Gun Show Initiative Scam
by John R. Lott, Jr.
Who could possibly oppose closing the "gun show loophole"? Preventing criminals from obtaining guns is everyone's goal. It can still be valuable even though fewer than 2 percent of criminal guns originated from gun shows. Yet, Amendment 22, which Coloradoans will be voting on in November, has little to do with gun shows, and will not stop criminals from obtaining guns.
Claims about a so-called "gun show loophole" have convinced many people that the rules for buying a gun at a gun show are different than for buying a gun elsewhere. Yet, that is not correct. There are two types of people that can sell guns: registered dealers and private individuals. Registered dealers must fill out the same forms and meet the same requirements regardless of where they sell a gun. Private transfers are unregulated, but they are unregulated both inside and outside a gun show. If the initiative passes and private transfers at gun shows are regulated in the same way as the sales by registered dealers, the initiative's advocates will complain about a new "loophole" -- private transfers outside of shows.
The initiative clumsily attempts to plug this new loophole by defining "gun shows" so broadly as to encompass most transfers of guns. If a father and mother gives a gun to their twenty-one year old son or daughter on Christmas morning, that would be classified as a "gun show." A "gun show" is defined as at least three gun owners being engaged in the transfer or exchange of even a single gun.
Such a law will not stop criminals. If people don't want their transfer monitored, how is the government going to prove who sold the gun to whom?
The only people who will obey this kind of law are law-abiding citizens. When people realize this, there will be calls for licensing and registration to let the government track transfers. Unfortunately, such cumbersome measures are only going to increase crime, not decrease it. In theory, licensing and registration may sound like an effective crime fighting tool: if a gun is left at the scene of the crime, these laws could help a gun to be traced back to its owner. But, amazingly, despite police spending tens of thousands of man hours administering these laws in Hawaii (the one state with both rules), as well as in big urban areas with similar laws, such as Chicago and Washington, DC., there has not been one single case where the laws have been instrumental in identifying someone who has committed a crime.
The reason is simple. First, criminals very rarely leave their guns at the scene of the crime. Would-be criminals also virtually never get licenses or register their weapons.
Just like with gun show background checks, the oft-stated claim is that licensing will somehow allow even more comprehensive background checks and thus keep criminals from getting guns in the first place. Unfortunately for gun control advocates, there is not one single academic study concluding that background checks reduce violent crime.
Recently, the Journal of the American Medical Association published an article showing that the Brady Act produced no reduction in homicides or suicides. Other more comprehensive research found that the waiting period in the Brady Act increased rape rates.
The Clinton administration keeps issuing press releases boasting that violent crime rates have fallen since 1994 when the Brady Act was adopted. Yet, violent crime started falling in 1991. Further evidence can be found when comparing states. The Brady Act did not apply to 18 states, but after 1994 their violent crime fell at least as fast as in states where the law applied.
While still asserting that the law "must have some effect," Janet Reno was reduced last month to saying that "It might just take longer to measure [it]."
The Brady Act did not stop criminals simply because it was the law-abiding citizens, not the criminals, who obeyed the rules. And it was the law-abiding citizens who suffered the consequences. For example, the waiting period provision in the law prevented law-abiding women who were stalked or threatened from quickly obtaining a gun for self-defense.
If these types of laws indeed reduced crime, a gun show initiative would make sense. Yet, even then, why define a "gun show" so broadly as to criminalize the simple transfer of guns between law-abiding family members?
No matter how good the intentions, rules that that discourage law-abiding citizens from obtaining guns or divert police resources to handling unproductive paperwork will increase violent crime.
Lott is a senior research scholar at the Yale University Law School and the author of "More Guns, Less Crime" (University of Chicago Press, 2nd Edition, 2000).
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