As an Indiana attorney, firearms instructor and radio host devoted to protecting Constitutional rights, I oppose proposed legislation being debated in Congress that would criminalize virtually all private firearms transfers between law-abiding gun owners.
Studies have shown that the vast majority of criminals get their guns from other criminals and social contacts – including fellow gang members and friends on the street. For exactly this reason, H.R. 8 would not prevent criminals from getting guns because (by definition) criminals do not comply with the law. Instead, this measure would only force lawful gun owners to conduct lengthy and expensive background checks on their friends, co-workers and family members before gifting, selling or even loaning a personal firearm.
Deceptively marketed to the public as a way to keep guns from dangerous people, H.R. 8 would make the simple act of handing a firearm to a friend or relative a crime with penalties of up to one year in prison and/or a $1,000 fine.
Proponents of this legislation falsely claim that universal background checks will target gun shows and online transactions. But studies also show that less than one percent of guns used in crimes are acquired at gun shows. And any sale of a firearm by a licensed dealer at a gun show already requires a background check – just as background checks are already required by law before anyone takes delivery of a firearm purchased online, whether from a licensed dealer or when purchased across state lines.
Gun control advocates argue that expanded background checks on private gun transfers reduce firearm suicides and homicides, often by extreme margins. Dr. John Lott, in his 2016 book, The War on Guns, analyzed claims made by the gun control group Everytown for Gun Safety by comparing data for states with expanded background check laws to those without such laws between 2000 and 2014. Lott concluded there were no statistically significant effects of expanded background check laws on suicides or the murder rates against women and law enforcement when controlling for population, socio-economic impact and other factors.
More generally, a study released in 2018 on California’s expanded background check law, which mandates a background check for nearly all firearm sales, determined that the law had no impact on gun homicide or suicide rates. The study examined the rates of firearm homicides and firearm suicides in the decade following the imposition of the background check requirement. The study period was 1981-2000, with secondary analysis up to 2005, and compared the actual rates with expected rates based on data from 32 control states that did not have these laws and did not implement other major firearm policies during the same time. The study found “no change in the rates of either cause of death from firearms” following the enactment of the expanded background check law.
Expanding background check laws did, however, have one direct impact on public safety – they made it more difficult and more expensive for law-abiding individuals to buy guns. Those hardest hit were poor residents of high-crime areas. They were the ones most likely to be “priced out” of exercising their Second Amendment rights.
Finally, universal background checks are totally unenforceable without universal gun registration; otherwise, it is simply impossible to prove who sold a gun to whom – with or without a background check. Advocates of this law are calling it a “first step.” The question we should be asking is: a first step toward what? The answer, of course, is nowhere Hoosiers should want to go.
For all these reasons, I encourage my Congresswoman Susan Brooks to reject H.R. 8 and instead look for effective solutions that will address the real causes of violent crime. Punishing law-abiding gun owners with ineffective legislation is never a legitimate means of accomplishing a real reduction in violence.
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