Gun-control measures in Colorado and Washington about as effective as you'd expect

Three years after a hard push for gun control nearly cost Democrats control of Colorado, a new study suggests that they shouldn’t have bothered. The Guardian reports on curiously limited research published in the medical journal Injury Prevention that calculated the impact of harsher state-based background check requirements. The study concludes that in Colorado, Washington, and Nevada, the laws had little effect on increasing the number of background checks:

In Colorado and Washington state, advocates spent millions of dollars, and two Colorado Democrats lost their seats, in the effort to pass laws requiring criminal background checks on every single gun sale.

More than three years later, researchers have concluded that the new laws had little measurable effect, probably because citizens simply decided not to comply and there was a lack of enforcement by authorities.

The results of the new study, conducted by some of America’s most well-respected gun violence researchers, is a setback for a growing gun control movement that has centered its national strategy on precisely the kind of state laws passed in Colorado and Washington. A third, smaller state, Delaware, passed a background check law around the same time and did see increases in the number of background checks conducted, the study found. But a similar background-check law in Nevada passed in 2016 has also run into political hurdles and has never been enforced.

The study claims that better enforcement in Delaware showed that these laws had “a dramatic impact,” as an Everytown researcher claimed. But on what? Firearm violence? Gun sales? Ironically, the study for Injury Prevention didn’t study injuries or incidents at all. The only measure it took was whether a government mandate would result in more background checks:

The new study, published in Injury Prevention, a medical journal, did not attempt to analyze whether the new background check laws in Delaware, Colorado and Washington had any effect on gun violence or gun crime. Instead, it asked a simpler question: did a law requiring more background checks actually result in more background checks being conducted?

And … that’s it. Literally, the only issue studied was whether passing new laws would force greater compliance from already law-abiding gun owners on private transactions. Instead, it showed that people tend not to follow stricter mandates where government remains mainly unaware of the transactions in the first place. Remember that federal law already mandates background checks on retail sales at gun shops. The new laws in question imposed that requirement on private sales and transfers, such as from one family member to another, transactions which would not normally come to anyone else’s attention.

Not only did it show that people tend to keep their private transactions private, it also showed that police tend to stay out of otherwise lawful private transactions, too. The suggestion from the study’s authors was “more assertive enforcement,” which would look like … what, exactly? Routine searches at the homes of gun owners? GPS tagging of firearms?

Charles C. W. Cooke warns that gun-control advocates are pushing a police state, whether they realize it or not:

To my ears, though, that argument not only sounds rather naive — how can you assertively enforce a law against transactions you don’t know about? — it also fails to take into account the trade-offs involved with any controversial piece of legislation. The sheriffs who have refused to prioritize the law are not doing so in a vacuum; they are doing so because they live in areas in which there is mass resistance to this sort of regulation, and because they do not wish to damage their relationships with their communities. In theory, those officers could be replaced, and the states in question could demand the stepping up of prosecutions post hoc. But at what cost? In rural areas especially, co-operation between the citizenry and the police is vital. Damage it, and things might get worse overall. (That, incidentally, is why the confiscation fantasy is so absurd; at a stroke you’d wipe out goodwill toward law enforcement and make policing much, much more difficult.)

For a long while now, gun-control advocates have sold background checks as a panacea of sorts, and implied that any skepticism toward them must be motivated less by earnest disagreement and more by greed or obstinacy. That a writer in the Guardian is citing “some of America’s most well-respected gun violence researchers” concluding that such “laws had little measurable effect” should damage that presumption considerably.

So does the metric chosen for this study. Suggesting that government mandates succeed merely on the basis of compliance with them is the same logic that ObamaCare advocates used to claim success for having less than half of their projected enrollments materialize. It didn’t measure access to actual care, or any positive impact on costs, which was supposed to be the raison d’être for the ACA.  The metric changed from “affordable care” to enrollment numbers, and then from projected enrollment numbers to the mere fact that anyone abided by the mandate.

Do laws like this reduce gun violence or don’t they? That’s the only measure that would justify pouring more regulation onto legal gun owners and requiring them to become an agent of the government to conduct private transactions. It’s very telling that this study completely avoids that question, choosing instead to measure success by the compliance of law-abiding citizens to ever-increasing regulation — and then failing even on that measure.