Last week I posted a detailed paper on the Social Science Research Network in which I examined the arguments made by public health researchers and gun-control advocacy groups about the relationship between gun laws and gun violence; i.e., the stronger and more comprehensive the gun-control laws, the more gun violence goes down.
You can download and read the paper here, but I can save you some time by summarizing what I said. In brief, the point I made about the more gun laws = less gun violence is that the causal relationship between these two factors is vague, at best, and the way in which Brady and Giffords go about defining and judging the efficacy of different laws leaves some pretty big gaps.
The problem with trying to figure out whether any particular law will have any particular effect is that the only way to come up with a reasonably-accurate analysis is to compare the relevant behavior both before and after the law is passed. But even studies which compare before-and-after behavior on what would appear to be a simple issue like speed limits and accident rates, often cannot take into account all the myriad social factors which affect a certain type of behavior beyond the existence or non-existence of a certain law. And if we know one thing about the behavior which produces gun violence, or any kind of violence for that matter, the origins, incidence and reasons for this behavior are terribly complicated and not given to any kind of simple or single cause.
On the other hand, for the first time we finally can look at the effects of a major change in gun laws, not just in terms of whether the new law made any real difference in gun violence rates, but whether the legal change met the expectations and claims of the advocate community which pushed for the change. I am referring to requiring FBI-NICS background checks for all gun transfers, which is probably Gun-control Nation’s single, most cherished goal, particularly because it happens to be the gun law where even gun owners appear to be falling into line; a recent public health survey found that more than 80% of both gun owners and non-gun owners agreed that comprehensive FBI-NICS checks were a good thing.
According to Brady, only 7 states currently impose comprehensive background checks on all gun sales. But four of these states – Colorado, Delaware, New York, Washington – passed their laws after the unspeakable tragedy at Newtown-Sandy Hook. As of 2014, all four states required that any change in the ownership of any kind of gun had to be validated by the intervention of a gun dealer who would initiate a background check. None of these states had a comprehensive background check law prior to 2014.
And here are the results by state, gun-violence rate and two years prior and two years after passage of a comprehensive background check law:
Note that New York was the only state which showed a decline in gun violence after a comprehensive law was passed, but this anomaly is probably explained by the aggressive, anti-gun program of the New York City cops. In Erie County, which includes Buffalo, the 2013 gun-violence rate was 4.1, it then dipped in 2015 to 3.88, but in 2016 went back to 4.1.
In a recent study that attempted to differentiate the impact of comprehensive background checks (CBC), as opposed to CBC which also required specific licensing for each gun sale (permit to purchase or PTP), researchers found “no benefit of a CBC system without a PTP law.” But what if comprehensive background checks, rather than yielding no result, actually coincide with a significant increase in gun-violence rates? Oops! That’s not what gun-control laws are supposed to do. Not at all.