Ballot initiatives are an often overlooked part of every election year. News organizations big and small like to focus on the names and people that are going to get them the best ratings, but the importance of these initiatives can, at times, be even more important than the people that you are voting for.
This election season, the states of Nevada and Maine have ballot initiatives that are particularly important to gun owners in those states, and depending on their success, could have lasting effects on citizens of all the United States who are proud to call themselves gun owners.
In Maine, the question is ballot initiative number 3. Which, if approved, Question 3 would also require that in cases when neither party is licensed, they must meet at a licensed dealer, who would then complete a background check on the transferee. Background check exceptions would include emergency self-defense, while the parties are hunting or sport-shooting, and transfers between family members. Currently, Maine does not have a state law regarding background checks for gun sales and follows federal laws that require background checks for all gun sales by licensed dealers.
While in Nevada, the ballot initiative on the docket is question number 1. Question 1 would require that an unlicensed person who wishes to sell or transfer a firearm to another person conduct the transfer through a licensed gun dealer who runs a background check. A licensed dealer may charge a “reasonable fee” for his or her service. The measure would exempt certain transfers of firearms from background checks, including transfers by law enforcement agencies, between immediate family members, to executors of estates upon the death of the firearm’s owner, and of antique firearms. Some temporary transfers of firearms would also be exempted, including transfers while hunting, at lawfully organized competitions, at public performances using firearms, and to prevent immediate death or great bodily harm. Those found to be in violation of the law would be charged with a “gross misdemeanor,” which could result in a $2,000 fine, up to one year in prison, or both, depending on the results of a trial by jury.
Now theses are obviously extra hoops to jump through, and it may be tough, but if it is necessary, we could understand the need for them. But is it necessary at all?
According to a recent report by the Office of the Inspector General for the U.S. Department of Justice, titled, “Audit of the Handling of Firearms Purchase Denials Through the National Instant Criminal Background Check System” it might not be very useful at all to have these background checks in place. This is simply due to the fact, that in recent years, the number of prosecutions, or even the number of times that the ATF has handled an issue NICS sent their way has gone way down.
Now, what does this show? Does it show that gun crime has gone down? Has the murder rate decreased? No. Unfortunately, what this graph is showing us, is that the ATF is doing less to protect us from real gun-related issues, and instead pushing new legislation that will make it tougher to purchase guns for anyone, in the first place. They're costing law-abiding gun owners their rights, just so that they can do less work of getting the actual criminals who have guns off of the street.
The politicians are saying “If we do universal background checks, then we take more guns from the public, and there aren't any guns, no more crime. We can just sit back and earn a paycheck.” But is that the case?
Do Universal Background Checks Have an Effect?
Some studies do provide evidence that background checks can curb gun violence. In one, researchers found that a 1995 Connecticut law requiring gun buyers to get permits, which required background checks, was associated with a 40 percent decline in gun homicides and a 15 percent drop in suicides.
Those are some big results. Some may even say that the Connecticut law is evidence that background checks really matter. But as with most of the social sciences, there's some fuzziness as to what the results mean. One caveat is that these studies aren't about background checks alone. Instead, they're about permit-to-purchase laws, under which people had to go to local law enforcement to get a permit and, therefore, a background check.
That difference might have impacted the results, explained Daniel Webster, an author on the study of the Connecticut. Webster also stated that because so many factors influence gun violence in different ways, it's hard to say how much the effects seen in Connecticut would happen in other states.
However, there's no perfect consensus on how well background-check laws work. A 2000 study found that the 1994 Brady Act — which instituted not only background checks but waiting periods at first — did not reduce either homicide or suicide rates.
A CDC report from 2003 found “inconsistent findings” as to whether restricting gun access through background checks works and insufficient evidence as to whether an array of other gun laws are effective. However, the CDC also said that its findings didn't mean that gun laws don't work; rather, it said it needed to study the topic more.
Gun-policy researchers say they want to better study background checks, but a couple of hurdles stand in the way. Part of the problem is that good studies on the effectiveness of background checks are pretty rare, according to Webster. One reason is that it's hard to find good test cases to study.
“There's not a lot of change or variation [in laws] to study in recent times,” he said. “The vast majority of these laws have been on the books for many, many decades.”
For more information check out USA Firearm Training's Universal Background Checks article.
You would imagine that before blanketing an entire populace with a universal background check law, that there would be some hard evidence to support the claim that they create a safer society. However, that is not what Maine and Nevada appear to be interested in doing. They are seeing a leaky faucet and calling for the whole house to be boarded up.
However, these ballot initiatives are not law. Not yet. If you are reading this and from the state of Nevada or Maine, you need to get out and vote on November 8th. Law-making is in your hands, and if you want things to be a certain way, you have to get out and let your government know at the ballot box.
Until next time.