Now that all 125 Democrats who have decided to run against Sleazy Don in 2020 have announced their support of universal background checks (UBC), I think it’s finally time to ask what would happen to gun violence rates if everyone in America had to undergo a background check every time they either received or gave away a gun. After all, why bother to go through the whole hassle of a big legislative fight unless we can show that the UBC would make a difference, right? So here goes.
There are currently 11 states which require UBC: CA, CO, CT, DE, NV, NJ, NY, OR, RI, VT, WA. Together these states currently count a total population slightly under 95 million, of whom 57 million live in California and New York. Some of these states, like New York and New Jersey, have for a long time required UBC for handgun purchases, others just implemented UBC in the last several years. But if we take these states in the aggregate and compare gun-violence rates between 2014 and 2017 (the latest year for CDC data) we get a pretty representative picture of the impact of universal UBC in these 11 states.
The picture looks like this. In 2014, these states had an aggregate gun-violence rate of 7.4; i.e., for every hundred thousand residents, there were 7.4 intentional fatal gun injuries: homicide, suicide and individuals shot by cops. In 2017, the rate was 7.8. The national rates were significantly higher – 10.31 and 11.96. Obviously, the increase in national gun-violence rates would have been higher if we only looked at states that don’t have UCB.
Louisiana, for example, has jumped from 18.71 to 20.09. Alabama has gone up from 16.05 to 22.30. Alaska, 18.46 to 22.98. Montana, 16.47, 22.85. In states like Montana and Alaska, the increase is driven by gun suicides, in Alabama and Louisiana it’s homicide. One could therefore argue that while UBC has not driven down the gun-violence rates, perhaps it has kept the increase from being larger than it otherwise might be.
You can argue all you want one way or the other, but folks, let me break it to you gently, okay? Until and unless we develop a system that allows us to analyze not only the geography of gun violence, but the circumstances which result in guns getting into the hands of the 145,146 individuals who committed intentional fatal gun injuries between 2014 and 2017, the correlation between gun violence rates and presence or absence of UCB doesn’t explain anything at all.
We have endless studies which show that gun violence which occurs in UBC states results from guns brought into those states from other states where UBC doesn’t exist. But there is not one, single study which has been done or could be done which shows how those guns got from State A to State B. Are these guns stolen? Are these guns trafficked after a straw sale? We don’t know. We also have no idea how many guns would continue to float around even if UBC became law of the land.
Know why UBC is always promoted as the first, legislative response to gun violence if the 2020 election results give the blue team the upper hand? Because survey after survey indicates that all those meanies who own all those guns are also in favor of UBC. Maybe I’m just a little bit old fashioned, maybe my advocacy experiences reflect what happened during the Viet Nam war. But I didn’t believe then and I don’t believe now that advocacy should rest on what public opinion says. I always thought that advocacy should set the terms of debate, not be based on what the debaters say.
The only way we will make a significant response to gun violence is to create a national gun registry so that we will be able to track the ownership and use of every gun. Oh my God! We can’t do that – it’s a violation of the 2nd Amendment!
No it’s not.