All of a sudden, after wandering in the wilderness for lo, these many years, it appears that the lost gun-control tribes may finally reach the Promised Land and get a gun bill passed through Congress and signed by a Democratic President in 2021. Of course, this chain of events assumes that Sleazy Don will continue to lag behind in crucial swing states (OH, PA) and that the blue team doesn’t screw everything up by nominating another version of the person who ran the single, worst national campaign of all time in 2016.
Nevertheless, I’m willing to take the short odds on the possibility that what I am predicting might come true, which leads to the most important question, namely, what kind of gun bill should be passed? And if nothing else, what seems to be the consensus among all the men and women who want to quarterback the blue team, is that the bill should expand background checks to secondary transfers and sales.
The reasons behind this consensus have to do with two things: 1) everybody, even gun owners, seem to support some kind of expansion of FBI-NICS; and 2) if all gun transfers must be qualified before they take place, it stands to reason that less guns will end up in the ‘wrong hands.’ After all, even the NRA has always made common cause with ‘law-abiding’ gun owners, right?
Unfortunately, the research standing behind any and all attempts to regulate gun ownership through legal means fails to come to grips with one, very important thing. And this is the fact that none of the studies which examine the degree to which gun laws work or don’t work to reduce gun violence ever take into account one, fundamental issue, namely, the issue of demand.
Whether we like it or not, the events which constitute at least three-quarters or more of every instance of gun violence every year; i.e., fatal and non-fatal gun assaults, reflect an ongoing retail market for this particular product, even if it’s a retail environment quite unlike the local gun store. And while our friend Phil Cook and others have studied this market in terms of product pricing and product supply, the possibility that this market could be somehow controlled by more stringent laws governing legal gun access and ownership, flies in the face of every such governmental effort when confronted with unabated product demand.
The War on Terror has only been going on since 2001, but the War on Drugs was announced by Nixon in 1971. How much money, time, effort and legislative activity has been expended to reduce illegal drug trafficking over the past fifty(!) years? And whatever the answer, what we have gotten is another drug epidemic called ‘opioids.’ And is it just coincidence that as opioids appear to be increasingly common, that the rate of gun violence appears to be going back up?
Last week, with the usual 48-hour brouhaha which always accompanies another aimless rant by John Donahue against John Lott, the Stanford economist once again tried to tell us why we have a crisis called ‘gun violence’ without so much as mentioning or even acknowledging the issue of demand. And as an economist, not a public health researcher, Donahue should know better than that. But why bother to bring the most obvious and necessary issue to bear when discussing how and why guns get into the ‘wrong’ hands?
I can’t read a single issue of a gun-control news aggregator like The Trace without seeing at least one article bemoaning the failure of gun regulations to cover the myriad ways in which guns move from the ‘legal’ to the ‘illegal’ milieu. Which is why everyone in Gun-control Nation is touting the idea of comprehensive background checks (CBC) as the first and most obvious method for reducing the violence caused by guns.
So let me break it to you gently. Unless a way is found to reduce the demand for illegal guns, I guarantee you that the market will find a way to negate the impact of CBC. Guaranteed.