Gun rights advocates are dismissing what they claim is shaky evidence supporting the Democratic Party’s new gun control legislation.
In theory, this new law would reduce gun-related violence by requiring background checks on all private firearm sales. For California, Rhode Island, New York, Oregon, Illinois, and Colorado, this is nothing new. These six states already require background checks on private gun sales. Statistics from these states should give members of the gun debate insight as to just how effective background checks will be.
Daniel Webster, a public health professor, argued that Missouri’s repeal of a law requiring police approval on all firearm purchases led to an uptick in gun-related crimes. Webster explained, “In 2008, the first full year after the permit-to-purchase licensing law was repealed, the age-adjusted firearm homicide rate in Missouri increased sharply to 6.23 per 100,000 population, a 34 percent increase.”
Clayton E. Claymore of PJ Media isn’t so quick to buy into Webster’s claims. He argues that Webster is confusing correlation with causation. Without hard evidence, it’s impossible to accurately determine whether the spike in crime came from looser gun restrictions or from some other factor. He also points out that firearm homicides aren’t necessarily as dire as Webster makes them seem, because they also include legitimate cases of self-defense.
In contrast, there are some studies that offer more tangible evidence for gun control reform. The John Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health (which, in the interest of full disclosure, received funding from staunch gun control advocate Michael Bloomberg) released a study late last year promoting stricter gun control laws.
The study notes that since 1994, when the Brady Law was enacted, more than 2 million applications to purchase or transfer firearms have been rejected. The study does not have data about whether or not these applicants managed to procure a gun through other means, but it does demonstrate that background checks slow down the process. They also argue that 82% of Americans favored mandatory background checks, suggesting that the new law is more in line with the preferences of voters even if background checks don’t have any direct impact on crime rates.
Data on the subject may be fairly scarce now, but one thing is for certain: if the bill passes, 2014 and the 2015 should prove once and for all whether background checks affect crime.