Police organization calls for expanded background checks (VIDEO)

A national police lobby group, formed to combat gun violence, has declared its support for background checks on all private gun sales.

The group, the National Law Enforcement Partnership to Prevent Gun Violence, is meeting in Orlando this week during an annual conference of police chiefs and made the announcement.

“Up to 40 percent of firearm transactions are private and do not require a check under federal law,” said Baltimore County Police Chief Jim Johnson, chair of the Partnership, in a release Monday. “That’s like letting 40 percent of airline passengers board an airplane without going through airport security.”

The National Law Enforcement Partnership is formed from members of nine police leadership organizations including the Commission on Accreditation for Law Enforcement Agencies (CALEA) and the International Association of Chiefs of Police (IACP). The group’s statement of principles asserts that it was formed “to address the pervasive nature of gun violence and its horrific impact on communities across America.”

The group cautioned that it is not anti-gun, and that it has no problem with responsible lawful gun owners. What the group does want, however, is increased background checks in an effort to keep guns from those not legally able to possess them.

“There is no more vital issue of concern to law enforcement than dangerous individuals acquiring firearms,” said Police Chief John Mina of the Orlando Police Department. “We, as a nation, must do everything we can to address this issue head on.”

In addition to the figure quoted for background checks processed, Johnson stated that gun deaths in the U.S. are now at some 91 per day and firearms fatalities among officers has risen already beyond last year’s figures by some 64 percent, with 41 officers shot since January compared to 25 for all of 2013.

Checking the figures

In further research into Johnson’s figures, there seems to be some slight exaggeration.

The 91 deaths per day attributed to firearms in the country by the group is correct on its face, it is something of a catchall as shown by the Centers for Disease Control. According to the agency, the most recent figures for 2011 show there were 32,351 mortalities attributed to firearms nationwide. This number, however, includes accidents, suicides, and homicides. The number of homicides by guns was 11,068, or about a third of the figure stated by the National Law Enforcement Partnership. Further, in a report from the Department of Justice last year, the federal government maintains gun homicides have declined by 39 percent overall since 1993.

As far as officer fatalities, the group cites data from the National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial Fund. On its website, the fund lists that for 2013 the total overall number of officer deaths was at 100, which is the lowest since 1944. Of the 100 officer fatalities last year, about a third of these were from shootings.

Currently for 2014 there are 41 recorded officer fatalities due to firearms. Like the CDC data, this figure also includes accidents such as those suffered by Pennsylvania State Trooper David Kedra who was killed in a training exercise and BART Detective Sergeant Tommy Smith who was killed accidentally by another officer in a tragic case of mistaken identity.

Finally, there is the 40 percent figure for private gun transactions cited by Johnson that do not currently undergo background checks.

This stale figure often pops up in rhetoric on gun violence in the country and has been widely debunked. Based on a 1994 telephone survey conducted just as implementation of the FBIs NICS system and requirements for background checks for sales through Federal Firearms License holders was coming into effect, its continued quotation was given two Pinocchios by fact checkers from the Washington Post in 2013. Four Pinnoccios would denote a completely inaccurate statement, by the Post’s rating standard.

Colorado’s enhanced background check law, passed last year and signed by Gov. John Hickenlooper (D), extensively used the 40 percent model for his guideline of how many new reviews would have to be conducted by state police. This gave heartburn to lawmakers who pushed for the law when figures later showed the number of checks only increased by just 7 percent.

Portions of that state’s law were unsuccessfully brought into federal court by 55 of 62 sheriffs in Colorado over arbitrary magazine limits.

In Washington state, where I-594, an 18-page ballot initiative to expand background checks to virtually all gun transfers is on the ballot, law enforcement is among those most opposed to the measure. So far 26 of 39 sheriffs as well as two large statewide police associations have publicly denounced the initiative.

“This initiative is a violation of the Second Amendment,” said Garfield County Sheriff Ben Keller. “I come from a gun owning family and it would be a crime every time someone wanted to use my trap gun at a trap shoot. Being in law enforcement for 24 years, this initiative is not going to keep guns off the street. What keeps guns off the street is keeping the felons that are using the guns illegally in jail.”