I would wager that you were horrified when you read about the recent mass shootings in El Paso and Dayton. Only a maniac could condone the taking of innocent life, and it seems that ever since the 1999 Columbine school shooting, the rate at which mass shootings occur has increased exponentially. With each new tragedy, there has arisen an ever louder cacophony of calls demanding that “something must be done!”
However, there is a fallacy that arises in politics when urgent change is sought. It can be expressed as a syllogism. “We must do something. This is something. Therefore, we must do this!”
Do you see the logical fallacy? Let me try it a different way. All cats have four legs. My dog has four legs. Therefore, my dog is a cat. See the error now? Just because the first two statements are true, the conclusory third statement remains untrue.
It just simply isn’t true that individuals who oppose proposed gun control legislation support more mass shootings. To infer otherwise is unfair and inaccurate. The only people who are in favor of mass shootings are lunatics. I support effective legislation which would reduce gun violence, but I think it is dangerous to blindly support any and all new regulation simply because “something must be done.” Our nation does not need new laws just so we feel like our legislators are doing something. We need new laws to address problems where the current laws fail. Legislation for legislation’s sake is at best wasteful, and at worst a dangerous restriction in liberty.
I agree with the sentiment that something must be done. Yet, if we pass an ineffective new law, then what have we really accomplished? About six months ago the House of Representatives passed a bill which would require mandatory background checks for all sales of firearms, including private sales. Setting aside that enforcement of such a statute poses serious logistical problems such as the necessity for a nationwide titling system for firearms similar to how automobiles are titled at the state level, would such a law prevent gun violence?
Anecdotally, it should be noted that such a system would have had no effect on the recent shootings in El Paso and Dayton. Both of those psychopaths purchased their firearms legally and passed required background checks when they did so. More extensive background checks would have had no effect on these tragedies. Objectively, there exists some hard data on the effectiveness of increased background checks.
California has required comprehensive background checks on the sale of all firearms since 1991. Has this had any effect on gun violence in the state where more than 12 percent of our entire nation resides? Well, no. An October 2018 study conducted by the Violence Prevention Research Program at UC Davis and the Center for Gun Policy and Research at Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health found no change in firearm homicide or suicide rates in the 10 years following California’s implementation of comprehensive background checks.
Tennessee and Indiana also used to have universal background checks in their states. In the 2000s both states repealed their laws, and a study published in 2018 in the journal Epidemiology found no increase in firearm homicide or suicide rates after those laws were repealed.
OK, maybe universal background checks won’t reduce gun violence, but what could it hurt, right? I mean, we have to do something, and what’s the problem with making every gun buyer go through a background check. After all, if we stop one criminal from getting their hands on an instrument of death, wasn’t it worth it?
Maybe, but consider that minorities are by far the most affected by disqualifying factors to gun ownership which might appear in a background check. Further, universal background checks significantly increase the cost of purchasing a firearm in the jurisdictions where they are required. As of December 2015, the universal background check law in Washington D.C. added an effective cost of $200 to all firearm transfers within the district. Do we want to add barriers for minorities and people of low income to purchase firearms based merely on the hope that a new law might prevent a tragedy when known statistical analysis shows similar laws to be ineffective?
I get it. We need to do something to stem the tide of mass shootings. Doing nothing sure hasn’t done our society any favors. However, when we consider what something we want to do, let’s try and do something that will actually make a difference and not just make us feel like we “did something.”
John Judkins is a Greenfield attorney.