background check laws, four adopted them before 1960, so the relatively consistent murder rate data from the FBI’s Uniform Crime Reports program can’t be used to test the hypothesis. Of the remaining eight, changes in murder rates are only statistically significant (at the 95% confidence interval) for five: three had an increase in murder rates after adopting mandatory background checks, two had a decrease in murder rates.

Of the three that were statistically insignificant, two states had increases in murder rates, and one had a decrease.

Interrupted time series analysis, like most bivariate correlation analysis techniques (comparing changes in two variables to see if there is perhaps a relationship), is necessarily a crude tool. I would not put enormous confidence in the results for any one state. But when nine different states, in many different years, in different regions, show a neutral to perhaps slightly negative impact on murder rates, it suggests that background check laws are either completely or at least largely irrelevant to the problem of murder.

Here’s a harsh truth: people that commit murder are not ordinary Americans, and do not obey laws. As the director of the National Institute of Justice recently observed in a leaked memo to the White House, a 2000 study found that 26% of criminal guns were stolen (often from retail stores or in transit), and 8% were the result of retail diversion by corrupt dealers. None of these criminal transactions will be affected by a background check law.

In addition, 47% of criminal guns were obtained through straw purchasers. This is already a crime, for which you can get a five-year prison sentence. But as police chiefs and U.S. attorneys admitted to the Senate Judiciary Committee a few weeks ago, they don’t have time to prosecute these straw purchasers right now. Will they have more time to prosecute people who neglect or intentionally skip the background check requirement?

Of course, the roughly one-third of murders that do not involve guns will not be affected at all.

Comments are closed.

Top Rated Comments   
Why do people keep assuming this about crime?
Gun control is not about crime, or the BATFE would be fighting pitched battles in the Chicago street to take guns away from gangbangers.
Gun control is about control of the law-abiding sheeple so that the state and Federal government can keep sheering them in ever more outrageous fashions.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
Background checks are just another method of Big Government to attempt to intimidate the Citizen.
It will not change anything of substance and will cost huge amounts of money to collect and maintain. The people doing this job will be more bureaucrats on the government payroll, which means more taxes to pay and more retirement to provide...... Hmmm, do you think this is really the game? The Alinsky method is to overwhelm the government and the taxpayer and destroy the system...... Think about it.....
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
You just don't understand. In the lefties' world, it's good intentions that matter, not results. How many people die each year because of the federal mandatory fuel economy standards that put Americans in lighter, more dangerous vehicles? How many people are dead world wide because of the ban on DDT? The liberals don't care because these programs were promoted by those who wanted to do good, not mean conservatives.

The same is true with gun control. They don't care if "assault weapons" bans or mandatory background checks save or cost lives. People who feel sad about the Aurora and Newtown shootings want these programs, and those hard hearted conservatives oppose them - so they should be adopted whether or not they actually accomplish anything worthwhile.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
All Comments   (34)
All Comments   (34)
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There is another statistical pitfall in analyzing murder rates over time: changes in victim survival over time, as a consequence of vastly improved trauma care since 1960. This effect is of such magnitude, that if present day victims of criminal violence were treated with 1960s level trauma care, their death rate would be about 4 times higher than it is. In other words, a murder rate of 5 per 100,000 in 2013 equates (roughly) to a murder rate of 20 per 100,000 in 1960 – the same injury in 1960 was 4 times as likely to result in death.

Aggravated assault is a better measure of civil violence, since its definition is solely related, and measured by, the behavior of the aggressor, rather than by the degree of injury to the victim. Violent behavior does not always result in death.

Another way to look at this effect: If the murder rate in 2013 is the same as the murder rate in 1960, the rate of violence now is 4 times as high as it was in 1960.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
That's because leftist ideology lives in the ideas it creates. They would NEVER think of adding reality to the mix. Too telling.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
its 1775 all over again. King George Three ordered the colonists disarmed, and put Gage on it. Four powder raids later was Lexington and COncord.. the Colonials drew that line in the sand.. we will NOT be disarmed. They weren't, and a nation was born which was based upon the premise that individuals, acting according to their own consciences and values, would govern themselves without help from the ruling elites living in a distant world. Nothing has changed.. this gun control nonsense is stirrd up by phoney events, designed to create a fear in the common man who is utterly dependent upon the ruling elites who live in a world separate from the peons.

NOT ONE of the new laws proposed or passed at any level of government would have stopped any of the mass shootings since 1950. The ONLY thing that stops a bad guy with a gun is a good guy with a gun... proven over a million times a year. And in the vasst majority of those cases a shot is never fired. Read about a 22 year old licensed handgun owner who stopped the Clackamas Town Centre shooting... without firing his own gun. Nick Mieli, Melli, something like that. Didja read THAT in the mainstream "news"? No, I thought not.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
At the risk of being repetative, let me state the over-riding falacy in the Universal Background Check idea and Gun laws in general. Law abiding citizens obery the law. They will submit to background checks and ever more restrictive laws. After all, they are "law abiding". Criminals, by definition do not obey the laws. You can add another ten laws to the ones on the books currently, and they will disregard them along with the ones they are already disregarding. This leaves the law abiding disarmed and defenseless and the criminals armed and dangerous. This is not rocket science. Its not a difficult concept to grasp, unless of course you are blinded by an agenda.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
Stop It. Just Stop It. Wake up and smell the coffee. Stop trying to play by the Left's rules. We all know that Congress is a fact-free zone. The Left has an agenda: disarm America. Eliminate all potential resistance. It doesn't matter if we have all the facts on our side because the facts don't matter to the Left. All that matters to the Left is gaining more power.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
People should demand universal background checks to show they care about the children killed by the recent Oklahoma tornadoes. A mandatory background check for all firearms purchases would be no less effective in preventing tornado deaths, as compared with the recent mass shootings.

When will Americans finally say they've had enough?
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
Background checks are to fighting crime as cats are to the Iditarod dog sled race.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
Background checks are just another method of Big Government to attempt to intimidate the Citizen.
It will not change anything of substance and will cost huge amounts of money to collect and maintain. The people doing this job will be more bureaucrats on the government payroll, which means more taxes to pay and more retirement to provide...... Hmmm, do you think this is really the game? The Alinsky method is to overwhelm the government and the taxpayer and destroy the system...... Think about it.....
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
Here's the harsh truth, normal Americans obey a law when it's expedient to do so. If there's a low probability of a law being enforced, American's won't obey that law; for example, the current president's selective observance of the laws, the twenty million illegal aliens and future Americans currently in the country. Having dealt with a lot of killers and excluding the psychotic and drug crazed, I was always struck by their banal normality, whether it was the crime of passion or a See's Candy store robbery gone bad.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
When liberals are shocked and horrified by the guns loose in America, be even more shocked and horrified that we allow the mentally ill to roam our streets.

A random mentally ill person is far, far more likely to take a life than a random gun.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
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