Since background checks were first required in February 1994, there has been a small problem: Since firearm registration and gun owner registration are prohibited by federal law and some state laws, there is really no way to tell when a private transfer takes place. A study of universal background check laws in Colorado and Washington state showed that the laws had very little effect. The study authors concluded that the laws were being ignored and in some cases, not even enforced.
Even if it were legal, firearms registration in the U.S. is a lost cause. Such a law would simply create a body of new criminals beyond the government’s capacity to arrest, prosecute or punish.
The 2015 General Social Survey estimated that 21% of American adults own guns. A 2016 Gallup survey put the number at 29%. That gives us a number somewhere between 55.7 million and 73.4 million. But these numbers are quite likely short of the true figure.
According to records from state licensing agencies, there were currently nearly 16.4 million active concealed carry permits as of 2017. Only two states have more than 20% of their adult populations holding a concealed carry permit (the national average is 7.1%). Based on the 20% figure, we come up with 81.8 million gun owners. And 12 states don’t require a permit to carry a concealed handgun so their permit counts are quite low. So the number is likely even higher.
It’s important to add that new records have been set for issuance of concealed carry permits for the past few years. The increase is significant in that a growing number of new applicants are women and minorities.
Background checks have a fatal flaw: they can only reveal the past. As the majority of mass shooters have shown, they are useless for predicting future behavior. Even the oft-touted idea of mental health evaluations is problematical because there is no psychiatric marker. Persons who have mental health issues severe enough to merit involuntary treatment because they may pose a danger to themselves or others have been prohibited from purchasing or possessing a firearm since October 1968.
Nevertheless, there is no evidence that strong gun laws have an impact on gun violence rates. Washington, D.C., Illinois and Maryland have very strong gun laws, low percentages of households with guns and some of the highest firearm homicide rates in the U.S. States like Idaho, Montana and Wyoming have few gun laws, high rates of gun ownership and among the lowest firearm homicide rates. In fact, gun laws seem to have little effect on homicide rates.
Handguns are already more tightly regulated by existing laws than rifles. In addition to a higher legal age for purchase in most states, handguns are more likely to require a permit to purchase or possess and more restricted in how they can be transported or carried. In addition, the purchase of multiple handguns in a short period of time requires additional paperwork to be filed with the ATF.
So before suggesting that we need more handgun laws, it might be beneficial to look at the laws we already have and see how effective they have been. You will find there are very good reasons to look askance at the legislation that’s on the table in Washington.