Do ‘Universal Background Checks’ Really Work? Research ‘Mixed’

Millions of law-abiding citizens submit to background checks, as intimated by the president's comment to reporters. (Dave Workman)
Do ‘universal background checks' really work to reduce gun-related crime? (Dave Workman)

U.S.A.-(AmmoLand.com)- A recent report by American University Radio (WAMU) in Washington, D.C. probably isn’t what the gun prohibition lobby wanted to see because it feeds a healthy skepticism that a cornerstone of the gun control agenda might be all wet.

Right upfront in the first paragraph, writer Lisa Dunn says this: “While polls show widespread support for universal background checks, there is mixed evidence that requiring UBCs for all gun sales would prevent or reduce gun violence.”

It’s a cinch the mandate didn’t work in Washington State. A “universal background check” initiative, adopted by voters in 2014 after anti-gun wealthy elitists bankrolled a $10.2 million campaign—against which Second Amendment advocates could only raise about $2 million, which was split on two efforts, one in direct opposition to Initiative 594 and the other offering an alternative, Initiative 591—did not prevent a high-profile triple slaying at a teen party in July 2016. Nor did it prevent another deadly incident about two months later in which five people were murdered.

The infamous Mukilteo shooting was committed by 19-year-old Allen Christopher Ivanov on July 30. He legally-purchased a Ruger semi-auto rifle, passing a background check (he had no criminal record) a week before the crime.

The second case was the Cascade Mall shooting on Sept. 23, committed by Arcan Cetin, age 20. He didn’t bother with a background check, instead taking a .22-caliber semi-auto rifle from his stepfather’s home. He had a record, according to a Wikipedia account, that included charges of assault in the fourth degree, and he had undergone court-ordered mental health counseling earlier that year. So much for background checks keeping guns out of the wrong hands. Cetin hanged himself in April 2017 in jail.

Why do people support “universal background checks?” The notion sounds good, and the sales pitch—reducing violent crime—appeals to people.

The survey alluded to by the WAMU story was a 2017 effort by Quinnipiac University. It revealed “American voters support stricter gun laws 66 – 31 percent, the highest level of support ever measured by the independent Quinnipiac University National Poll, with 50 – 44 percent support among gun owners and 62 – 35 percent support from white voters with no college degree and 58 – 38 percent support among white men.”

The WAMU report looked at California, where “comprehensive” background checks have been the law for a decade.

“Researchers at UC Davis School of Medicine have studied gun violence in CA during that period and found there was no change in the number of gun homicides or gun suicides,.” WAMU’s story acknowledged. “And another study by the same authors found that the repeal of comprehensive background check laws in Tennessee and Indiana had no effect on gun homicides or suicide rates in either state.”

According to the FBI Uniform Crime Reports from 2014 through 2018 shows homicide numbers haven’t varied much, In 2014, the FBI report said 1,169 people were murdered with firearms. The next year’s report put the number of gun-related killings at 1,275 and in 2016, the body count climbed to 1,368, the final year of Barack Obama’s presidency.

In 2017, the Golden State reported 1,274 firearms homicides and in 2018, the most recent year for which data is available, California reported 1,177 gun-related slayings.

Yet, gun control advocates adhere to “universal background checks” as something akin to scripture, without conclusive evidence to support their position.

One look at the City of Chicago provides ample evidence that background check requirements, and other Illinois gun control laws, haven’t curbed the violence one bit. There have been more than 340 homicides so far this year in the Windy City, including more than a dozen over the Fourth of July weekend. At this pace, Chicago will likely log more homicides this year than last. By the end of June 2019, there had been 236 slayings, so the city is already ahead of last year at this time by more than 100 killings, and the hottest summer months are just now beginning. July, August and September traditionally see more murders.

Meanwhile, critics say background checks are a form of de facto gun registration because federally licensed firearms dealers are required to keep records of each gun transfer.

As noted in the Conservative Firing Line, the FBI reported the National Instant Background Check System (NICS) set a new record for the number of checks initiated in June. There has been a spike in gun buying since the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic panic, which went up even more sharply as cities across the country erupted in violent protests following the killing of George Floyd while being restrained by Minneapolis police officers. There’s nothing like civil unrest and uncertainty about the future to spur gun sales.

Of the more than 3.9 million background checks conducted last month, more than 2.1 million were related to actual gun sales, according to “adjusted” data from the National Shooting Sports Foundation. According to the NSSF, there were 2,177,586 checks related to gun sales last month.

All of this said, it is time to do some math. In recent years, the number of gun-related homicides has hovered below 15,000 and in some years fewer than 10,000-12,000. Compared to the number of privately-owned firearms in this country, estimated to be more than 300 million, that amounts to a fraction of a fraction of all the guns owned by American citizens ever involved in a murder.

Add to that the number of reported firearm injuries and the number is still tiny. As reported by The Trace, “an independent, nonpartisan, nonprofit newsroom dedicated to shining a light on America’s gun violence crisis”—translation, it isn’t friendly to gun rights—firearms are used in “nearly 500,000 crimes” annually. This includes murders and injuries.

Back in January, The Trace reported 15,292 people were fatally shot in 2019, according to data from the Gun Violence Archive. There were more than 29,600 non-fatal firearm injuries as well, the report stated. That was up 5 percent over 2018.

Background checks are popular, but the data remains inconclusive as to whether they actually have resulted in prevention of violent crime. They have reportedly stopped a lot of people from initially purchasing firearms, but in terms of reducing actual murders and non-fatal injuries, they don’t appear to be accomplishing anything.



About Dave WorkmanDave Workman

Dave Workman is a senior editor at TheGunMag.com and Liberty Park Press, author of multiple books on the Right to Keep & Bear Arms and formerly an NRA-certified firearms instructor.

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Green Mtn. Boy
Green Mtn. Boy
4 months ago

It matters not whether they work or not as all gun control is un Constitutional,’Shall Not Be Infringed”

a.x. perez
a.x. perez
4 months ago

You are slightly more likely to be murdered with a firearm than to be a left handed, green eyed person with an IQ 140 or over. Some years, other years it’s the other way around. We do not register green eyed left handed geniuses even though we are soul sucking monster plotting to take over the world according to some. Actually, we don’t really consume people’s souls. If you can trust genetic monsters to run around unregistered you don’t need to register guns.

uncle dudley
uncle dudley
4 months ago

There was a time in the U.S. that if you broke the law and was sent to prison you did your time and paid your debt to society you were allowed to start over with all your rights restored. Second chance if you will.
Now if you get a two year sentence for anything and do your time you are branded a felon and lose some of your rights forever even though you paid your debt to society.

Eighty
Eighty
4 months ago

UNIVERSAL background checks will not help. However, I do think the current system, though burdensome in states with a waiting period, do help screen out the felons that cannot legally purchase. Without them, FFLs would have no way to be sure they weren’t selling to one.
I don’t think filling out a form and waiting on a 5 minute call for an instant background check is burdensome.
I do think the 4473 should be destroyed after the background check has been completed; say, one year?

Heed the Call-up
Heed the Call-up
4 months ago
Reply to  Eighty

Until the 1938 FFA, felons were not disbarred their RKBA. Since then, numerous other groups of citizens have been added to the list of those that have had their rights revoked. There is no evidence that disbarring their rights has prevented any crime. It is also quite evident based on crime reports that not being legally “allowed” to obtain, possess, nor use firearms has not prevented felons from illegally obtaining, possessing, and using firearms. There should not be a 4473 to begin with. All it does is record who the original buyer was and what he/she bought. Obviously prohibited persons… Read more »

Eighty
Eighty
4 months ago

Huh. Never thought about it that way. I suppose just because you committed a felon before doesn’t mean you are going to commit another. And what fool felon would even try to obtain a firearm through legal channels!
I wonder how many illegal attempted purchases are prosecuted?
Thanks for the information.
Chapter 44 of Title 18 of the United States Code that was enacted in 1970 also prohibits felons from possession. So there’s that to deal with too.

Gene Ralno
Gene Ralno
4 months ago
Reply to  Eighty

Senator Ted Cruz (R-Texas) and Charles Grassley (R-Iowa) proffered bills that would prosecute fugitives and felons who lie on their gun background check applications. Their latest effort was in May 2019, similar to the bill that failed to pass in 2013.

The General Accounting Office (GAO) in September 2018 found that 112,000 applicants were denied in 2017 and that more than 12,500 cases were referred by the ATF to it’s field offices for further investigation. They found United States Attorneys Offices had prosecuted only 12 cases as of June 2018.

Eighty
Eighty
4 months ago
Reply to  Gene Ralno

Sounds typical. Our government is more interested in creating laws than enforcing the existing ones. A mindset that seems to encompass many areas of law and enforcement.

Gene Ralno
Gene Ralno
4 months ago
Reply to  Eighty

The primary problem is universal background check laws severely punish tens of millions of mourning widows who fail to run background checks on those who were promised their dead husbands’ firearms. Usually, those would be their children. It’s much reminiscent of Canada’s disastrous long gun registry. Besides, I’ve always wondered how the democrats hope to enforce such laws. And it always comes back to the notion of universal registration, a practice already forbidden by the Supreme Court. The worst of this democrat plank is it won’t save lives or reduce crime because lawful citizens are the only ones affected. Another problem for democrats today… Read more »

GUNFUN
GUNFUN
4 months ago
Reply to  Gene Ralno

Its only condemned by SCOTUS at the moment (and maybe not even that)!

Frdmftr
Frdmftr
4 months ago

The fact of the matter is that background checks have never prevented a crime in the history of the illegal, unconstitutional Brady Act, and was never intended to: The Brady Act and the background checks were and remain intended to, first, require a law-abiding citizen to ask government permission to exercise his or her right to keep and bear arms — permission that no level of government has the lawful power to issue or deny. The object is so that some future Democratic (communist) administration can declare the permission revoked. Second, the purpose of the Brady Act and background checks… Read more »

Jonesy
Jonesy
4 months ago

Socialist Democrats have yet to learn that : Doing the same thing expecting different results is a “No Brainer”,

GUNFUN
GUNFUN
4 months ago

They will come up with a reason why what they want to do will turn out differently. Same as with their never-ending belief that socialism works.