Twenty Years with the Brady Act

November 30th, 2013

Yep, it was 1993. Sarah Brady is making a big deal of the anniversary. Dianne Feinstein has an op-ed running today in which she takes credit for everything short of rescuing puppies from a burning orphanage. It's a shame it's full of half-truths and outright lies.

Let's take them one by one.

Background checks on gun purchases work. The law has stopped more than 2 million convicted felons, domestic abusers and individuals with serious mental illnesses from purchasing firearms.

A cursory review of the data shows that one has to do real violence to the numbers to even imply such a thing. The rate of erroneous denials is 94%. Furthermore, the few that might have merit are almost never referred for prosecution. Either the Brady Act is hopelessly broken in its implementation, or someone is lying.

In reality, both answers are correct.

(…) the Brady Act has a big loophole: It does not require background checks on the estimated 40 percent of gun transfers made between private parties. This means anyone can purchase a firearm at a gun show or over the Internet without undergoing any sort of background check. Last year, an estimated 6.6 million firearms were transferred this way.

That's not a loophole. To call it that is to claim that an ambiguity or oversight is being exploited. In fact, the exemption for private transfers was agreed upon at the time of the Act's passage. It was a necessary compromise, without which the bill would have swiftly died. The people now griping about it knew it was there and consented to it.

Then there's the 40 percent figure. How does one even gather data and put a number on something that supposedly flies under the radar? In this case, they used a single survey, taken before the law even went into effect. The sample size was 251 people, and the questions were vague and leading.

California's gun death rate has been cut by 56 percent over the past 20 years, according to the Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence, in part because background checks are required on these private sales. Our state's system is working, and Californians are safer because background checks on private sales are mandatory.

Ms. Feinstein seems to confuse correlation with causation. California's murder rate is down and the state requires background checks on private sales. However, she can't prove that the murder rate is down because of the law.

There are many potential factors at work here, but we have experienced a nationwide drop in gun crime over the last two decades that can't be tied to any gun-control initiative. Furthermore, the country's homicide rate has been dropping over the last twenty years and is currently the lowest in a century. The only way to link Sarah Brady's efforts to that involves time travel.

A status quo where 40 percent of gun sales occur without background checks contributes to the plague of gun violence in this country and must not be allowed to continue.

Not only is the 40 percent figure a myth, so is the idea that gun shows are a significant contributor to violence at all. The most comprehensive studies we've had on the matter estimate that 2% of crime guns are purchased at gun shows.

If someone has to strain credibility to this point, we should really be questioning the efficacy of their proposals.

(Part of this is a push to resuscitate legislation that failed in the Senate earlier this year. HR 1565, charmingly titled the Public Safety and Second Amendment Rights Protection Act of 2013, is the House version. It stalled out around April, but it bears watching. Let's not forget that the Assault Weapons Ban was titled the Public Safety and Recreational Firearms Use Protection Act. I guess throwing "Protection Act" in the title makes it sound less onerous, like a repressive third-world regime calling itself the People's Democratic Free Republic of Whatever.)

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