CPRC in the Santa Fe New Mexican: Background check bill — right for New Mexico?

Jan 24, 2017 | Featured

With the debate heating up in New Mexico over Michael Bloomberg’s push for Universal Background checks, Dr. John Lott has an op-ed in the newspaper for the state’s capitol.

Let’s say a stalker threatens a female friend of yours. She asks you if she can borrow your handgun. She is trained and has no criminal record. Should you loan her your gun?

If you live in New Mexico, loaning her your gun soon could land you in prison. Exception is made only for cases of “imminent” danger — where her stalker is literally right in front of her at that very moment. Even those annual Boy Scout shooting trips could be filled with legal dangers. Adults who lend troops their guns for a day might soon find themselves in prison.

Those are just a couple of the hidden consequences if New Mexico legislators pass the bills just submitted by Sen. Richard Martinez and Rep. Stephanie Garcia Richard, both Democrats. Everyone wants to keep criminals from getting guns. But the current background check system is a mess. It primarily disarms our most vulnerable citizens, particularly law-abiding minorities. Virtually every time the government stops someone from buying a gun, it is done mistakenly. We’re not talking here about preventing guns from falling into the wrong hands — these are people who legally can buy a gun.

Gun control advocates constantly claim that nationwide background checks have stopped 2.4 million prohibited people from buying a gun. But what they should really say is that there were 2.4 million “initial denials.” And over 96 percent of “initial denials” are errors that are dropped during just the first two stages of review. More cases are dropped later.

It is one thing to stop a felon from buying a gun. It is quite another to stop a law-abiding citizen from buying a gun simply because his name is similar to that of a felon.

That massive error rate occurs because government background checks focus only on two pieces of information: names and birth dates, ignoring Social Security numbers and addresses. The government looks for phonetically similar names (e.g., “Smith” and “Smythe” are assumed to be the same) and even ignores different middle names.

These mistakes affect certain racial groups more than others. Hispanics are more likely to share names with other Hispanics; the same is true of blacks. Because 30 percent of black males are forbidden from buying guns because of their criminal records, law-abiding African-American men more often have their names confused with those of prohibited people.

The problem could be easily fixed if the government simply did what it requires of private companies. When businesses perform criminal background checks on employees, they have to use all of the information that is already available to the government: name, Social Security number, address and birth date.

Background checks on private transfers have another problem: They make gun buyers and sellers pay for the costs of conducting them. This includes state fees and the costs of paying licensed dealers to perform the checks.

In Washington, D.C., the total cost is at least $175. In Washington state and Oregon, it is about $60 and $55, respectively.

These costs can present a very real obstacle to poor people living in high-crime, urban areas. The most likely, law-abiding victims of violent crimes are usually least able to afford these costs. It isn’t like gang members are going to pay these fees.

Democrats claim that requiring free voter IDs imposes too much on poor minorities who want to vote. But they see no irony in requiring IDs (not free ones) and much more on those who purchase guns. If supporters of background checks are serious, they will cover their costs for at least low-income people.

As I show in my new book, The War on Guns, states with these background checks experienced an increase of 15 percent in per capita rates of mass public shooting fatalities. They also saw a 38 percent increase in the rate of injury. Nor is there evidence that expanded background checks reduce rates of any type of violent crime, including mass public shootings, suicide, murder of police officers and domestic violence against women. Other academic research by economists and criminologists consistently confirms this.

Michael Bloomberg’s group Everytown for Gun Safety — the source of glowing praise for these laws — never actually examines how crime rates change before and after the law is adopted.

Proponents often falsely claim that 80 percent to 90 percent of Americans support these laws. But ballot initiatives last fall in Maine and Nevada were exactly the same as the bill being pushed in New Mexico, and Maine’s was defeated by 4 percentage points while Nevada’s barely won by 0.8 percent. The tough sledding wasn’t for lack of money. Bloomberg massively outspent opponents on both initiatives — spending $35.30 per vote in Nevada, over six times his opposition.

This legislation will turn a lot of well-intentioned New Mexicans into criminals. The fees and regulations will make it more difficult for the law-abiding poor to obtain guns for self-protection.

John R. Lott Jr., Ph.D., is the president of the Crime Prevention Research Center and the author of the newly released book The War on Guns.

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