I have been following the work of Robert VerBruggen as he examines new research into the effects of gun control on violence. In my first installment, I showed you VerBruggen’s dismantling of the “gun violence index.” In the second installment, I highlighted VerBruggen’s examination of a research paper comparing laws in cities across America. Today, I’ll show you VerBruggen’s examination of background checks and their effects. VerBruggen writes:
When talking about background checks, liberals love to bring up Missouri and Connecticut, both of which have experimented with “permit-to-purchase” handgun laws. Under these laws, anyone seeking to buy a handgun must first acquire a permit from a law-enforcement agency, where a background check (and often an interview) are conducted. Unlike the federal background-check requirement, these laws apply to private sales between individuals, not just purchases from licensed dealers.
In the left’s telling, the law was a spectacular success in both states. The reality is more complicated.
The liberal narrative holds best—incredibly well, actually—in Missouri. When the state repealed its permit-to-purchase law in 2007, the homicide rate immediately rose, driven by an increase in gun homicides. At the exact same time, trace data from the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives indicated that a higher percentage of Missouri crime guns were originally purchased within the state.
The data are visually striking. You can see the ATF numbers in this article, … I’ve divided Missouri’s rates of gun and non-gun homicide by the corresponding national rates. (This allows us to see what trends unfolded in Missouri that didn’t occur nationwide.)
But Connecticut is a very different story. It enacted a permit-to-purchase law in 1995, and … not a whole lot happened.
To deny this simple fact rooted in readily available data, liberals rely on a poorly conducted 2015 study that credited the law with a whopping 40 percent reduction in gun homicides. The study cut the data off in 2005 and, rather than using national or regional trends as its primary baseline, compared Connecticut’s crime trends with those of a “synthetic state”—a statistical abstraction mostly based on Rhode Island, which experienced a crime wave shortly after Connecticut’s law went into effect.
Enter Lott. In his book, he does spend some time going over the Missouri and Connecticut cases. (His assessment of Connecticut is the same as mine, but he reads the Missouri trends much differently than I do.) But far more importantly, he notes that numerous other states have enacted various background-check laws too, and he conducts analyses on all of the states at once, using data that run from 2000 to the most recent (2013 to 2015, depending on the variable). This approach avoids cherry-picking, and he helpfully provides these laws’ enactment dates in an appendix for anyone who would like to explore the data themselves.
As Lott notes, he actually studied the effects of background-check laws on the murder rate years ago, finding no significant impact. In his new book, he looks at a variety of other outcomes, including suicide rates, killings of women, and mass shootings, again finding no effect. His models control for things like guns coming in from other states (which liberals say undermine state-level background-check laws), demographics, and divorce rates. He also runs separate analyses for background checks on “at least some private transfers” vs. “universal background checks.”