The Odds: Why “Universal Background Checks” Don’t Work

Joe Doakes from Como Park writes about this piece (which started as a monologue on the NARN a few days before the blog post was published).


Your end-of-show reading of Rep. Paymar’s column got me to thinking: we know background checks won’t work, but saying so doesn’t make it so. Can we better explain to Low Information Voters WHY they won’t work? Some thoughts for your future columns:

Background checks stop people from committing violence with guns, but only if (a) the shooter submits to the background check and (b) the database is accurate.

There are at least five kinds of gun violence. They occur for different reasons so they have different solutions.

Enterprise Violence is a business decision. When Al Capone found Bugs Moran taking over saloons to sell bootleg liquor in Capone’s territory, Capone didn’t have the option of bringing a lawsuit to restrain his competitor, as Microsoft might do today. He didn’t have the option of buying a city council members to grant him a city-wide franchise, as the cable company might do today. Capone was left with “alternative dispute resolution” to handle competitors: he shot them. Drug dealers today have the same business problem – illegal product, no recourse to courts – so when they have problems with competitors, they use the same business model that has proven so effective for the last 100 years: they shoot them.

Drug dealers by definition routinely import, manufacture, transport, buy and sell illegal items. If they’re successful, it’s because they have learned how to avoid law enforcement. Buying illegal guns presents no different logistical problems from buying illegal drugs.

The employee who pulls the trigger won’t be the guy who submits to the background check. Instead, the gang will use a person with a clean record – a new hire, or perhaps a wife or girlfriend – who can pass the background check to buy the weapon then hand the weapon to the eventual shooter. These “straw man” purchases will look completely legal on paper and even if law enforcement catches them, they’re just little fish, quickly replaced.

One solution to Enterprise Violence committed by dealers in illegal drugs may be the same as the solution to illegal liquor: repeal Prohibition. Background checks is not a solution.

Idiot Violence. Nizzel George was a 5-year old boy in North Minneapolis. He was sleeping on his grandmother’s couch when 17-year-old Stephon Shannon and 16-year-old Julian Anderson walked up the sidewalk and fired 10 shots from .40 caliber handguns at the house. One of the bullets punched through the siding and hit the sleeping child in the back. Shannon said he was a gang member and that he shot at the house in retaliation for the earlier shooting of a fellow gang member. He didn’t mean to kill Nizzel, didn’t even know he was in the house.

Hadiya Pendleton was a 15-year old girl from Chicago. She was an honor student and majorette who performed for President Obama’s inauguration. She was chatting with friends in Harsh Park on January 29, 2013 when she was struck by bullets fired by Michael Ward, age 18, also of Chicago. Ward and his getaway driver, Kenneth Williams, age 20 of Chicago, told police the shooting was in retaliation for earlier gang violence but Hadiya’s group was not the intended victims, her group was mistaken for other people.

President Obama mentioned Nizzel George and Hadiya Pendleton as reasons why new gun control laws are needed, including universal background checks but that makes no logical sense.

You must be 21 years old to buy a handgun. None of these shooters should have had one. Plainly, they didn’t submit to a background check. They most likely obtained their weapons the same way the Enterprise does – theft or straw purchase. They used guns to redress insults because that’s how things are done in their violent little sub-culture.

The solution to Idiot Violence may require massive social change to eliminate that violent sub-culture. Certainly, background checks alone won’t make any difference.

Mental Illness Violence. The Aurora Theater, Newtown School and Accent Signage shooters had histories of mental health problems but had not been formally committed. You cannot commit someone to a mental institution based on gossip or rumor or even the parent’s concerns because being committed for mental illness means the patient is locked up as securely as if he were being sent to prison. The law requires a judge to rule that the person is a danger to himself or others at that moment, based on admissible evidence from the patient’s history. Fear that the patient might someday snap is not admissible evidence. This sets a high standard of proof to deprive a person of his liberty and makes civil commitment difficult.

The background check database includes people who already have been committed for mental illness but these shooters hadn’t been committed so they wouldn’t be in the system. A background check would not have stopped them from buying weapons.

The solution to Mental Illness violence involves an overhaul of the mental health treatment system and re-evaluation of commitment law, none of which was included in Rep. Paymar’s proposal.

Suicide By Gun. There has been an increase in rates of suicide committed by middle-aged White men who are not drug dealers or gang members and had no prior history of mental illness. Nobody knows why although armchair psychologists speculate losing their life savings in the housing crash or job in the Recession make that generation of men feel like failures, or perhaps something unique to Baby Boomers (who already have higher rates of depression than earlier generations), or maybe a “tough-it-out” cultural reluctance to seeking mental health treatment. Since guns are the tool used, gun control advocates seek to control guns to reduce suicide rates.

The background check database does not include people who lost money or jobs. It does not include people who are depressed and decline treatment. Most middle-aged White men who commit suicide by firearm have owned their guns for years. The solution to Suicide By Gun might be similar to that for Mental Illness, but background checks won’t help.

Government Violence. Andrea Rebello, a 21-year old Hofstra University student, was being held hostage by a man who broke into her home when she was shot in the head by a cop, killing her instead of the man holding her. Ibragim Todashev was shot dead by an FBI agent in Orlando just as he was about to confess to helping the Boston Bomber commit murder.

Jeff Johnson, a laid-off employee, shot Steven Ercolino, the vice-president of the company, outside the Empire State Building. Police pursued Johnson and shot at him 16 times, killing Johnson and also wounding 9 innocent bystanders when bullets ricocheted off the stone building.

After Chris Dorner shot an off-duty cop in Los Angeles, police officers fired approximately 100 shots at a blue Toyota pickup truck in which Margie Carranza and her 71-year-old mother, Emma Hernandez, were delivering newspapers. The officers mistook their truck for the gray Nissan Titan Dorner was believed to be driving. Hernandez was hit and Carranza suffered injuries from flying glass. On the same morning, Torrance police opened fire on the truck of a surfer headed for the beach.

Vang Khang’s family counted 22 bullet holes when police raided the wrong home in Minneapolis in 2008. Roberto Franco’s family lost their dog and nearly a daughter to a diabetic reaction when police raided the wrong house in St. Paul in 2012, shot the family pet, handcuffed the children and denied the diabetic girl her medicine. When Alden Anderson killed a police dog named Toby earlier this year, St. Paul police shot Anderson to death.

Rodney Balko at Cato Institute has an interactive map online showing botched paramilitary raids are an epidemic and innocent deaths are frequent. If it were occurring in any other country, we’d be aghast at the level of violence government directs at its own people.

The solution to Government Violence probably involves de-militarizing ordinary police, ending the War on Drugs and extending personal liability to careless police officers, but none of these shootings would have been prevented by background checks.

I’m sure you can think of more categories and examples but perhaps the mental exercise of breaking gun violence into small units will make it easier to explain why a universal blanket solution not only won’t solve the problem, it will divert attention from real solutions.


16 thoughts on “The Odds: Why “Universal Background Checks” Don’t Work

  1. Matthew Pate is an editorial columnist featured in my local, small town newspaper. Last week he wrote:
    First, neither increased background checks (which I support as a matter of record-keeping) and limits on magazine capacity (which I believe to be wholly impotent, if not outright irrelevant) stand little chance of making any difference in the American culture of gun violence.

    This is malicious nonsense. A background check is not a matter of ‘record keeping’. It is only useful if it is used to deny or deter people with certain background features from getting a gun.
    And can we please never, ever, see the words ‘American culture of gun violence’ again w/o detailing who among Americans is part of this ‘culture of gun violence’? Hint: it ain’t middle-aged NRA members.

  2. Well, there is the American gun culture and then there is the American gun violence culture, but you can’t expect that people who confuse magazine with clip to get this distinction either.

  3. Matthew Pate is a former law enforcement executive who holds a doctorate in criminal justice from the University of Albany and who has advised police agencies around the country.

    The next time I have have a crime problem I’ll be sure to call in a ‘former law enforcement executive’ with a doctorate in criminal justice. If he’s spent some time ‘advising police agencies around the country’, even better.

    Police Chief: Gosh! I’m glad you’re here, Mr. Pate! We’ve noticed that 80% of our gun crimes are committed by the 20% of the population that are not middle class white people!

    Dr. Matthew Pate: Darn those middle class white people!

  4. Terry, off topic; it seems I may have lured one of your neighbors to the gentle environs of South Carolina. One less Kanaka for you, one more Shiatsu (from his lovely wife) for me!

  5. Terry, Dr. Pate does a service in unveiling the real reason for background checks; a quiet establishment of a registry. Count me skeptical that the records are being destroyed by the BATF as required by law.

    (and his quote of Einstein is hilarious…..yup, European disarmament in the 1920s and 1930s REALLY helped prevent war, didn’t it? I’d love to see him apply that logic to the various “hand tools” employed by the police…)

    And to reach the low information voter, I’m thinking that you’ve got to keep it simple. “Given that criminals are, by definition, people who do not obey the law, please let me know how another law would prevent a person from killing another.”

  6. You keep supposing that those who wish to disarm the law-abiding have some benign or higher purpose. They don’t. The second amendment is what stands between us and camps or ovens. Those who deny this are fools or liars.

  7. “The second amendment is what stands between us and camps or ovens. ” ~Nuff said.

  8. Swiftee-
    Usually the destination of choice for hawaii emigrants to the mainland is Cali or Vegas. They follow the economy, though, and I suspect that Cali and Vegas aren’t nearly as attractive as they were a few years ago.

  9. “Gloria: Daddy, did you know that sixty percent of the people murdered in this country in the last ten years were killed by guns? ”

    “Archie Bunker: Would it make you feel any better, little girl, if they was pushed out of windows?”

    Those of a certain age or older may remember “All in the Family”. Gloria was the liberal daughter of Archie and Edith Bunker. While blatantly painted as a racist, patriarchal old white guy, time has shown some, likely unintentionally on Norman Lear’s part, some wisdom came from Archie.

    The above quote, I believe, sums up the true problem: the murder or unnecessary deaths of human beings. Those without solutions to it or don’t want to admit certain realities fall back on the tool not the craftsman.

    This does not validate Hillary’s callous “Why does it matter?” comment. However, it does mean something in the context of the arms debate.

    Should Soucheray’s big magnet theory come to pass and all guns were permanently gone (ignoring the fact that functional firearms are not too difficult to make), would you now walk in those neighborhoods you don’t dare now? Would abusive spouses stop abusing? After the immediate effect wore off, would suicide stop? Would the homicide rate significantly change? Probably some for the better, but we’d still have the GOP and DFL running our lives, not Mr. Rogers and the urge to kill would still be around.

    Guns make a great distraction, a scapegoat, and rationalization for parents and people who don’t want to face certain realities about the social environment or their loved ones. So, would you be happier if your loved one ended their life at the end of a rope, a tailpipe, or knife? God knows Bloomberg and Schumer would be. Or would they?

  10. I think Schumer would downright gleeful if Anthony Weiner were to blow his brains out.

  11. Joe and Mitch I want to thank you for this piece. It shows just in a matter of minutes what is causing the gun violence that liberals are worried about. And as you so carefully showed Joe they don’t want to act on the problems that are causing it.

    Walter Hanson
    Minneapolis, MN

  12. swiftee; Shiatsu aside, if they are native Hawaiians, you may have inherited another pair of liberat Democrats. I hope that you vetted them fully! 😉

  13. I thought of another category: accidental violence. Kids shooting kids with “unloaded” guns. These make me saddest, and most angry. Every one is a needless death, every one preventable either by gun owners taking better care of their weapons, or by better teaching their children. But not by background checks.

  14. Mr. Doaks: You are absolutely correct about the negligent, careless maintenance of household firearms. While common sense should be abundantly sufficient, it is also regulated by Minnesota State Statute 609.666 (in part):

    Subd. 2. Access to firearms.
    A person is guilty of a gross misdemeanor who negligently stores or leaves a loaded firearm in a location where the person knows, or reasonably should know, that a child is likely to gain access, unless reasonable action is taken to secure the firearm against access by the child.

    Subd. 3. Limitations.
    Subdivision 2 does not apply to a child’s access to firearms that was obtained as a result of an unlawful entry.

    “Child” means a person less than 18 YOA, and a “loaded” gun includes a firearm with a round in the chamber and a semi-auto (or auto) pistol with an inserted magazine which hold ammunition regardless of a round in the chamber.

    The law is not all that well known, and normally is most often used in conjunction with criminal activity arrests where a loaded gun is found under the above described circumstances.

    Frequently, in cases of pure but otherwise non-criminal (but tragic) negligence, that charge is not pursued since the loss of the child is deemed sufficient punishment.

    I believe that such information is mandatorily supplied to those who purchase firearms from licensed dealers.

  15. Hoss, this guy is my Cuz’ and his wife is my wife’s Tita. They cool.

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