At Townhall: Background Checks Bill Would Turn Many Well-intentioned Americans Into Criminals

Feb 6, 2019 | Featured

Dr. John Lott has a new piece up at that discusses a new bill on universal background checks.

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?

Under a bill being heard today before the House Judiciary Committee, loaning her your gun soon could land you in prison. An exception is made only for cases of “imminent” danger — where her stalker is right in front of her at that very moment. Even those annual Boy Scout shooting trips will face 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 Congress passes the bill just submitted by Democrat Congressman Mike Thompson. 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 a mistake. 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 keep claiming that federal background checks have stopped 3 million dangerous or prohibited people from buying a gun. However, what they should say is that there were 3 million “initial denials.” Relying on phonetically similar names along with birth dates doesn’t allow for much accuracy.

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 just 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 have criminal records that prevent them from buying guns, law-abiding African-American men more often have their names confused with those of prohibited people.

We can fix the problem if the government does what it requires for 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. In Washington, D.C. and New York City, the total cost is at least $125. In Washington state and Oregon, it is about $60 and $55, respectively.

These costs present a genuine 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.

Thompson’s bill is being pushed as a way to stop mass public shootings, but there isn’t one such attack this century that would have been stopped.

my book, The War on Guns, I find 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 injury rate. Nor is there evidence that expanded background checks reduce rates of any type of violent crime, including mass public shootings, suicide, the murder of police officers and domestic violence against women.

Michael Bloomberg’s group Everytown— 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 in November 2016 in Maine and Nevada were the same as the bill now before Congress, with Maine’s defeated by four 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 Americans into criminals. The fees and regulations will make it more difficult for the law-abiding poor to obtain guns for self-protection.

The piece is available here.