Right after the new House of Representatives convened, we took a small step towards aligning our gun-control laws with countries that don’t have to worry about the so-called 2nd-Amendment ‘rights,’ with the introduction of H.R. 1. And what this bill does, is expand background checks to secondary gun transfers, a procedure that has been a signature GVP demand since the FBI-NICS process went live back in 1998.
I haven’t see the text of the bill yet, but I understand that it basically says that in order to sell or give a gun to someone else, the gun owner must make sure that an FBI-NICS background check occurs before the transfer takes place. The idea behind this law is that expanding background checks will make it more difficult for people who couldn’t pass a background check to get their hands on a gun.
The reason I call this measure a ‘small step’ forward in the regulation of guns is because in countries like England, France, Germany, in other words, in the rest of the advanced world, what really keeps gun violence at minimal rates is the vetting process which is required before someone can buy or own a gun. Most important to this process is: a) all guns are registered, so the cops know who has them and who don’t; b) getting permission to own a handgun is not only onerous and time-consuming, but often results in the request being turned down.
Here’s the bottom line. We suffer a level of gun violence which is seven to twenty times higher than any other advanced society because we give our citizens free access to handguns; with the exception of a few jurisdictions, we impose no greater legal requirements for handgun ownership than we impose for someone who wants to own a rusted, used, single-shot shotgun that I sell in my shop for fifty bucks. Last year I published a study in SSRN where I did a word search on more than 350,000 crime guns confiscated by the cops, and words like Remington, Winchester, Marlin and Savage, guns which are only hunting guns, came up 3% of the time or even less.
But at the same time that we may be pushing ourselves more towards the European model in terms of gun control, it now appears that Europeans may be starting to push themselves in the direction of our current regulatory environment, namely, by showing a greater interest in owning handguns. An article has just appeared in the Wall Street Journal which indicates that residents in various European countries are not only getting more interested in owning handguns, but in carrying them around.
At the same time that legal gun ownership as well as concealed-carry appears to have increased by as much as 10% over the last several years, there has also been what experts refer to as a ‘surge’ in illegal, unregistered guns. According to the Small Arms Survey, of the estimated 77 million small arms floating around Europe, more than 60% are illegal guns, many of them smuggled in from war zones further east, or purchased from U.S. dealers on the dark web. Dark web gun sales were discussed in a RAND report published in 2017, and while the authors focused only on gun sales within Europe, the implication of this report should be considered in terms of the U.S. gun market as well.
The problem is that regulating any product doesn’t necessarily reduce demand. And if 90,000 Americans really want to use a gun to hurt someone else every year, which is the reason we suffer from gun violence, they will find a way to circumvent the regulations, no matter how well-intentioned those regulations might be.
I’m not saying that we shouldn’t implement a background check on all transfers of guns. I’m saying that in solving one problem we may be creating another for the simple reason that we continue to avoid the fundamental issue which creates gun violence, namely, the existence of the gun.