The Ultimate Guide to Debating Gun Control: Are Background Checks 'Common Sense' Measures That Work?

By: José Niño

Gun control advocates are notorious for repeating the same myths about firearms, their operation, and the policies they want to regulate their usage. In this guide, we’ve compiled the most common anti-gun arguments and explained why they’d be ineffective in preventing gun violence and why they also violate the Constitution.

“Increased background checks on all gun purchases is a commonsense reform that will decrease gun violence.”


Why It’s Ineffective and Flawed:

The Current Background Check System Isn’t Working
The National Instant Criminal Background Check System (NICS), which is used by Federal Firearms Licensees (FFLs) to check on the criminal status of firearms purchases, was launched in 1998. NICS represents the most recent expansion of gun control at the federal level. For the gun control crowd, though, NICS is not enough. They now want to add another layer of gun control through the establishment universal background checks (UBCs), which require costly background checks on all firearms transactions— even private sales and transfers. Twelve states already have UBCs on the books.

NICS doesn’t work. The Crime Prevention Research Center reports:

Ninety-three percent of NICS denials turned out to be false positives There were 71,010 initial NICS denials in 2009. Of those denials, just 4,681, or 6.6 percent were sent over to the BATF field offices for further review. On the topic of denials, the U.S. Department of Justice reported, “The remaining denials (66,329 – 93%) did not meet referral guidelines or were overturned after review by Brady Operations or after the FBI received additional information.”

…in other words, a huge majority of the time, the people being denied access to firearms are not criminals, but are law-abiding citizens who happen to share the same name with a criminal.

NICS Disproportionately Punishes Minorities, Military Veterans
The bureaucratic errors inherent in NICS that create false positives negatively affect minorities the most because they are more likely to have similar names.

What’s more, NICS is more likely to punish military veterans, too, because 99.3 percent of mental health NICS names were veterans in 2012 according to research from the Congressional Research Service (CRS).

Universal Background Checks Have Already Failed
When looking at states like Missouri, which had UBCs for handguns between 1981 and 2007, evidence shows UBCs are not the magic cure-all that gun control advocates make them out to be. Although the murder rate increased by 17 percent five years after this UBC policy was rescinded, five years before the law expired, the murder rate rose by 32 percent. Missouri clearly had a well-entrenched murder problem irrespective of whatever gun control laws were present, but the expiration of Missouri’s UBC law effectively slowed the rate of increase in its murder rate.

Universal Background Checks Discriminates against Poor People
Most gun control zealots won’t admit the obvious — these policies won’t simply finance themselves. UBCs come with stiff fees on each firearms transaction that is carried out. For example, in Washington D.C. and New York City, each private gun transfer costs $125, according to John Lott’s research.

Such a fee is a legitimate financial obstacle to the poor. Often, law-abiding victims of meager economic means become victims of violent crimes simply because they live in urban, crime-ridden areas and they can’t afford to shoulder these costs. Predatorial criminals, on the other hand, ignore these laws completely and will commit crimes irrespective of what laws our “enlightened” politicians enact.

Why It’s Unconstitutional:
For starters, nowhere in the Constitution does it authorize the federal government to create a background check system. On top of that, wrongful denials of gun purchases effectively represent the concept of a right delayed is a right denied. There is no constitutional basis for a background check system to delay a person’s right to own and carry simply because of a bureaucratic mishap. The Second Amendment does not say, “…the right to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed, provided citizens pass a background check first.”

In sum, background checks have no impact on reducing crime. In worst case scenarios, they act as barriers to entry for many gun owners who could be denied their right to bears arms because of bureaucratic error (NICS) or because of high fees (UBCs).

José Niño is a Venezuelan-American political activist writing from Fort Collins, Colorado. Contact him at

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