Two prominent, and often conflicting, gun researchers weighed in on Nevada’s background check ballot initiative, Question 1, over the weekend.
Dr. John Lott, founder of the Crime Prevention Research Center and author of “The War on Guns,” published an 800-word editorial in the Reno Gazette-Journal Friday questioning the logic behind the ballot measure, which would require background checks on private gun sales and transfers in Nevada, with limited exceptions for blood relatives.
“Virtually every time the government stops someone from buying a gun, it is done mistakenly,” he wrote. “ We’re not talking here about preventing guns from falling into the wrong hands — these are people who are legally eligible to buy a gun.”
Lott picks apart a popular statistic he says gun control groups tout as proof universal background checks work — a system he says is broken and disproportionately impacts minority and low income gun owners.
“Gun control advocates constantly claim nationwide background checks have stopped 2.4 million prohibited people from buying a gun,” he said. “But what they should really say is there were 2.4 million ‘initial denials.’ And over 96 percent of ‘initial denials’ are errors that are dropped during just the first two stages of review. More cases are dropped later.”
“It is one thing to stop a felon from buying a gun. It is quite another to stop a law-abiding citizen from buying a gun simply because his name is similar to that of a felon,” he added.
Lott claims the “massive errors” in background check denials stem from the federal government only focusing on two pieces of information for every applicant: name and birthday.
This means, anyone with a name similar to that of a prohibited person will be denied — and it’s a bigger problem for certain racial groups that tend to share names, such as Hispanics and African Americans, Lott said.
Lott also takes aim at the placing the cost of background checks on the shoulders of the gun owner. The fees range from $50 in Oregon to over $125 in Washington D.C.
These costs can present a very real obstacle to poor people living in high-crime, urban areas,” Lott wrote. “The most likely, law-abiding victims of violent crimes are usually least able to afford these costs. It isn’t like gang members are going to pay these fees.”
Daniel Webster, director of the Johns Hopkins Center for Gun Policy and Research and professor of health policy and management at Johns Hopkins University, told Vice his research on similar policies in Connecticut and Missouri, however, shows expanded background check laws lower gun violence.
“What we found is incredibly consistent,” Webster told Vice writer John Surico in an article published Friday about gun control ballot measures across the country. “Having the policy [of requiring background checks in more situations] was protective of basically having fewer homicides, fewer suicides, and even fewer law enforcement officers shot in the line of duty.”
Webster did caution that Connecticut and Missouri also require extra layers of identification and approval for gun owners, including licensing and fingerprinting. Research on how expanding background checks in states without such provisions is limited, he told Vice.
“We had published research showing that having such policies in place is associated with fewer guns being diverted for criminal use shortly after sale,” he said.