Do Background Checks for Gun Purchases Actually Work?

I really do have some sympathy for those arguing for background checks. There are people who should not have access to a gun: the severely mentally ill, convicted violent criminals, people awaiting trial for very serious crimes. I do not doubt that at least occasionally, background check laws prevent or at least delay such persons from purchasing firearms. (Many years ago, the county where I lived in California had a for-hire murder trial -- involving a crossbow. It appears that the mental midgets who were hired for this job could not figure out how to buy a gun illegally.) But I rather doubt that this level of incompetence is the norm among criminals, who much prefer stealing guns to buying them. (Stolen guns are cheaper, for one thing, and there is no waiting period.)

Before we go down the road to requiring all private sales of firearms to go through a background check -- either imposed nationally or at the state level -- I would like to see some persuasive evidence that such laws actually reduce murder rates.



[1] Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, National Center for Health Statistics. Underlying Cause of Death 1999-2010 on CDC WONDER Online Database, released 2012. Data are from the Multiple Cause of Death Files, 1999-2010, as compiled from data provided by the 57 vital statistics jurisdictions through the Vital Statistics Cooperative Program. Accessed at http://wonder.cdc.gov/ucd-icd10.html on Mar 20, 2013 10:36:49 PM. ICD-10 Codes: Y35.0 (Legal intervention involving firearm discharge).

[2] Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, National Center for Health Statistics. Underlying Cause of Death 1999-2010 on CDC WONDER Online Database, released 2012. Data are from the Multiple Cause of Death Files, 1999-2010, as compiled from data provided by the 57 vital statistics jurisdictions through the Vital Statistics Cooperative Program. Accessed at http://wonder.cdc.gov/ucd-icd10.html on Mar 20, 2013 8:42:25 PM. ICD-10 Codes: X93 (Assault by handgun discharge), X94 (Assault by rifle, shotgun and larger firearm discharge), X95 (Assault by other and unspecified firearm discharge).

[3] For 1999-2007: standard deviation is .524; for 2008-2011: .690. The 95% uncertainty range for 1999-2007 is 5.80 to 6.60; for 2008-2011, 5.73 to 7.92. Formal test of the null hypothesis shows no difference between the two means. Thanks to Professor Bruce McCullough for assistance with the statistical analysis.