Study: Expanded background check laws have little effect

Strict background check laws in two states have had little to no effect on the number of background checks conducted for gun sales, a new study has shown.

The study, conducted by gun violence experts from the Center for Gun Policy and Research and the Violence Prevention Research Program, looked at expanded background check laws in three states–Washington, Colorado, and Delaware–to see if more background checks were actually processed as a result of the stricter laws.

The results, published in the medical journal Injury Prevention, show that no overall changes were found in Washington and Colorado. However, Delaware did see an increase in background checks conducted, which ranged from 22 to 34 percent depending on the type of firearm.

The researchers did note that external data showed Washington had a small increase in background checks for private party gun sales, and Colorado had a similarly small increase in background checks conducted for sales not held at gun shows.

“These aren’t the results I hoped to see. I hoped to see an effect. But it’s much more important to see what’s actually happened,” Garen Wintemute, a University of California Davis emergency room physician and main author on the study, told The Guardian.

Researchers surmised that non-compliance and poor enforcement played major roles in limiting the effect of the laws in Colorado and Washington, citing an “I will not comply” rally held in Washington after a law was passed in 2014 expanding background checks to all private sales and transfers. Researchers also pointed to a group of Colorado sheriffs who said that enforcing a similar background check expansion would not be a priority.

Wintemute insisted that the results shouldn’t dissuade other states from passing such laws but should instead lead them to focus on enforcement.

“If I’m an advocate pushing for one of these laws, [I would ask]: ‘What can I do to maximize the opportunities for enforcement?” Wintemute said. “Does that mean funding for law enforcement, for augmenting the activities of an enforcement unit?”

The researcher also proposed that education should be a focal point moving forward, “to assertively remind private party sellers that background checks on their buyers is required, and that not having that background check done is a crime, and it potentially exposes them to a much more serious risk if a crime is committed with that gun.”

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