The enthusiasm for background checks for gun-show sales is either misguided or disingenuous, contends Robert Levy:
Survey data indicate that less than 2 percent of guns used by criminals are bought at gun shows and flea markets—and that includes sales through licensed dealers. Still, the New York Times editorializes that background checks “prevented nearly two million gun sales” over a 15-year period. Of course, that’s ridiculous; there is no way for the Times to determine how many sales did not happen. Violence-prone buyers who do not pass the background check go elsewhere for their purchases.
Here are the figures for a recent year: The National Instant Criminal Background Check System (NICS) denied 79,000 would-be buyers. Of those, 105 were prosecuted and 43 were convicted. That’s a conviction rate of 5/100ths of one percent. Either the remaining denials were false positives – legitimate purchases unjustly blocked by NICS – or, if the denials were proper, then 99.95 percent of the 79,000 rejected applicants escaped punishment. Neither conclusion offers much hope for an expanded system of background checks.
Further, the claim that background checks take just a few minutes to process on the telephone is disingenuous at best. A significant number of checks last 72 hours, and most gun shows are two-day events. The intent of requiring checks for private sales may be to drive gun shows out of business. Indeed, existing delays and the large number of false positives have reduced gun shows by about 14 percent. Some say that’s a good thing. But they know that a law banning gun shows would not pass constitutional muster; so they try to accomplish the same thing through the backdoor. [National Law Journal, February 11]